Parents of Israeli Soldiers Killed in Gaza Confront Netanyahu: 'You’ve Made Us Enemies of the People'

'You are responsible for us, not Hamas,' bereaved mother tells prime minister in dramatic session in the Knesset

Ilan Sagi, father of Sgt. Erez Sagi, confronts Likud lawmaker David Bitan, April 19, 2017
Ilan Sagi, father of Sgt. Erez Sagi, confronts Likud lawmaker David Bitan, April 19, 2017 Lior Mizrahi

Bereaved parents of soldiers who died during the 2014 war in Gaza erupted in the Knesset on Wednesday during a discussion on a watchdog report about the campaign. “When my son was killed in a tunnel, where were you?” called out one of the fathers at the parliamentarians, referring to so-called terror tunnels used by Hamas to smuggle arms and people between Israel and Gaza.

“I know I should be blaming Hamas for the death of my husband,” called out Michal Kasten Keidar, widow of Lieut. Col. Dolev Keidar. “They were the ones who shot him, but they’re not responsible for me. You are responsible for me,” she said. “I think we all felt this way, that ostensibly the report is being discussed but it’s for the cameras… you are responsible for me and for the three children I have to raise on my own.” Keidar was killed in a firefight with Palestinians near Kibbutz Nir Am.

In the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a special session of the State Comptroller Committee convened on Wednesday to discuss state comptroller Joseph Shapira’s report on the 2014 summer campaign. But the chairwoman of the committee, lawmaker Karin Elharrar, lost control of the session: Knesset members started to argue among one another and she had to call coalition whip David Bitan of the Likud to order twice.

Ilan Sagi, father of Sgt. Erez Sagi, who was killed when terrorists jumped out of a tunnel and attacked his pillbox near Nahal Oz, called to Bitan, “Bitan, settle down, please. There are grieving parents here. Have respect for us. We lost our dearest ones. This discussion has become a disgrace to our children. When my son was being killed in the tunnel, where were you?”

Ilan Sagi, father of Sgt. Erez Sagi who was killed in Gaza, confronts Israeli leaders on Hamas' terror tunnels (Hebrew)

When Netanyahu said that Israeli forces had neutralized roughly 30 tunnels “they knew about,” at a cost of 11 Israeli soldiers, Sagi erupted, “My son was killed from a tunnel. We didn’t know about it. My son was killed in a pillbox. There was a tunnel there, 800 meters inside Israeli territory,” he said, and challenged the prime minister to explain. The tunnels come up on the Israeli side, Netanyahu answered, but are accessed on “their side” – so the Israeli forces targeted the side they enter, to prevent that.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a discussion about the Report of the State Comptroller for Operation Protective Edge at the Knesset in Jerusalem April 19, 2017
RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

A second time Sagi interrupted the session was to address Bitan, saying he had been demonstrating outside the prime minister’s office and calling on Netanyahu to investigate Operation Protective Edge. “This wise guy, who talks the most [Bitan], told me, ‘Go away. It won’t help you. No inquiry will arise.’” Bitan rebutted: “You are a liar. I never said that. I have never spoken with you.” Sagi answered: “Let them who so wish, to believe, and them who wish not to, not believe.”

Enemies of the people

Lea Goldin, mother of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, one of the Israeli soldiers whose remains are still in Hamas' hands (another being Oron Shaul), accused the state comptroller of ignoring the missing soldiers when totting up the price of the campaign. “Have you decided that their fate has been sealed?” she pressed, asking to understand why the campaign was ended after “just 50 days” with the two, Goldin and Oron, still in captivity.

Lea Goldin , mother of Lt. Hadar Goldin, confronts Netanyahu (Hebrew)

Netanyahu answered that if one took the unidimensional view of bringing the boys home, Israel would act in one manner to increase pressure on Hamas: “We can do that. It will lead to clear results.”

Goldin, however, told the prime minister that he had turned the bereaved families into “enemies of the people… You have turned the problem of the boys into the problem of the families,” she said. In response, lawmaker Miki Zohar called to her that her claims were overdone. “Don’t answer me, you rude man. Shut up,” Goldin answered, and then said to the prime minister, “You tell us you are a bereaved brother, but your brother was brought back.”