The families of fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to come to any Gaza Strip agreement without ensuring the return of the Israeli captives in the Hamas-ruled enclave.
Netanyahu should follow in the footsteps of US President Donald Trump who made sure that the return of US captives was part of his understandings with North Korea, Hadar Goldin’s mother, Leah, said on Sunday.
“Bibi, learn from Trump!” she exclaimed at a press conference in Jerusalem. She sat at a folding table, along with her husband, Simha, and Oron’s mother, Zehava.
They spoke in advance of a security cabinet meeting later Sunday on a United Nations and Egyptian brokered understanding to restore calm to Gaza.
That agreement would include humanitarian assistance to the two million residents of Gaza, who suffer from high unemployment and live with four to six hours of electricity a day.
The families want to ensure that the remains of Hadar and Oron, who were presumed to have been killed during the 2014 Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, are returned to Israel.
They also want to see the release of the two Israeli civilian captives held in Gaza: Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed. They did not mention the third captive, Jumaa Abu-Ghanima.
The return of the captives must the cornerstone of any agreement, Leah Goldin said.
Hadar and Shaul’s parents spoke bitterly of their four-year experience with Netanyahu and his government, which they said broke every promise and abandoned their sons time and again.
“This is our last window of opportunity,” Zehava Shaul said.
She noted that this Thursday marks the second anniversary of her husband, Herzl’s, death from cancer. What broke him, spiritually and physically, was the meeting they had with Netanyahu two months before his death.
“Netanyahu yelled at us that we were liars,” she said.
The Prime Minister’s Office sent a response to reporters during the press conference that rejected that version of events.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu never shouted at bereaved families and did not level accusations against them, this includes the Shaul family. The prime minister will continue to make every effort until the sons return home,” the PMO said.
Hadar’s father, Simha immediately responded. “There were other people there [at that meeting] aside from the families.”
Zehava recalled how in the middle of a heated exchange, Netanyahu turned red. “He banged on the table and said, ‘this is not how you speak to a Prime Minister.’” In recalling the moment, Zehava also banged her hands on the table as he had.
“In a contest to show who is the most trustworthy, Netanyahu won’t come out the winner", Simha said.
Zehava added, “For four years he and his administration have promised [to return the boys]. They know how to make pledges, but they do not how to keep them. What kind of a country do we live in?”
LEAH GOLDIN said that cabinet ministers had also attacked them. “I want to say to the cabinet, there are those who see themselves as the next defense minister who have spoken against us, accusing us of drawing Israel into war.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves. How low can you stoop?” Leah said.
The families spoke of a complete breakdown in relations between them and the PMO, noting that Netanyahu had canceled a meeting scheduled with them for last Thursday.
Hadar’s father, Simha, said the release of the captives was not part of the UN Egyptian deal now under debate.
“How do I know?” he rhetorically asked. “It’s simple. I spoke on Thursday night with the coordinator for hostages, Yaron Blum, and he himself did not know of talks underway to bring back my son and Zehava’s son and the citizens Hisham and Avera,” Simha said.
Blum told them that Israel had a standing demand that the return of the hostages must be part of any Gaza agreement or understanding, Simha explained.
But still, the return of the Oron and Hadar was not part of the 2014 cease-fire agreement that ended the war, nor was it part of the 2016 agreement with Turkey that allowed additional humanitarian assistance into Gaza, Simha said.
Now there is a new agreement on Gaza concluded already last week between Israel, the United Nations, Egypt, Qatar, the United States and the Palestinian Authority, Simha said.
Sunday’s security cabinet meeting is merely a “sham,” he added.
“Someone decided to waste the cabinet members time and invite them to the meeting to discuss a train that has already left the station,” Simha said.
Proof that the agreement is already in place is the Defense Ministry’s decision to temporarily lift its ban on construction goods entering Gaza last week, so that six truckloads of equipment could be brought into the Strip for a US-backed desalination project, Simha said.
From the press conference, they walked to the Prime Minister’s Office, where they were joined by supporters who stood with signs, while others sat on folding chairs under a palm tree. A tent was also temporarily set up outside the security checkpoint into the building.
Later they held another press conference outside the Prime Minister’s residence, where the Mengistu family has held a daily protest. They underscored a simple message.
“Return our sons,” Leah Goldin said.
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