The family of a soldier who the Israeli military says was killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War recently opened his grave to discover that it was empty.
The soldier, Cpl. Tzion Tayeb, was said to have been killed on the first day of the war during the Syrian attack on Mount Hermon, but the body was not initially recovered.
The Syrians were said to have taken several prisoners in the course of the attack, but the IDF announced several months later that Tayeb and several others from the same unit has been found in a mass grave and identified.
Tayeb’s family has maintained suspicions for years that the official account was not the true story and Zion Tayeb was in fact captured alive by Syrian forces in 1973.
Last year, the High Court refused a petition to allow exhumation of the body, which is interred at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, in order to identify the remains.
However on Friday, the family went ahead on its own initiative and opened the grave in the company of several pathologists. Filming the result, they discovered that the grave was empty, and then returned the burial site to its original condition, according to a Saturday report on the Walla news website, which broke the story.
“We opened the grave and dug to 1.8 meters (6 feet), but there was nothing,” Tayeb’s sister Katie Oliver said.
An IDF spokespersons’ aide said in response that the High Court had determined that Tayeb was positively identified and there was no reason to open the grave.
Sunday was the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day, when the country will stop to remember 23,169 people killed in the country’s wars and terror attacks. The commemorations will begin at 8 p.m. Sunday with a countrywide siren and minute of silence, followed by an official memorial ceremony at the Western Wall.
Last year Tayeb’s sister Orr told Israeli radio station 103 FM that immediately following the war, her brother was officially listed by the IDF as missing in action.
Shortly afterwards, he was listed as a captive, and not long after that, when Israeli soldiers held by Syria were released, the army informed the family that when the snow on Mount Hermon melted, Tayeb’s body was found in a grave with some 50 other soldiers.
Bur Orr claimed that there was never any definitive proof that her brother was among the dead found at the site. “They have no fingerprints, and they have no evidence — really, none at all,” she told radio host Nissim Mishal.
She further said that in all of the paperwork the army has sent the family, the facts simply don’t add up. According to Orr, nobody actually saw her brother die, nor did they see a body identifiable as his afterwards.
Orr went on to tell Mishal that the IDF lost all credibility in the eyes of the family by instructing a soldier who had been held captive in Syria, whom she identified as Efraim Zinger, to tell Tayeb’s mother than he saw her son fall during the battle.
According to Orr, when the family approached Zinger, “he told us that he did not know [Tzion], he never saw him, and he could not give any evidence” regarding her brother.
The family further claims that in photographs sent by the Syrian army to the IDF a month after the war, they saw a captive Israeli whom they are convinced was Tayeb.
The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported last year that according to the family, a captured Syrian officer who led the IDF to the mass grave on Mount Hermon named the soldiers buried within, but Tzion Tayeb was not among them.
The IDF’s Missing Persons Branch conducted an investigation in 2000 in which it claimed to have a fingerprint of Tayeb’s from when he was 10 years old, a claim the family rejects as impossible.
In recent years, the Defense Ministry and the attorney general have both rejected the family’s request to exhume the grave said to be Tayeb’s.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.