What may have been the best opportunity for the families of two soldiers, whose remains have been held by Hamas for the last two years, to finally receive closure was sorely overlooked in the reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey signed this week.
The recent deal between Israel and Turkey came after six years of open hostility between the two countries after IDF forces engaged in clashes with Turkish citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010 resulting in the death of nine Turks.
Among the political components of the deal, Turkey agreed to enforce limitations on Hamas activities and will forbid Hamas from planning any military activity against Israel from within Turkish borders. Such agreements indicate a close relationship between Turkey and the terrorist group, which Israel could have utilized during negotiations ahead of the signing to ensure the safe return of the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, said critics.
Prior to finalizing the agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had assured Herzl Shaul, Oron’s father, that the safe return of his son would be included as part of the deal. Even Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had written a letter promising the help secure the release of the bodies, a senior Israeli official said on Sunday.
Unfortunately such pledges were left unfulfilled; the deal has been signed and the boys’ bodies are no closer to home.
Now furious with Netanyahu for “not keeping his promises”, the Shaul and Goldin families have blasted the deal which had given them momentary hope for an end to their long suffering. “It isn’t worth waiting on the prime minister’s promises,” said Shaul. “He always promises and I am constantly disappointed.”
Discouraged by her government’s failure to fulfill its pledge, Zehava Shaul said, “If the prime minister and the Knesset and the whole cabinet aren’t with us, I don’t know when we’ll see Oron.”
Though the opportunity to involve Turkey in negotiations was missed, during his meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday in Jerusalem, the Prime Minister implored Ki-moon to intercede. “Hamas is cruelly and illegally holding the remains of our soldiers and holding our citizens. I ask you to use your position to ensure that they are brought home.”
“I hope the UN will highlight Hamas’s crimes and understand that our security measures are aimed only at keeping our citizens safe from this threat and we use judicious force in this regards,” the prime minister added.
Also in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting were the Shaul and Goldin parents, as well as the parents of Avraham Mangisto, an Israeli Ethiopian who is reportedly also being held captive by Hamas after he jumped the Gaza border in 2014. Magisto suffers from mental disabilities and it is therefore not clear whether he entered Gaza intentionally or accidentally.
It was during Operation Protective Edge, which was launched in July 2014, when Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin were taken captive by Hamas forces in Gaza. Goldin, along with a group of soldiers, had discovered a terror tunnel and were in the process of demolishing it when they were ambushed. A terrorist suicide bomber blew himself up, killing Goldin and two others. During the chaos that ensued in the aftermath, Goldin’s body was seized and taken back into Gaza.
Shaul was in an IDF tank with six soldiers when Hamas fired an anti-tank missile at the armored personnel carrier. Though it wasn’t immediately clear if Shaul had been captured, the family’s worst fears came true when the IDF confirmed his body had not been identified among the dead found inside the vehicle.
Since the time of their capture, the two were proclaimed dead as the IDF had enough bodily evidence to declare the soldiers were no longer alive.
For the last two years, Zehava and Herzl Shaul have relentlessly fought to bring their son home, dead or alive, even going so far as to demand Hamas provide real proof they even have Oron’s body. This week, Shaul’s extended family erected a protest tent outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem due to their anger over the government’s agreement with Turkey. That the recent deal between Turkey and Israel could have brought an end to their battle, but didn’t, makes for a furious family.
Recent statements made by Hamas, however, have made it quite clear that not Turkey, nor the United Nations, nor any international involvement would make any difference; the terrorist group adamantly refuses to negotiate over the bodies until Israel agrees to its precondition: releasing the prisoners who were rearrested after being initially released through the Shalit deal.
Gilad Shalit was an IDF soldier who was captured by Hamas during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. For five years he was held captive in Gaza until Israel negotiated his release in 2011. In exchange for Shalit, Israel agreed to release more than 1,000 known terrorists who were imprisoned in Israeli jails, a highly controversial swap which was opposed by at least 14 percent of the Israeli population.