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Sunday, May 31, 2020

Major Haim Jibly: The Zionist Sherlock Holmes

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Maj. Haim Jibly recently received a letter approving his petition to continue volunteering in reserve duty in the Israel Defense Forces, and his joy was palpable.

“I felt like I won a million dollars,” the 59-year-old retired grandfather said. “My friends already for so many years [haven’t done] miluim (reserve duty), and there are crazies like me who believe in it and want to do it. I am still young in body and spirit, and I come (to reserve duty) happy. I love what I do. To do milium is Zionism. This is your contribution to the country.”

Jibly volunteers in a special unit called EITAN —  the Missing in Action Accounting Unit. EITAN is responsible for investigating, locating and ensuring a proper burial for soldiers who went missing in action. In the early 1950s, then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion famously declared, “We do not accept the notion of a fallen soldier buried anonymously.”

With his attention to detail and trusty notebook always in his pocket, Jibly is like a Zionist Sherlock Holmes. Always with a witty line, an endearing anecdote, Jibly is a detective at heart. He loves people, stories, history and Israel. A former paratrooper, Jibly, whose last name comes from his family’s ancestral village in Yemen, has been serving his country since the age of 18.

About 20 years ago, Jibly and his partner were assigned a case of two young men missing since 1947, before the State of Israel was founded. It was a time of espionage, double identities, illegal immigration and a lot of chutzpah. Gidon Ben David and David Shemesh were in the pre-State military force — the Palmach. Both originally from Baghdad, Ben David and Shemesh spoke fluent Arabic and were part of the Palmach’s Arab Platoon. The unit comprised Jews from Arab lands who could easily integrate into Arab circles, collecting intelligence and carrying out missions.

“They spoke Arabic, they learned Islam so that they could go undercover,” Jibly said. “So they could build their cover story.”

Always with a witty line, an endearing anecdote, Haim Jibly is a detective at heart. He loves people, stories, history and Israel.

Shemesh and Ben David were 19 years old when they were stopped at a roadblock on the way into Jaffa. They were last seen on Dec. 22, 1947. Fast forward six decades, and Jibly is living in the northern town of Kiryat Bialik. He and his partner begin their investigation to find Ben David and Shemesh. It’s grueling work. “We are obsessive. We go through every paper, every single movie clip, reports, files,” Jibly said. “Like a puzzle with so many pieces, we have to go through it to put them together.”

Despite their disappearance generations ago, modern technology makes these once cold cases a bit warmer. “Now we have better technology,” Jibly said. “We can look at DNA, for example.”  So when the remains of two bodies were found in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, the team’s four to five years of investigative work was able to prove they were in fact the remains of Ben David and Shemesh.

On Sept. 9, 2004, Ben David and Shemesh were buried at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl. Jibly was there.

Correction: A previous version incorrectly identified Gidon Ben David as Gidon Berry.

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