a father's plea

Father of IDF soldier held in Gaza: Don’t forget our sons in hostage deal

Rabbi Doron Perez worries that a deal that doesn’t include soldiers, like his son Daniel, would ‘seal their fate’


Daniel Perez

With the ongoing negotiations for a second deal to release Israeli hostages from Hamas’ clutches in Gaza, the parents of male soldiers called for their sons to be included in any agreement – either released or with concrete information about their whereabouts and well-being.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials have said a deal isn’t close, an outline on which Israeli negotiators and international mediators reportedly agreed would involve a temporary cease-fire lasting between one month to six weeks that would include the release of several hundred Palestinian prisoners, including those who have murdered Israelis. 

In exchange, 35-40 Israeli hostages would be released out of the 134 still in Gaza, including all of the remaining women – civilians and soldiers – men over 50 and hostages in poor medical condition. Excluded from that proposal are male IDF soldiers. 

Rabbi Doron Perez, whose son, Daniel, a tank commander, is believed to have been taken captive by Hamas on Oct. 7, is the executive chairman of the World Mizrachi movement. Like many other Israeli hostages in Gaza, Daniel Perez has dual citizenship, but his is from South Africa, the country that brought Israel before the International Court of Justice on genocide charges.

Perez spoke to Jewish Insider in between a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the funeral of Oz Daniel, a soldier presumed captured whom the IDF pronounced dead on Sunday and whose body is being held by Hamas in Gaza.


Jewish Insider: Tell me your Oct. 7 story.

Doron Perez: We came to Israel from South Africa just over nine years before Oct. 7. We have four children: Yonatan, 24, and Daniel, 22, are both officers in the IDF. Dina, 19, is doing National Service, and Shira is 15.

On Oct. 7, Yonatan was at our home in Yad Binyamin with his fiance, Galia. They were to be married 10 days later, and they were staying by us for Shabbat. He was a company commander of 150 soldiers at a paratroopers’ training base. He was training new recruits, soldiers who had been with him for two months, and were all home for Shabbat.

Daniel is an officer in the tank corps, a tank commander, and his tank was in position at Kibbutz Nahal Oz [on the Gaza border], and he was with his team for Shabbat.

Once the missiles started, Yonatan understood something [was] going on. He’s in a WhatsApp group with officers that they leave open on Shabbat for emergencies. His brigade commander said that whoever can, should come to Sderot. He left in three seconds.

By the time he called us in the late afternoon-early evening, he had fought in six different places. He was the first soldier to enter Nahal Oz, leading a force just after 1 o’clock. He noticed that his brother’s tank was not there, but he assumed Daniel was fighting. Yonatan fought at the base and saved the lives of 25 [female soldiers serving as lookouts], and he was shot in the thigh… He was moderately wounded and ended up in Soroka Hospital [in Beersheva].

We didn’t know Daniel was taken hostage that day; all we knew was that Yonatan was trying to phone him all day. We knew he was in his tank and we hoped he was OK and just fighting…

Unfortunately, by the next day, Yonatan phoned and said that people heard that there was one killed and three missing [from Daniel’s tank]… Three weeks later the IDF said they are assumed taken captive.

I don’t want to say much about Daniel, because he is still with Hamas. The bottom line is that he and his crew saved many lives, but eventually their tank was overrun by Hamas Nukhba Forces. One member of the tank crew [Tomer Liebowitz] was killed, and my son and two others [Itay Chen and Matan Angrest] were taken hostage.

JI: What information have you received about Daniel since then?

DP: We have seen no pictures or videos…the only other detail we know is that he was injured that day. After multiple DNA tests, his blood was found in and around the place from which he was taken, but the amount and content of the blood does not suggest a serious injury.

On Day 143 [Monday], we have heard nothing since. None of the hostages who came back or the terrorists interrogated [by Israeli authorities] have seen him. This is the case with the vast majority of the male soldiers who have not been pronounced dead.

JI: The parents of male soldiers held hostage in Gaza have been meeting with Cabinet ministers regularly during the latest round of negotiations – what have you been asking them to do?

DP: We are worried that our children are the most exposed as male soldiers. Hamas wants to leave them to the end, at the highest price… We are very, very concerned that if soldiers are not in some way part of this deal, it will really expose them.

