Photo Credit: TPS
Hamas briefing

Labor Knesset Member Emilie Moatti received a lesson in governmental restraint this weekend after happily telling participants at a cultural evening Saturday night in Petach Tikvah, “Progress has been made on the matter of Israel’s missing captive soldiers and civilians.”

Moatti, a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, then went further, saying, “It’s sensitive and classified, and things are happening that I won’t go into detail about, but I’m optimistic that they will soon be home. . . This is based on a brief we received three weeks ago, about which I won’t elaborate,” she said.

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Moatti was immediately forced to walk back her statement, however, in response to a bitter tweet written by the brother of one of the captives and the firm denial issued by Hamas itself.

Of the four captives Moatti was referring to, two – Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul – are known to no longer be alive, having fallen in battle with Hamas during the 2014 summer war. The other two captives, both civilians — Ethiopian Israeli Avera Mengistu and Bedouin Israeli Hisham al-Sayyed — are still believed to be alive since they both crossed Israel’s southern border into Gaza in late 2014. Both were reported with mental health issues.

Oron’s brother Aviram Shaul wrote in his tweet, “I hope this isn’t just more diversionary tactics at the expense of the families as the current government continues the same policies of the Netanyahu government by not working to bring back the captives! I can only hope,” he wrote, adding, “And one more important thing: If you asked yourselves whether the families were updated on the brief in question, then no, we weren’t.”

In response, Moatti said in a statement on Twitter, “My comments Saturday evening were somewhat taken out of context. Let me clarify: The State of Israel is working all the time to bring the boys home. This is what was presented to the committee.

“I am naturally optimistic and hope for good news on the matter,” she continued, adding, however, “I’m not aware of any concrete progress at this time, rather ongoing efforts that I hope will bear fruit.”

Attorney Ory Slonim, who for decades helped negotiate for the release of IDF captives and searched for MIAs in addition to working with their families, spoke with JewishPress.com over the past week in an exclusive series of interviews about the issue. Slonim served as the official civilian “Consultant to the Minister of Defense for Captives and MIAs from approximately 1986 to 2011, and was intimately involved in the lives of those whose loved ones were missing and/or being held captive far from home.

Ory and wife Tamy Slonim at the office of President Isaac Herzog.

“When it comes to the day-to-day reality lived by the families of those who are missing, “the uncertainty is something which is the toughest value in life. If you are living with uncertainty a long, long, long, long time, it’s the greatest torture on earth,” Slonim told JewishPress.com.

But in a recently published English-language translation of his book “A Knock at the Door,” Slonim emphasized that past governments have worked very hard to bring back captives and MIAs.

“The families are not aware of all the efforts that are being made – efforts that enlist the entire array of the state’s security apparatus, military, and political system – to bring the soldiers back home from captivity,” he wrote.

“Almost all government ministries and policy makers in the country are directly involved in these efforts, not to mention the tremendous efforts made in the military and intelligence sector. The names of the MIAs are raised in almost every official meeting of Israel’s prime minister and government ministers with foreign powers and various other parties all around the world.”

In response to the current firestorm over Moatti’s remarks, Slonim told JewishPress.com on Sunday night that he has always felt that public declarations “perhaps can be true” but emphasized that he prefers “the actual and real actions to the declarations. . . Such deals are done and fulfilled only when you end them and see your dear ones. Let’s hope!”

He added, however, that he believes and “can only assume” that the families of the captives “are at all times in close links with those who are there for them,” although he emphasized the caveat that he hasn’t dealt with the current families of MIAs, and that his experience has been with past governments.

Predictably, Aviram Shaul was not the only one to respond to Moatti’s initial statement.

Hamas deputy Zaher Jabarin, in charge of the terror group’s prisoners’ affairs desk, issued a firm denial of her remarks, claiming that Israel had not taken any “serious” steps to move things ahead, and that occasional Israeli statements about the captives’ situation were intended to relieve the pressure exerted by the captives’ families on the government.

Immediately after the bodies of the two soldiers were captured by Hamas, said Slonim, he visited their families and told them that he would “always be available” if they wanted to consult him but had little to add, noting that he has been retired from the position since the day after the return of five-year Hamas captive soldier Gilad Shalit on October 18, 2011.

Israel freed 1,027 prisoners who were members of Hamas and other terror organizations on that day.

As Slonim commented, The issue of captives and MIAs remains “a loaded subject and a highly problematic one, controversial to this day, even when discussing the prospect of a permanent ceasefire arrangement with Hamas.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.