"We just need closure," plead friends of missing IDF soldier Oron Shaul

Friends of missing IDF soldier Oron Shaul urge Hamas: "It's time to solve our problems, come to the negotiating table."

Oron Shaul, who has been missing in Gaza since 2014 (photo credit: SUPPLIED)
Oron Shaul, who has been missing in Gaza since 2014
(photo credit: SUPPLIED)
St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul should be celebrating his 26th birthday, but instead his remains have been held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
“We don’t know what happened to him,” his childhood friends Tal Gido and Moti Nachman told The Jerusalem Post.
Sitting with a picture of Shaul between them, it’s clear that even five years after one of their best friends was killed during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, for Gido and Nachman the wounds are still fresh.
“We don’t know how to talk about him: in the past, present or future,” Nachman said. 
Moti Nachman (L) and Tal Gido (R) (Photo: Anna Ahronheim)Moti Nachman (L) and Tal Gido (R) (Photo: Anna Ahronheim)
For Gido, “it’s really hard to talk about. We don’t know how to feel, we don’t really know what happened and the country didn't fully explain what happened there.”
On July 20th 2014, St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul entered the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City in an armored personnel carrier with eight other soldiers. The APC was struck by a Kornet anti-tank missile fired by Hamas, killing six of those inside.
But Shaul’s body was never found.
“The army sent an APC from the 1970s with the soldiers to the middle of Shejaiya,” Gido said. “It’s better to go in by foot. It’s like sending soldiers to their deaths. It’s an APC of death.”
Gido accused the military of failure for sending the APC “knowing that something would happen” and stated that there was “no way” that the other two survivors from the incident “don’t know anything.”
According to Nachman, there were nine people in the APC including the commander and deputy who survived the strike.
“We would love to speak to them and while we don’t want to bring them back to the day, they need to tell us what happened. If they were in our shoes they would also want to know what happened. Maybe they don't remember, but even in flashbacks they must remember something... How did they save themselves?”
Nachman, who was in the Air Force, recalled the days after the incident in Shejijya when he was with the Shaul family.
“I remember we all got to the family and we heard Oron was dead. But that night the IDF came and said they couldn’t find his body. Of all the soldiers only Oron’s body they couldn’t find. Then in the morning they said he was alive,” he said. “It was like he was dead in the morning, dead at night and missing the next night.”
“It was the darkest of the darkest days. I won’t ever forget how Herzl [Shaul’s father] screamed, how he broke everything in the house. I still have goosebumps...” Nachman said as his voice trailed off.
“Zehava and Hertzl didn’t really want to do make a lot of noise. The army wanted them to be quiet and to do a shiva even though they didn’t really know if was dead,” Gido said, adding that then IDF Chief Rabbi MK Rafi Peretz forced the family to sit shiva “even though they didn’t want to and had hope he was alive.”
After his death was formally confirmed by the military, the Shaul family was told that he was designated a fallen soldier “whose place of death is not known.”
“During Yom Hazikaron they have nowhere to go. They sent their child to war and they know nothing about him,” Gido said.
St.Sgt. Oron Shaul (Photo: courtesy Shaul family)St.Sgt. Oron Shaul (Photo: courtesy Shaul family)
Two years after the incident, Hertzl was diagnosed with cancer. But he never gave up hope that his son was still alive and would return home before he died.
“Hertzl loved life and his family and he got cancer because of what happened,”Gido said. “He 100% got cancer because of this. Two years after the incident he was half a man of who he was before.”
While the Shaul family petitioned the High Court to order the IDF to turn over additional classified information which it said might shed light on the possibility that Oron might still be alive, in February of last year it was ruled that the military has given enough information to the family.
But for Gido it’s not enough.
“Seeing how the IDF treated the family, that we are so close to, it’s a bad feeling.”
It's a bad enough feeling for Nachman that he does not do his reserve duty.
“We are Zionists and if the country is in a position where the only options are to live or die, we will fight. We will protect our country. I will die for this country, I have no problems with that. But I believe that if we are risking our lives then the State has to bring us back home so our family has somewhere to cry and mourn,” he said.
According to Gido, Oron thought about the State and others first.
One example was Oron’s religious girlfriend who he used to go visit by foot on Shabbat, an hour away in Tiberias “in order to respect her and her family.”
Growing up with a very strong belief in serving the country as best as possible, “Oron thought about others first,” Gido said. While he was given the option to serve close to home after his mother Zehava was diagnosed with cancer, he chose not to so his friends wouldn’t be negatively affected.
“People have to know that there is a man who went to fight for the country, not only for his family.”
Shaul was also not supposed to have gone into Gaza on that fateful day, Gido said. He switched with one of the soldiers who had been injured the previous day.
“He never used the privilege that they gave him and in my opinion there are only a few people like that in the world.”
But within two years of Oron’s death the entire family was destroyed, Nachman said.
According to Nachman, they have begun to hold rallies in protest of any movement on negotiations to get the missing soldiers back to their families.
St.Sgt. Oron Shaul, whose remains are held by Hamas in Gaza (Photo: courtesy Shaul family)St.Sgt. Oron Shaul, whose remains are held by Hamas in Gaza (Photo: courtesy Shaul family)
“What upsets us is that people don’t know who Oron is, unlike Gilad Schalit and Hadar Goldin,” he said, explaining that even at his place of work or during his studies or people he’s met on the street don’t know of Oron Shaul.
“It’s important for us to say that when we are blocking roads its because we don’t have any other way,” he said.
Gido explained that during a rally on September 13th at HaBima Square in Tel Aviv, a man ripped up a picture of Oron and told him that he wished for Oron to remain in Gaza for another five years before he walked away.
“We want an end to this, the family said let us go to his grave if he’s dead, give us a sign if he’s alive,” Nachman said. “We feel that he’s not a priority.”
Despite the five years since Operation Protective Edge, negotiations with Hamas over the release of Shaul along with Lt.Hadar Goldin and two civilians have been at a standstill. 
Both Gido and Nachman want to believe he’s alive but with no indication, they are relying on the hope to keep them sane.
“Even if you have a little bit of hope, it’s that hope that keeps your head above water. But we don’t know, we don’t even have signs,” Nachman said. “If he comes back it will be like being reborn. If he’s dead, finally the family and we are a family, we will be able to continue with our lives. The weight will be lifted from our shoulders.”
The two told the Post that while “Netanyahu isn’t doing anything” to bring the missing home, they believe that if elected, former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, will have a higher chance of succeeding.
“It doesn't matter what state he is in, it really doesn't. Just bring him back, dead or alive,” Gido pleaded.
As the years pass, with milestones like degrees and travels, Oron is always on their minds.
“We always think about Oron, we moved from the North to the Center and we think of him,” Nachman said. “We started studying and he was supposed to start with us, when we travel he is with us. We always think of him, we always think ‘wow if Oron was only here.’”
Asked by the Post if they had a message for the terrorists holding their friend, Gido and Nachman had only one thing to say.
“The time has come to solve our problems, and yours. Come to the negotiating table.”