The world is a collection of people. Whatever comes after that, however we segment and why, qualifies that first truth. Whether it be countries, cities, faith communities, ethnicities or families, all are groups of individuals born into this world with rights and needs absolutely and completely equal to everyone else’s.
We build systems to serve the many with the most, in ways consistent with human nature and the impulse to protect our own. Those systems evolve in an arc that bends towards freedom, along a tortured but necessary path that often leaves people behind. It’s naive to think we can live in some graceful state of prehistory where things don’t matter. It’s always more complicated than that.
We know better, and we work towards better, and we live with the crushing regret of not being better now. But sometimes we shine. We come together in times of natural disaster and calamity to save individuals, in ways all out of proportion to how we usually think of single people.
Soldiers know this; it’s how they live. While politicians and generals think in the aggregate, soldiers know the only thing that matters is the person next to them. Nobody gets left behind. We don’t leave our dead on the battlefield. We account for every single person. “Missing in action” is, in many ways, worse than being killed. We need to know what happened.
So imagine how tortured the family of Guy Hever must feel. Hever has been missing for 20 years, vanishing from his base in the Golan Heights in 1997, with no trace of him since except for vague reports that perhaps he’s being held in Syria. How abandoned his parents and twin siblings must feel, because the world’s Jewish communities have not made finding this IDF soldier a priority.
I know the responses. “We tried.” “We’re still looking.” “We’re engaged in delicate negotiations and intelligence operations we cannot tell you about.” “Be patient.” “We haven’t forgotten.”
That all may be true; it all may be lies. It may be a mix of lies and the truth, snaked around each other in ways that make it impossible to tell them apart. It doesn’t matter anymore. Twenty years is a long time, so let’s pretend all the explanations are true, and move forward from there.
We’ve failed the Hever family. We’ve broken the compact that makes us better; that makes all the awful stuff we have to do more tolerable. We’ve been called on to make one person our shared priority but we haven’t done it.
I met with Guy’s mother, Rena Hever, a few weeks ago. She’s lovely. I saw pictures of her three grandchildren, the youngest still an infant. I met her brother, Guy’s uncle, who lives in New Jersey. He struck me as the kind of guy you’d have a beer with and laugh the whole time. He misses his nephew.
I asked Rena how she’s gotten on with things, how she’s made a life for herself and her family over the past 20 years. She told me she compartmentalizes, but the sadness is always there. Her husband is a psychiatrist whose practice includes working with soldiers. I’m not sure how he does it, seeing young people who look like his son on the day he disappeared. What might Guy look like now?
His twin siblings—a brother and a sister—are a good-looking, striking pair. Their smiles light up the photo album I looked through. Their brother has been missing as long as the age he was when they knew him. What does that feel like?
There are times the world seems large and unknowable, but there are times when the path forward appears well lit and clear. We know the right thing to do here. We’ve always known, but it’s been too hard.
Let’s leave all that behind and bring the Hever family the solace they deserve. If the weight of political decisions needed to rest on the hearts of one family, surely 20 years is long enough. When we put our minds to it, we can do amazing things.
Let’s make Guy Hever our priority.