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    Searching for soldiers missing in action is no mean feat, but when you get involved many years after the fact it becomes a true uphill battle ….


    Lifetime achievement award presented to Neri Areli, Lieutenant Colonel, (reservist)

    Neri Areli, historian by profession, long serving teacher in local high school, husband, father and grandfather was recently presented with a lifetime achievement award for services to MIA’s (missing in action). I had the previlige of talking to him in his home – Ein Gedi – about this secret life for the past 30 – 40 years.

    In the 1990’s Neri initiated the project, according to the orders of the first Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. David Ben Gurion, that there be no Toub of the Unknown Soldier in Israel.  Firstly, he gathered a group of volunteers to assist with the project (most from the military and some quite high ranking). Their initial project was working for the Israel Air Force searching for a pilot and a driver who went missing during the Independence War of 1948-1949. Having had success finding the grave of the pilot they then moved their attention to the driver. This driver was responsible for delivering vegetables from the kibbutzim in Haifa to a base near Tel Aviv. The driver never returned home and the family were left without answers. On this particular day upon arrival at Tel Aviv he was told that he had to travel to Jerusalem.  Despite his objections, he had no choice but to obey and continued his journey to Jerusalem. His lorry was part of a convoy of about 200 other lorries and they always travelled together. On arrival to Jerusalem 20 of the convoy were told that they had to continue to Gush Etzion which was occupied by the enemy of the time. Here they were delayed because of another lorry trying to load cows without much success. So, the convoy was delayed quite considerably and unknown to them mines had been placed on the road leading back to Haifa.  20 trucks fell victim to these mines and all the drivers were killed in action.  All of the drivers were identified barring this one driver from Haifa. No-one knew who he was or what was his name and so was referred to as “the driver from Haifa”. In those days paperwork and official documents were not as efficient as today and so soldiers lost their identity.

    Neri and his various volunteers were able to identify the driver and inform the family so that they could have closure.

    Another very interesting story was of a plane that fell over Egypt in the 1970’s the Yom Kippur War.  There were eyewitnesses to a pilot parachuting out of the plane as it went down, and an approximate location was calculated as to where that pilot could have landed. The area was searched thoroughly but with no result.  So the pilot was, indeed, registered as an ‘Unknown Soldier’.  Neri and his group of great people decided to look for this pilot and after a lot of preparation venture off to Egypt with map in hand determined to find some answers. Having requested ariel photos of the Egyptian land they noticed a white spot on the map that was not recognized as any particular named location. They decided to begin their search at this spot and low and behold found a small part of the plane that they knew had fallen from the skies twenty years previously. Egyptians, Israelis and some volunteer international professionals were standing in Egypt and looking for parts of the plane.  The Israelis offered a dime or two to the local Egyptians for every piece of plane that they brought to the volunteers. The locals brought parts of the plane in their drones and almost a complete plane wing was resurrected. Neri and his group realized they had a potential origin for a lot of information and so sent out a message that two dimes would be paid for any bones!  One bone was brought to the group. A human anatomist studied the bone very carefully and deduced it was a part of the jaw. Because the human body is more a less side to side a mirror image it was easy to tell the size of the jaw, the size of the head and therefore the size of the body. Ultimately, it was concluded that the body belonged to their missing pilot. After a lot of research and in depth considerations everyone understood that the navigator had ejected from the plane but the pilot had remained in the plane and gone down with it.

    Neri has been working with his team for the last thirty years and is still active until today. Out of the 300 missing in action cases they have been asked to research, 180 have already been solved.  Some of them were even found alive and well living with their families in peace and harmony. That is due to ‘lost in translation’ technicalities of the time.

    We are all grateful to Neri Areli and his group of dedicated volunteers and pray that no unnamed grave will be left in Israel, ever.

    Photo, of Garden of Fallen Soldiers, By פארוק – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,