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In Israel, they wait for Udi

The brother of a captured Israeli soldier - husband, sailor andanimal lover - says "the whole country'' is behind him.

By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN
Published July 20, 2006


NAHARIYA, Israel - Tuesday was Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser's 31st birthday. His wife of 10 months had planned a special day - a visit to a museum, followed by a musical in Tel Aviv.

Instead, the Israeli army reservist was somewhere in Lebanon, the prisoner of the radical group Hezbollah, which captured him and another soldier July 12.

"Not captured, kidnapped," Goldwasser's younger brother, Yair, quickly corrected a reporter. "They entered Israeli territory and violated every rule in the book. It's more than a capture."

It is a cardinal rule of Israeli society that every soldier return home, and to that end Israel has launched a major - critics say excessive - campaign to force Hezbollah to release Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Israeli troops moved into southern Lebanon on Wednesday, after a week of blasting Hezbollah strongholds in an onslaught that has killed 300 and left large areas of Lebanon in shambles.

Hezbollah in turn has fired hundreds of rockets and missiles into Israel, killing 29 and severely disrupting life in the northern part of the country.

This week, a rocket killed a man in Nahariya, where Udi Goldwasser's in-laws live in an upscale neighborhood near the Mediterranean Sea. Cokes and pound cake are set out for the friends and relatives who gather to talk, wait and watch the incessant TV coverage of the fighting.

Rocket strikes echoed in the distance Wednesday afternoon as 26-year-old Yair Goldwasser recalled that moment one week before: The army told him his brother was missing after Hezbollah militants crossed the border and snatched two soldiers, killing several more in the ensuing skirmish.

At first, the younger Goldwasser, who also served in the army, hoped his brother was among the dead, not the captive.

"As an Israeli and as an ex-combat (soldier), you know what goes on and the first thing that goes through your mind is, my loved one is in that situation with terrible suffering."

His attitude has changed since.

"We know he is alive and they will keep him alive because he's a card for them. He's a very mentally strong person and he knows the government and the whole country are behind him and will do anything to bring him back."

The Goldwasser brothers spent some of their younger years in South Africa, where their mother and father, who was a ship captain, still live. The parents have temporarily returned to Israel, but have given few interviews.

The oldest of their three children is Udi, whom his brother describes as an over-achiever.

"Everything he is interested in, he never took on a basic level, he always took it further. He liked the ocean, so he got a skipper's license for a yacht. He loved cycling so he went and got the best bicycle.

"He was really into photography and went and got the best cameras, Nikon. He took pictures at weddings and all that kind of stuff. He wanted to open his own Internet site."

Goldwasser also had a soft spot for animals. A few years ago, he rescued a Husky mix puppy that had been thrown from a car and lay battered in the street.

Udi Goldwasser earned a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering from Haifa Technion, considered the Israeli equivalent of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was working on a master's.

At 31, Goldwasser had long since completed the three years of army service required of most young Israeli men and women. However, he was still obligated to put in one month of reserve duty each year until age 40.

He was due to finish his one-month stint on the day Hezbollah struck.

"He went on that trip as a favor to his officer," his brother said. "He took it on himself to do the last patrol before he went home."

Early in the crisis, rumors abounded that Hezbollah - a Shiite organization supported by Iran - was preparing to move Goldwasser and Regev to that country, whose president has vowed to wipe Israel off the map. Israeli bombing of Lebanese airports, seaports and international land routes was aimed in part at eliminating any chance of transfer. The two soldiers are presumed to be in Lebanon still.

Hezbollah wants to trade them for hundreds of Arab prisoners held by Israel.

The Israeli government demands that the soldiers first be released and Hezbollah disarmed.

Goldwasser's family remains confident he is alive, but they have had no word about his condition.

"We hope the people holding him will give a sign about his welfare, his health," his brother said.

As they wait, the Goldwassers keep in daily touch with the families of Regev and Cpl. Gilad Shalit, captured June 25 near the Gaza Strip by the militant group Hamas. That initial kidnapping prompted a major Israeli incursion into Gaza, followed nearly three weeks later by the widespread strikes on Lebanon.

"There's one thing I want to add," Yair Goldwasser said.

"We as Israelis are normal human beings. We don't like it a bit what's going on in Lebanon and we do feel sorry for innocent people whose life is taken and we think it's wrong," he said.

"But the situation is such a way that the answer has to come from Lebanon itself. It has to dismantle any terrorist organization that grows within it for them, for us and the entire region. ... We don't like when people died, especially for these reasons."

Susan Martin can be contacted at susan@sptimes.com.

[Last modified July 20, 2006, 00:30:25]


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