Hamas on Saturday issued two videos intended for the Israeli public, which aim to pressure the Israeli government into negotiations for the return of the bodies of two soldiers being held in Gaza.
During the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, the bodies of Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin were seized by the terrorist group, which still holds them, by all accounts.
One of the videos released Saturday features a bound Oron Shaul — his face digitally inserted over an actor’s body — sitting before a cake with three candles, symbolizing the soldier’s time in alleged captivity. The video gruesomely animates Shaul’s face as he cowers in a dark, dilapidated room to the tune of “Happy Birthday to You,” sung in Hebrew with a thick Arabic accent.
Though Israel has determined there is no doubt that Shaul and Goldin died before their bodies were taken, Hamas has never admitted that the soldiers are dead. Saturday’s video appears to seek to reinforce the notion that they may, in fact, be alive.
As “Shaul” struggles with his bonds, he is approached by a figure emerging from the shadows. The lurker is revealed to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in clown garb, who proceeds to blow out Shaul’s candles. Cue horror music and a final title card: “The decision is in the government’s hands.”
The second video appears to show prisoners held by Hamas, again celebrating a sorrowful birthday. A cake sitting on a table reads “Oron, three years in Hamas captivity.”
In November the Israeli army’s human resources chief said there were no breakthroughs on the horizon in the effort to return the bodies of the two soldiers.
“We have run into stagnation with this issue,” the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Manpower Directorate, Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolanski, said at an event commemorating 30 years since the capture of air force navigator Ron Arad.
In the more than two years they’ve been held in the Gaza Strip, the effort to return the bodies has remained a hot-button issue in Israeli society, with the soldiers’ families making repeated calls for the government to take a harsher stance against the terrorist group in Gaza.
“I hope it happens quickly, in our days,” Topolanski said, using an oft-heard biblical phrase. “But right now I don’t see a breakthrough happening.”
Goldin and Shaul are among the approximately 100 Israeli soldiers who are designated by the army as having unknown burial places, including Ron Arad, whose plane fell over Lebanon in 1986 after one of its bombs exploded prematurely.
Israel has often gone to great lengths to retrieve bodies of soldiers with unknown burial places, setting up a designated unit within the Manpower Directorate to find them and, in some cases, embarking on regular search missions.
For both live soldiers, like Gilad Shalit who was captured by Hamas in 2006, and the bodies, Israel has often agreed to wildly lopsided exchanges with terrorist groups.
To secure the release of Shalit, for instance, Israel set free 1,027 terrorists from its prisons.
That policy is heavily debated on the Israeli street and in the upper echelons of the country’s security services. One side stresses the need for Israel to do everything within its power to bring back any soldier who falls into enemy hands, while the other argues that such a sentimental approach to individuals, and especially bodies, is ultimately a weakness, which can be and has been exploited by Israel’s enemies.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.