(February 22, 2016 / JNS) By Sean Savage/JNS.org
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Givati Brigade soldier Hadar Goldin was killed in Gaza, but his parents’ ongoing fight to obtain his remains has moved to the international arena.
Israelis living near the Gaza border have recently grown uneasy over fears that Hamas has rebuilt its network of “terror tunnels.” During July 2014, the revelation of Hamas’s vast network of tunnels running underneath the Israel-Gaza border led to a ground campaign by the Israel Defense Forces into Hamas-ruled Gaza, an operation that ultimately destroyed the tunnels.
That summer, Operation Protective Edge was the latest and costliest of Israel’s string of wars with the Palestinian terror group, with 66 Israeli soldiers losing their lives. One of those casualties was Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was killed in an ambush during an internationally negotiated cease-fire on Aug. 1, 2014. He was whisked away by Hamas into one of its terror tunnels, and then into the depths of Gaza.
Nearly a year and a half since their deaths, the bodies of Goldin and another fallen Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, remain inside of Gaza as their families seek to bring them home one last time.
“He was a wonderful boy, he was an intellectual and a great artist,” Leah Goldin, Hadar’s mother, told JNS.org. “He was always looking for the good in everyone. That was his way.”
Hadar’s parents, Leah and Simcha, recently visited the United States in order to raise awareness about their situation and appeal to international leaders to work to bring their son home.
“After a year, when we finished our mourning, we looked around, asking who is bringing him back….We learned that Hadar was a victim of an international cease-fire, not a victim of war. We expect [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry and [U.N. Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon to be accountable for the return of his body. The same way they were accountable for the cease-fire. This is our point and our theme,” Leah Goldin said.
Aside from their efforts at the U.N., the Goldins are also seeking to raise public awareness that their son is still in Gaza through holding art exhibitions of Hadar’s work and other events, both in Israel and the U.S.
“We find the American Jewish community to be very warm and powerful in American politics. The issue of bringing a Jew home to Kever Israel (a proper religious burial in Israel) is of upmost importance to them,” Leah said.
Goldin’s death was one of the highest-profile events during the 50-day Gaza war. After it became clear that Goldin had been taken by Hamas, the IDF implemented the controversial Hannibal Directive, which allows commanders to take whatever action is necessary to prevent the capture of a soldier and to prevent a situation in which Israel would be forced to negotiate for his release. This led to a massive Israeli artillery bombardment and round of airstrikes on the area to destroy possible escape routes that would enable abductions. Ultimately, about 135 Palestinians were killed in those strikes, according to Amnesty International.
A subsequent IDF investigation into the events of that day found that the Israeli army had sent soldiers into Gaza’s Rafah area without proper military equipment, as a result of the internationally negotiated cease-fire. Hamas took advantage of that situation and ambushed the lightly armed soldiers, including Goldin. At the same time, the IDF found that troops in the battlefield acted quickly and professionally to try to prevent the kidnapping.
“The artillery fired was meant to aid the maneuvering forces to disrupt the kidnapping cell’s escape, and was done in coordination,” the IDF report said.
During the Gaza conflict, Hamas had made it clear that it sought to capture Israeli soldiers in order to blackmail Israel into meeting its demands, such as releasing Hamas terrorist prisoners.
The Goldin family is well aware of the reluctance of many Israelis to release Hamas prisoners in exchange for Hadar’s body.
“Everyone around us in Israel was terrified about the price we would have to pay to return Hadar,” Leah Goldin told JNS.org. “Israel is a nation of trauma after the Gilad Shalit deal.”
The deal with Hamas that brought home captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011 involved the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom have returned to terrorist activity.
“We as a family stood up and said, ‘Yes there is a cost for returning Hadar, but that cost should be on Hamas, not Israel,’” Leah said, adding, “It is time to flip the equation.”
Leah said her family would like to link the return of Hadar’s body to humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza.
“[We want to] make the people who support humanitarian aid to Gaza see our issue, and maybe they can leverage Hamas to return our son,” she said.
Part of this plan has been to appeal to international institutions like the United Nations. On Feb. 5, Leah and Simcha Goldin were accompanied by Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon for a meeting with U.N.’s Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet.
“Hadar Goldin was killed during a cease-fire mediated by the international community, and the U.N. must take responsibility, and act against Hamas to return the bodies of Hadar and Oron [Shaul] to Israel for burial as soon as possible,” Danon said in a statement.
Leah called the U.N. meeting “very encouraging” and said Mulet was very knowledgeable about the family’s situation. Mulet “promised to approach [U.N. Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon and release a statement about Hadar,” Leah said.
“International humanitarian organizations that work in Gaza look up to him (Ban Ki-moon), and I believe by doing this, it will affect groups who work in Gaza,” she said.
Despite the family’s efforts, Leah said she is well aware of the complexities of getting anything done in the Middle East, especially when it comes to dealing with terror groups like Hamas.
“The situation in the Middle East is quite complicated,” she said.
At the same time, the Goldin family hopes that through holding events such as exhibitions featuring Hadar’s art, his death will not be in vain.
“We hope to honor his death by sharing who he was and his values to the world,” Leah said.
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