As Israel moves into its 73rd Independence Day, Netanya police have concluded Operation "Remember Zion," a wide-ranging search and rescue effort aimed at recovering 70-year-old Amra Zaoda.
The search was led by the Israel Dog Unit (IDU), a nonprofit specializing in missing persons, and included working dogs, drones, and the concerted effort of multiple government and volunteer organizations.
Scores of volunteers poured into the search from every area of Israel, employing helicopters, ATV and jeep units, intense scrutiny of surveillance camera footage along Amra's route, and mass social media drives to raise awareness.
Zaoda, who suffered from both dementia and epilepsy, had been missing from Laniado Hospital in Netanya for nearly a week. Evidence gathered during the search effort indicated that he was on his way to Hadera, but became disoriented and strayed into nearby agricultural land.
Surveillance camera footage showing Amra making his way through the outskirts of Netanya.
Despite his other conditions, Amra was in good physical health and could easily have continued walking for some time, as well as surviving longer than the three days considered the statistically likely time for someone to survive without any belongings. Search authorities noted that he went missing in agricultural land with a stream nearby; trees are starting to bear fruit and he could easily have survived by foraging.
The search came to its bitter end in the early hours of Wednesday afternoon in a field near Havatzelet Interchange, when Eden, a cadaver dog from the Israel Dog Unit, indicated to her handler that a body was nearby. Rescue forces and family members rushed to the scene and confirmed that it was indeed Amra.
Emergency services and family members arriving to identify the body.
Joseph, Eden’s handler, notes how easily the body could have been overlooked. “It’s lucky we got out to search on foot,” he commented. “If we had stayed in the Jeep, Eden would never have noticed, and we might have gone right by him.”
Joseph and Eden, before setting out on their fateful search.
Amra was nearly as old as Israel itself, at 70 years of age. In 1984, his family set out from Ethiopia to Israel on foot, walking nearly 1500 kilometers through Sudan. Search director Yekutiel Ben-Yaakov, who coined the name Remember Zion, explains that it was this tale that gave him the idea.
"Amra remembered Zion from more than a thousand kilometers away and refused to let anything hold him back, crossing leagues of desert and multiple hostile countries to get to Israel. Israel must remember him. Today of all days, we felt it important to give every last effort to bring him home. While it is deeply unfortunate that we did not find him alive, we at least brought closure to the family and ensured that he will receive a Jewish burial in the soil of the country he loved.”
Search director Yekutiel Ben-Yaakov (left), accompanied by Joseph and Eden (right), supervising the respectful removal of the body.