Give us our sons back, and we’ll restore your power supply
Op-ed: When the Goldin family asked the government to pressure Hamas to return the bodies of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, they were warned that any pressure would lead to war. But when Abbas asked Israel to cut electricity supplies to Gaza, the government approved it right away. Now, Goldin’s father and brother write, it’s time for a humanitarian condition.
That morning, exactly one year ago, I was speaking to teens ahead of their IDF service about Hadar, in the context of the development of educational leadership. I always conclude with the song “Eretz Tzvi” (Land of the Deer), which was Hadar’s ringtone. Next week, I told them, we will mark 40 years since a plane was hijacked to Uganda and the hostages were released. It was a week of brave decisions: The government decided to launch a bold operation in a faraway place. During these same days 40 years ago, I said to them, Yoni Netanyahu planned the raid at the Entebbe airport, the battle in which he was killed. Hadar saw it as the purpose of military action. Remember that, I told the youth who were about to be drafted in July-August 2016.
I didn’t know at the time what Benjamin Netanyahu would bring me and my family that evening and the following week. That evening, the prime minister surprised my family and announced the agreement with Turkey, without any stipulation in the conditions about the soldiers’ return.
The following segment was written by Tzur, Hadar’s twin brother, who fought 700 meters away from him in Gaza, and returned after the war to regular service in the Maglan special forces unit. This is how he remembers the conversation with the prime minister:
It was in the evening. I am sitting next to my father in the dining room, which turned long ago into the family’s meeting and cabinet table for crucial decisions. The phone rings with an unlisted number, and we hear the voice of the cabinet’s military secretary. I put the call on speaker mode. My mother is in her car, on her way back from a cyber conference she organized at the Be’er Sheva university. We tell her to stop somewhere. The prime minister is on the other end of the line from Jerusalem.
He begins the conversation, explaining to my parents that he would like to update them on an important diplomatic agreement that is about to be implemented in the coming days. Regardless of what people may say, this agreement has nothing to do with returning Hadar and Oron. It has nothing to do with the Gaza Strip or with Hamas.
My mother tries to understand the essence of the agreement and the reason for his call, and then we immediately learn that the essence of the agreement is normalizing ties with Turkey. My father cries out: But the Turks are Hamas’ patrons in Gaza, they are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. My father reminds the prime minister that no efforts have been made to bring Hadar back for a year and a half, and during this time the answer we have received is that in every agreement that has to do with rebuilding or upgrading Gaza, the soldiers’ return will be a precondition. Where is that promise? How is this happening?
The prime minister explains that this is an unusual case in which an agreement is being signed with Turkey, and that it has nothing to do with Gaza. My mother notes that according to the prime minister’s description, it’s an agreement on Gaza. She asks if we have been taken advantage of until now so that Hadar and Oron will be forgotten, and now, two days before such a surprising agreement is being signed, we are being informed about it like thieves in the night. She asks the prime minister if he even intended to secure Hadar's release in the first place, and if at a certain stage of the agreement process Hadar and Oron were part of the agreement as a humanitarian case.
The prime minister says to my mother: Leah, you should know that as prime minister I have different considerations. Can you take responsibility for an epidemic in Gaza? Hunger in strip? Damage to the ground water? Can you take responsibility for threats on the part of countries that hate Israel and will slander us around the world?
At this stage, my mother starts crying. My father writes on a piece of paper, “Mother is crying,” and responds to the prime minister: You left me with no hope. I would like to interrupt and remind you that we were promised that the soldiers’ return would be a condition for any humanitarian upgrade. Where did this agreement come from? Out of the blue? Does the government know about it?
The prime minister raises his voice and says: I hope this agreement will be signed. My commitment to bring Hadar home still stands. My mother replies: You haven’t left any way to bring him back. You tossed away the bargaining chips one after the other.
The prime minister concludes by saying that the conversation is over. My father interrupts him: You can’t give up my son, and that’s what’s happening now. It’s a moral disappointment, a leadership disappointment.
The conversation is cut off. My father goes to the children’s room and calls my mother, who is parked at a bus stop somewhere between Be’er Sheva and the Beit Kama Junction. She is crying. The agreement is signed several days later. The ministers see it only afterwards, and most of them sign on it and approve it.
A burden rather than an asset
The agreement with Turkey was signed when the country was in a deep crisis, threatened by Russia, whose plane it downed, disconnected from Syria, at odds with Egypt, given the cold shoulder from Saudi Arabia. The Israeli government could have gotten anything from the Turkish government. Did the Israeli government demand Hadar and Oron’s return as a condition for the agreement? Two incumbent ministers told me that the soldiers were in the agreement and were taken out of it. Who gave them up and for what? What did the State of Israel achieve?
This agreement allowed Hamas to leave its headquarters in Turkey, to manage all its fundraising from there, all its propaganda. This is what the Israeli government agreed to.
Israel paid NIS 80 million in damages to the families of the people killed in the Marmara incident, thereby admitting to the whole world that its soldiers acted inappropriately on the vessel. After June 29, 2016, the Israeli government humiliated its brave and devoted fighters with the ridiculous excuse that the Turkish government had pledged not to prosecute these fighters in a Turkish court. As if there is a single naval commando fighter who would travel to Turkey now.
The prime minister mentioned that the achievement in normalizing relations with Turkey is the mutual return of the ambassadors. Indeed. Where is the normalization? Where are the good standard relations? Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees Jerusalem as part of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey invests money in Jerusalem and bolsters groups related to the northern Islamic Movement.
In perfect timing, one year after the agreement, Erdogan gave a speech in which he called on Muslims in the world “to defend Jerusalem’s Muslim identity” and to go up to the Temple Mount. Erdogan, the Muslim Brotherhood’s patron, believes he is renewing the Ottoman Empire and seeks to take over its lands in Europe and the Middle East.
So what did Israel achieve in this agreement?
This is what the prime minister said a year ago: “The gas reinforces the economy’s coffer… We are talking about huge sums.” This is what the Israeli government achieved—a gas deal. Money.
Without making the soldiers’ return a condition, Israel allowed Turkey to transfer any equipment and humanitarian aid through the Ashdod Port to Gaza, as well as establish of a power station and a water desalination facility.
There is nothing wrong with income from gas, there is something wrong with abandoning soldiers. I said to the prime minister at the time, “As a statesman, as a leader, as the army’s supreme commander, you could have shown our enemies what our values are. You could have shown the world. You could have shown the families drafting their sons and daughters to the IDF, that you are conditioning humanitarian aid with humanitarian behavior.”
It didn’t happen a year ago. We’re still waiting. Since then, we have been demanding that the government pressure Hamas to make it understand that holding onto the soldiers is a burden rather than an asset, and it isn’t happening. We have been warned that any pressure will lead to war. Suddenly, Abbas’ demand is accepted and the power supply to Gaza is being cut because of a financial debt. We demand that this will be the humanitarian condition. The beginning of the road. Finally. We won’t restore the power supply until the soldiers are returned.