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Father of Israeli held in Gaza decries other families’ campaign

Sha’ban al-Sayed, whose schizophrenic son Hisham wandered into the Strip in 2015, calls for pressure on Hamas, not Israel

Friends and family of an Israeli soldier whose remains are being held by Hamas protest outside the Ashdod port in southern Israel on July 3, 2016, as the Lady Leyla, a Turkish ship carrying aid for Gaza, arrives (Flash90)
Friends and family of an Israeli soldier whose remains are being held by Hamas protest outside the Ashdod port in southern Israel on July 3, 2016, as the Lady Leyla, a Turkish ship carrying aid for Gaza, arrives (Flash90)

The father of a mentally ill Israeli man held captive by Hamas in Gaza called for other families whose loved ones or loved ones’ remains are in Gaza to cease their campaigns to pressure the government.

Sha’ban al-Sayed, whose son Hisham wandered into Gaza in April 2015 and has not been heard from since, told Army Radio on Tuesday that pressuring the Israeli government “will only hurt the interests of our boys.”

It was al-Sayed first on-record media interview about his missing son, and it came as the High Court of Justice was hearing an appeal by the families of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin — who were killed in Gaza in 2014 and whose remains are being held by Hamas — against last month’s reconciliation agreement with Turkey, on the grounds that the agreement does not force Hamas to release the bodies along with two Israelis held in Gaza.

The second Israeli, Avraham Abera Mengistu, wandered into the Strip in 2014. He, too, suffers from a mental illness, according to his family.

The families of Shaul, Goldin and Mengistu staged a protest at the main commercial crossing into the Palestinian enclave Sunday morning, as an initial shipment of thousands of tons of Turkish aid was set to be transferred via the checkpoint.

Hisham el-Seid, who wandered into Gaza in April 2015 and has been missing and believed held by Hamas ever since. (Army Radio)
Hisham el-Seid, who wandered into Gaza in April 2015 and has been missing and believed held by Hamas ever since. (Army Radio)

The families have rallied against a detente deal between Israel and Turkey inked last week, which allowed for the transfer of aid to Gaza via the port of Ashdod but did not stipulate the return of Mengistu and the remains of the two soldiers. They voiced outrage that while the issue of their loved ones was not addressed, Israel has been facilitating the daily passage of 1,000 trucks of humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Palestinian territory, including the Turkish shipment.

But al-Sayed insisted that the protests were counterproductive.

Israel, he said, was “making an effort to bring back the boys in all sorts of ways, through international avenues and local interlocutors. Even we don’t know all the ways. It doesn’t leave anyone behind, not soldiers and not civilians. That’s well known. Israel is taking care of it somehow.

“We think it’s not a good idea right now to put pressure on our side, but instead to put pressure on their side, because the ball is in Hamas’s court,” he added.

“This pressure they’re applying now will only harm the interests of the boys, al-Sayed said.”

He may have been referring to recent speculation that public pressure in Israel would raise Hamas’s demands for a possible prisoner exchange.

A senior Israeli official said this week that Hamas aims to secure the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel in exchange for the return of the bodies of Shaul and Goldin, along with Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.

Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)
Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

The Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth said Monday that while Israel has been seeking — through foreign intermediaries — to initiate negotiations for the return of the civilians and of the soldiers’ bodies, it is not willing to give anything away just to bring Hamas to the negotiating table. Nor will Israel agree to an exchange akin to one that saw 1,027 Palestinians freed in return for Shalit — a deal brokered with the help of a German diplomat.

“Hamas wants a ‘Shalit 2’ deal, with the release of hundreds of prisoners,” the paper quoted an unnamed senior Israeli official as saying.

Sha’ban al-Sayed accused Hamas of mistreating his son.

“Hisham has schizophrenia. He crossed into Gaza twice before, and they returned him to the Erez crossing,” he said.

A truck laden with humanitarian aid from Turkey enters the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing on Monday, July 4, 2016 (Defense Ministry)
A truck laden with humanitarian aid from Turkey enters the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing on Monday, July 4, 2016 (Defense Ministry)

Hisham “loved to cross borders. He’s a bit sick. He was aware of some of his actions and unaware of others. He was there a week to 10 days each time, and was held by Hamas both times and returned without anyone’s intervention. They just informed the army he was there and returned him.”

The third time, al-Sayed said, Hamas decided on a different course of action: “We’ve received no [sign of life]. That’s how Hamas applies pressure. But we know from the state and from people we’ve spoken to that he’s alive and well.”

The family, he said, had worked to “inform Hamas, through people we know and the media, that he is sick, but they never responded. They didn’t want to admit they had him. Only recently did they acknowledge they have four ‘soldiers.’

“We didn’t want media noise around him. We thought, and the family thought, that it won’t help with anything. It doesn’t help. I think it only causes damage.”

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