Families of kidnapped Israeli soldiers united in their cause

21 11 2007

Shlomo Goldwasser’s voice trembles with a father’s anguish as he talks of his missing son.

“There is no school in the world to teach you what to do when your son is kidnapped,” he says.

 “We’re not the army. We have no weapons. There are no tools in my hand. The only thing we have is our story and I’m using it and going everywhere that I can to raise my voice so people can hear.”

Fifteen months ago, on July 12, 2006, Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser, a just-married 31-year-old environmental engineer, had only a few hours left in his month-long tour of duty as an Israeli army reservist when his Humvee was attacked with anti-tank rockets by a squad of Hezbollah guerrillas who had slipped into Israel from Lebanon.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed in the initial attack and Sergeant Goldwasser and another army reservist, Sergeant Eldad Regev, 26, were captured.

Both the Israeli soldiers are believed to have been seriously injured before their Hezbollah attackers kidnapped them and retreated into Lebanon.

When an Israeli tank tried to pursue the Hezbollah guerrillas across the border, it was blown up by a roadside bomb, killing another four Israelis.

Gloating over their assault, Hezbollah spokesmen admitted to holding the two Israeli reservists and said they were taken in order to secure the release of Lebanese prisoners held in Israel.

But rather than trigger negotiations, the abductions prompted an immediate retaliation from Israel and ignited a 34-day war with Hezbollah that left hundreds dead and injured, thousands homeless and the Middle East boiling with tension.

When the fighting finally ended, with United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1701 ordering a UN-supervised ceasefire, the world body demanded the “unconditional release of prisoners.”
Udi Goldwasser’s family is still waiting to hear what happened to him.

“We know nothing,” says Mr. Goldwasser, a 60-year-old shipping contractor. “There is no information at all about their condition or anything. No one has visited them, not the Red Cross or any other humanitarian organization. Till now there is no information whatsoever. They don’t let them contact anyone. They isolate them and until now we know nothing about our sons.”

But rather than worry and wait, the Goldwasser and Regev families have joined forces with the relatives of yet another Israeli soldier, 20-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was seized by Hamas and spirited into Gaza just 18 days before the Hezbollah raids that captured Sgt. Goldwasser and Sgt. Regev, to tour the world campaigning for their sons’ release.

“We’ve become one big family,” says Omri Avni, Sgt. Goldwasser’s father-in-law. “It’s quite amazing. It took us a few hours to get organized, But within 48 hours from the abduction of Ehud and Eldad, the three families were together and we’ve been together ever since. We found it very, very effective. You can do more. You can share your work every day. You share your hope. It doesn’t fall on just one man.”

The relatives have launched rallies, distributed petitions, met with world leaders, staged protests and conducted video news conferences all around the globe trying to remind people of their sons’ plight.

They recently staged an International Day of Solidarity with video-linked rallies in 70 cities around the world to mark the 500th day of Cpl. Shalit’s captivity.

Jewish synagogues worldwide have been asked to recite a special prayer for the soldiers’ release and pictures of the three abducted men now hang in Rabin Park in Paris.

Last week, a dozen Arab Israelis joined Cpl. Shalit’s father, Noam Shalit, in a rally for the release of the kidnapped men in the Arab village of Kfar Kassem, at which they pleaded for the kidnappers “to act like human beings” and release the young men.

Mr. Goldwasser, Mr. Avni and Zvi Regev, Sgt. Regev’s father, are in Canada this week to promote their sons’ cause and meet with Members of Parliament in Ottawa. They will speak tonight at the Shaarei Shomayin Congregation at 470 Glencairn Ave. in Toronto

“We can’t lose hope,” Mr. Goldwasser says. “We are travelling all over the world trying to get the fulfilment of UN Resolution 1701. That is a demand to free our sons, unconditionally. We know that they are alive and we want them home.” National Post

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