Five years ago, Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old Israeli soldier, was killed during “Operation Protective Edge.” The purpose of that campaign was to silence the barrage of Hamas rockets and missiles from Gaza into Israel, as well as to prevent the terrorist group from using tunnels for kidnapping and murder raids. At the cost of more than 2,000 Palestinians killed, the vast majority of whom were terrorists, and 73 Israelis (67 Israel Defense Force soldiers and six civilians) slain, as well as many thousands of wounded on both sides and devastating damage inside the Gaza Strip, a temporary halt to Hamas’s atrocities was achieved.
But for Goldin’s family, the nightmare continues. The question is whose fault is it that their boy’s body continues to be held hostage by Hamas? The answer to that question speaks volumes about the international hypocrisy concerning Palestinian terrorism and intransigence. It also speaks to the terrible dilemma that Israel faces as it attempts to quarantine the Hamas terrorist state in Gaza without unduly harming civilians or launching another war that may not achieve more than what happened in 2014.
After U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced a ceasefire, Hamas gunmen ignored the call for a cessation of hostilities and attacked an Israeli patrol led by Lt. Hadar Goldin on Aug 1, 2014. He was killed and his body was spirited away by the terrorists.
Along with the body of Shaul Oron, another Israeli soldier killed a few days earlier, and two living Israeli citizens (one an Ethiopian immigrant and the other a Bedouin), Hamas continues to hold Goldin’s corpse hostage.
That this is a gross violation of international law, as well as of common decency, is of little concern to a group like Hamas, which uses civilians as human shields, and schools and hospitals as places to hide their fighters and munitions.
But the dilemma facing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is what can or should he do to gain their release.
For five years, the Goldins have led a protest aimed at forcing someone to do something to get their boy a “decent burial.” They blame the international community that continues to enable Hamas rule in Gaza for their tragedy. And they believe that the United States and the United Nations, under whose auspices the ceasefire ruse was used to kill their son, is particularly responsible for what happened, and are frustrated that neither the world body nor the Obama or Trump administrations has been either willing or able to free their son’s body.
But the main focus of their anger has been Netanyahu.
In one sense, this is a familiar story for this prime minister.
Whenever an Israeli is held captive by terrorists, the country has rallied around the cause of redeeming the hostage. Such efforts are deeply rooted in Jewish tradition where the mitzvah pidyon shvuyim or “redemption of hostages,” is something that Jews have regarded as priority since ancient times. That is compounded by the way Israelis identify with any soldier held prisoner in a country where almost everyone serves. That has led Israeli governments to conduct lopsided exchanges in order to gain the freedom of Jewish hostages.
In the latest such instance in 2011, public pressure to free Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who had been held hostage since 2006, led to Netanyahu agreeing to a deal that exchanged 1,027 prisoners, including many with blood on their hands.
Such deals are a gift to Hamas and demonstrate the advantage Israel’s enemies have over a country that prizes the lives of its children more than the implications of such exchanges for their security.
Yet as much as the Goldins want Netanyahu to act, they are not appealing for another such travesty. Rather, they believe that he is negligent because he has not used the leverage Israel has over Gaza. Goldin’s parents want Netanyahu to use the daily flow of food, fuel and medicine into Gaza from Israel as his own bargaining chip. They want the prime minister to withhold all but essential humanitarian aid to force Hamas to hand over their son’s body
Are they right?
It’s hard to argue with their appeal. But Netanyahu has to weigh the costs to Israel—not merely of the international criticism that will land on it if he tries to hold up the flow of goods to Gaza, but also the possibility that doing so will start another war that will lead to more bloodshed. Even if he were to seek to re-occupy the entire strip, that wouldn’t guarantee that Goldin’s body would be found.
Given the potential implications for Israel and the possibility that other soldiers would have to die in order to bring Hadar home, the cautious Netanyahu has not acted on their suggestion and thus is the focus of their anger, which has once again been given a public airing on the anniversary of their son’s death and abduction.
The real problem is a world that has consistently sought to restrain Israel from eradicating the Hamas state in Gaza and which has stood by while those terrorists have turned the strip into a fortress built with international aid.
As with the case of Gilad Shalit, it’s easy to second-guess Netanyahu’s decision, no matter which choice he makes. Yet as much as it can be argued that he harmed Israel’s deterrence by freeing killers in order to save one live Israeli hostage, it’s even harder to argue that he should risk an escalation that would also create more suffering on both sides merely in order to redeem a body.
The Goldins should have the sympathy and the support of not only Israelis and Jews, but of all decent people. But as long as the price of redeeming their son’s body remains so high, we shouldn’t be surprised that Netanyahu—and any possible successor—will refrain from paying it, no matter how much they would like to end this tragedy.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.