Thousands rally for Israelis held in Gaza as families blast government inaction

In Beersheba, father of slain soldier Hadar Goldin says leadership ‘has taken us to the polls three times but hasn’t done a thing’ to bring back Hadar, Oron Shaul or Abera Mengistu

Attendants at a Beersheba rally for the return of Israeli civilians and slain Israeli soldiers held in the Gaza Strip, February 26, 2020 (YouTube screenshot)
Attendants at a Beersheba rally for the return of Israeli civilians and slain Israeli soldiers held in the Gaza Strip, February 26, 2020 (YouTube screenshot)

Several thousand people participated in a Beersheba rally Wednesday night calling for the government to do more to secure the return of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two soldiers held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

The group is holding citizens Avraham Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are said to have entered the Gaza Strip of their own accord in 2014-2015. It also possesses the remains of soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, killed in the 2014 Gaza war.

Shaul’s brother Aviram said: “Today after nearly six year’s we’re done being silent. Today for the first time we’re all coming together.” He said the government “has been shirking its responsibility for five years. Forsaking and abandoning not just its boys but their families.”

Mengistu’s brother Ilan questioned whether an Israeli with a different skin color (Mengistu is of Ethiopian origin) would be treated differently. “The nation would be up in arms, making efforts for his return,” he said. “The prime minister and the parties have forsaken the prisoners and missing persons… nothing is being done for them.”

Avraham Abera Mengistu, undated. (Courtesy of the Mengistu family via AP)

Goldin’s father Simcha told demonstrators: “Hadar would say ‘In life you have two options: concerning yourself with yourself or doing great things.’ You [in attendance] are doing great things. Our leadership is concerned with itself. It’s taken us to the polls three times but hasn’t done a thing to bring back Hadar, Oron or Abera.”

Both Goldin and Maya Ohana Moreno, the widow of slain lieutenant colonel Emmanuel Moreno, killed in the Second Lebanon War, criticized Israel’s government for allowing humanitarian action in the Strip instead of using such issues as leverage to return the missing Israelis.

“Bringing every soldier home is an enshrined principle,” she said. “We need to maintain the comradeship and solidarity which have been eroded… that is our strength and what brings us together and we can’t forget it.”

Talks between Israel and Hamas for their remains and living Israelis being held by the terror group have failed to reach any breakthroughs in over five years, despite high levels of public sympathy for their cause. The families have become increasingly vocal critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government in recent years.

Goldin’s mother Leah recently accused Netanyahu of working harder to free an Israeli backpacker jailed in Russia on drug charges than he has to bring back her son.

A composite photo of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul, left, and Hadar Goldin, right.

Netanyahu took a highly publicized detour while returning from Washington to bring Naama Issachar back to Israel after she was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin following intensive diplomatic efforts.

“How can he [justify] moving heaven and earth for Naama [Issachar] — a criminal who received a pardon — while doing nothing to return the soldiers,” Goldin asked in a Channel 12 interview.

Goldin also blasted Israel’s efforts to achieve a longterm ceasefire with Hamas, saying no deal should be made to ease the blockade on the Strip without the return of those being held in Gaza.

Israel has refused to acknowledge reaching or negotiating any deals with Hamas for calm. Netanyahu has vowed in the past that no deal would be inked with Hamas if the soldiers and three civilians currently held in Gaza were not returned.

Netanyahu’s office has asserted that it is working “tirelessly” to bring back the Israelis.

“In order not to damage the negotiation channels, we cannot elaborate on the content of the major diplomatic talks and efforts,” the PMO said earlier this month.

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