In the summer of 2014, Zehava Shaul’s son, Oron, went off to war in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. He never returned and, nearly four years later, Zehava is still waiting to welcome him home.
Oron, then a 20-year-old sergeant in the IDF’s Golani Brigade, disappeared after his armored personnel carrier was struck by an anti-tank missile during Operation Protective Edge’s Battle of Shuja’iyya. The IDF determined that Oron was killed in action, but his body was never recovered, and Zehava has yet to receive any definitive information regarding her son’s fate.
Zehava’s search for answers took her this week to Geneva, Switzerland, where the UN Human Rights Council is meeting. While there, she is speaking with officials from all over the world, hoping to raise awareness of her son’s situation.
“The pain is still deep, as deep as possible,” Zehava told The Algemeiner on Tuesday. “And it grows worse day by day.”
The Shaul family’s tragedy was compounded a year and a half ago by the death of Oron’s father, Herzl, from cancer.
“It’s very tough,” Zehava said. “To celebrate Shabbats and holidays with two empty chairs at the table, it’s not easy.”
When talking about her son, Zehava uses the present tense.
“The army and the government, they decided that he’s not alive, but I disagree with them,” she said. “I have a lot of reasons for this — I won’t tell you the reasons, but I disagree with them.”
“I don’t know what his situation is,” Zehava continued. “I simply want to know what’s going on with him. I live in complete uncertainty.”
Oron was one of two IDF soldiers — the other being Hadar Goldin — who were taken captive by Hamas during Operation Protective Edge (the Goldin family accepted the IDF’s ruling that Hadar was dead).
Hamas is also believed to be holding three living Israeli civilians who crossed into Gaza on their own accord in recent years.
Zehava is hoping that the officials she is meeting with in Geneva will use their influence to push all of the involved parties to resolve the matter.
“Do everything possible, pressure Hamas, pressure also the Israeli government, pressure whoever you want, the main thing is that Oron comes home,” Zehava said.
“This is a humanitarian issue,” Zehava emphasized. “I have no problem if the people of Gaza are given everything they need, but my son is also a human being with rights, and I demand everything possible be done to give my soul a little rest.”
Zehava also criticized Hamas, saying, “The Israeli government lets a lot of things into Gaza — money, food, construction materials, but Hamas takes these for itself and doesn’t give them to the people of Gaza. Concrete is sent there and Hamas uses it to build tunnels. Is this logical?”
“We give them so much, the least they could do is give us is something from Oron — to let us know what is going with him and to return him to us already,” Zehava continued. “We can’t wait any longer. I can’t go on living like this. Time is passing and I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I don’t expect progress in the near future,” Zehava concluded. “By my biggest wish is to have Oron at home soon.”