Families of the Israeli soldiers whose abductions by Hezbollah ignited last year’s war against Israel attended the rally and appealed on their behalf in meetings with United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon and top Congressional and government leaders.
Malka Goldwasser, mother of abducted soldier Ehud (“Udi”) Goldwasser, along with his wife Karnit and father-in-law Omri Avni, joined Zvi Regev, father of abducted soldier Eldad Regev and his brother Binyamin, on a United States tour to increase official and public awareness of the continuing captivity of their loved ones.
“I will not be satisfied until my husband comes home,” said Karnit Goldwasser after meeting with Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon. “This is the worst time in our lives.”
United Jewish Communities (UJC), in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, the Consulate of Israel in New York, and the Embassy of Israel, arranged the stops in New York and the nation’s capital, which continued through today.
Israel Defense Forces soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted by Hezbollah forces in an unprovoked cross-border attack last summer, igniting last summer’s war. In response, UJC/Federations launched the Israel Emergency Campaign, which has raised more than $358 million to-date. IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was earlier kidnapped by Hamas forces and also is still being held. His family was unable to join this week’s U.S. trip.
UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah last August, calls for the release of the abducted soldiers. During their official meetings and public appearances, family members underscored that Hezbollah has not complied.
“Israel has fulfilled its obligations under the resolution, and we asked the secretary general to move Lebanon to fulfill its part under the same resolution,” said Karnit Goldwasser during a news conference outside the secretary general’s office Tuesday. “He said he would do all that he can to make sure the United Nations resolution is fulfilled.”
“The secretary general committed to try to solve this as soon as he can,” said Binyamin Regev. “We are grateful for his help.”
This week’s visits by the soldiers’ families focused further attention to Free the Soldiers, a continental effort by UJC/Federations and many other Jewish organizations to win immediate release of the captive soldiers.
The initiative includes a petition, already signed by tens of thousands of people around the world, which calls for the full implementation of the UN resolution and unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers. For details on how to help, visit the Free the Soldiers Web site.
Generating even further momentum behind that effort, hundreds of people joined soldiers’ family members and rallied on Capitol Hill Monday for the soldiers’ freedom. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, both of Florida, joined the rally.
“The world cannot be allowed to forget these brave young men,” said Susie Gelman, chair of UJC Israel, at the rally. “Nothing short of their swift and unconditional release is acceptable. We say to the Shalit, Regev and Goldwasser families that we share your pain, we pray for the imminent release of your sons, and we will do everything in our power to make it happen.
“Let us pray that in a few weeks, when we celebrate Passover, our feast of liberation, we will also be able to celebrate the liberation of Gilad, Udi and Eldad.”
The rally was part of the annual Jewish Council for Public Affairs Plenum in Washington, with JCPA — the umbrella organization of Jewish community relations councils — endorsing and promoting the effort as well.
The family members also met with a slate of national figures across the political spectrum on Capitol Hill, including U.S. Sec. of Education Margaret Spellings, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA), Rep. Gary Ackerman (NY), Rep. Shelley Berkley (NV), Rep. Eric Cantor (VA), Sen. Norm Coleman (MN), Rep. William Delahunt (MA), Rep. Keith Ellison (MN), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), Rep. Ron Klein (FL), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH), Rep. John Murtha (PA), Sen. Barak Obama (IL), Rep. Charles Rangel (NY), Rep. Bill Shuster (PA), Rep. Brad Sherman (CA), Sen. John Thune (SD), Rep. Pat Tiberi (OH), and Sen. George Voinovich (OH).
The meetings with Congressional leaders were arranged by UJC Washington and the Embassy of Israel in Washington. Also meeting the soldiers’ families was a women’s mission to Washington of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. Family members met with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the American Red Cross as well. International relief organizations have been prevented from visiting the captured Israeli soldiers.
“It makes us stronger to know we are not alone on this,” said Karnit Goldwasser.