[President Joe] Biden has been supportive of Israel beyond what many thought. He spoke so clearly and morally and sent an aircraft carrier. Yes, it comes with some prices… Specifically, because it’s an election year [in the U.S.] there is pressure…for there to be a partial deal now.

Three months ago, it made sense. There were 240 hostages, women and children were released first based on international norms; they were civilians — it made perfect sense. 

We feel that today, after months have passed, it makes less sense. It was hard enough to get the world to see Jewish children and women as human children and women; how much more so will that be for men and soldiers. A deal without [the male soldiers] could seal the fate of those left behind. We need a deal that includes everyone.

At the very least, we need information about the soldiers. For every day of the cease-fire, there should be unequivocal evidence about the whereabouts of the soldiers. We believe that is critical, or else their fate is sealed.

JI: Presumably, Qatar saying they know the soldiers are fine – like they said they know hostages received medicine – does not count as unequivocal evidence?

DP: In the last deal, the Red Cross was supposed to be able to visit the hostages, and Hamas didn’t allow them. We asked the war cabinet why they didn’t break the deal over it, and we were told they decided in the end that it was not a red line and they needed to return more hostages. This time around, it has to be a red line. There’s no deal if there is no evidence…

Unequivocal evidence is a visit by the Red Cross or someone in the international community who can visit and [take] a video in which someone says the date. Without that, there shouldn’t be a deal, because at this stage, not receiving any evidence will seal their fate.

JI: How have Cabinet members responded?

DP: At the moment, they’re saying we’re very far from a deal, but the Israeli government is certainly making the request [to release soldiers]…Hamas wants to leave soldiers to the end, and it is a genuine concern. [The Israeli government] wants to negotiate an overall deal.

They say we are dealing with an enemy divided among themselves, and Hamas has to agree. It took a long time for Hamas to agree to treat female soldiers as women and not soldiers. 

There’s an openness to our message, but they’re dealing with the other side.

It’s a big dilemma: if you can release some, do you go for a partial deal?… These are not decisions between good and bad, they’re between bad and bad. I personally supported the original deal to get out so many women and children…but if the war stops now for a month or 45 days and Hamas has time to regroup and decide what to do with our children, I think it will seal their fate. There will be huge pressure from America, as well [not to continue the war].

JI: There are three U.S. citizens among the male soldiers held hostage in Gaza – Omer Neutra, 22, Edan Alexander, 20, and Itay Chen, 19. Is your message being sent to Washington, as well? 

DP: The Americans meet with the Biden administration all the time, and everyone is campaigning. There are hostages with citizenship of over 20 different countries, campaigning and doing whatever they can.

The Americans in particular…are campaigning for the U.S. not to pressure Israel to end [the war] until every single hostage is returned…[and] not to pressure Israel to end this while Hamas is still in place, because they said they’ll do this again. It’s an unreasonable demand after such a horrendous act of invasion and destruction to accept a situation in which a terrorist organization can rebuild itself as a threat.

Obviously for us families, the return of our loved ones comes first and foremost. It is the most immediate, imminent and humanitarian need. But no country should be pressured to end a war leaving its civilians for dead. That is an amoral demand. 

JI: How does it feel to be a South African whose son is held hostage, when Pretoria is pursuing genocide charges against Israel?

DP: The [African National Congress, the dominant party in South Africa in the past 30 years] supported the Palestinian cause because, in the era of apartheid, Israel helped the government get nuclear weapons… Where they crossed a line for the first time was supporting Hamas.

I think the vast majority of South Africans are not this way inclined. We know a lot of this is from political expedience and interest. It’s an election year in South Africa and for the first time since the end of apartheid, the ANC is under threat that it may not get a majority…

Obviously [their behavior] is incredibly disappointing…it doesn’t exempt the government from doing all it can to release someone born in South Africa. Our son is a South African citizen…and as such, the government has a responsibility to return a South African, whatever their political position on the conflict. It’s the same with Chinese and Russian citizens. All of these countries that are not aligned with the U.S. still have a responsibility.

JI: Is the South African government doing anything to help release Daniel?

DP: Yes, they are. I don’t want to say too much. We are working hard behind the scenes. We are in touch with them, and efforts are being made.

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