Editor’s note – This is an English translation of an article published in Makor Rishon on April 21, 2017. Written by Maya Pollack, Photo by Arik Sultan.
Leah Goldin, the mother of Hadar Goldin (OBM) whose body is being held in Gaza, calls for the decision makers to include his return as a condition of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, demands that the international community takes responsibility for the return of the boys, and calls to stop giving Hamas a pass.
“You turned us into an enemy of the people,” Leah Goldin accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a hearing of the state comptroller, which discussed the state comptroller’s report concerning Operation Cast Lead. The fact that two of the fallen soldiers were captured during the operation, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul (OBM), was not mentioned in the report, causing a difficult emotional outburst from the mother Leah Goldin, and an unnecessary quarrel between her and Knesset Member Miki Zohar. During the stormy discussion, serious claims were leveled against the government for avoiding responsibility to return the two fallen soldiers for burial in Israel.
“The Prime Minister broke my heart,” says Goldin hours after the heated debate. “At the last memorial service, two years since Hadar’s death, Eitan Ben-Eliyahu (the former commander of the Israeli Air Force) arrived. We were surprised in that we had no prior acquaintance with him, and as an Air force man, he is not directly connected to our story. He turned to Simha and said: “In the Jibril deal, Rabin released hundreds of terrorists. He entered into trauma after that, and that’s why I lost Ron Arad. You are on the same track: Netanyahu made the Shalit deal, and so is he now also in trauma and you are going to lose Hadar”. He did not have to say it, that is what we feel: nothing is moving.
Goldin did not read the comptroller’s report on the Cabinet’s deliberations of the tunnels. “I did not read the report because I do not have the mental strength. Chemi (Hadar’s brother) read the report, and there is no mention of the soldiers who stayed there. They tried to explain to us that the focus was on the Cabinet’s deliberations, but what does it matter? We are the classic test case of Cast Lead: Hadar’s abduction through the tunnels is the realization of the threat.”
Hadar’s brother was the subject of Rogel Alper’s criticism in Haaretz. “Those with Goldin’s syndrome no longer distinguish between the dead and the living”, Alpher wrote last February, “When you listen to Chemi Goldin, one should remember that his late brother, Hadar, is not suffering. He is simply not here. Of course if it is possible to bring his body for burial in Israel, it is necessary to do so, but only at a price that suits the fact that he is dead.”
“This text hurt us a lot,” says Goldin. “Chemi never referred to Hadar as alive in his comments. Those who refer to Hadar and Oron as bodies are trying to minimize their value. In reality, these two soldiers were left behind by the State of Israel. Why are they returning the bodies of terrorists that carried out attacks without returning Hadar and Oron? Have the leaders gone mad? More than once, they have returned the bodies of terrorists and hour or two before the start of Shabbat out of fear of the media. Because we hear from other sources, we know about it in real time and are tormented the entire Shabbat.”
Nearly two years and nine months have passed since August 1st 2014, the same Friday in Rafah where the terrorists surprised a group of the Givati reconnaissance unit, killed the commander of the reconnaissance unit, Major Benya Sarel, and his communications officer, Staff Sergeant Liel Gidoni, and kidnapped Hadar Goldin’s body into the Hamas tunnels. The Goldin family passed another year without him at their Seder table, and on the Day of Remembrance his grave will again not have him buried there.
“Hadar is the victim of a ceasefire, not of war”, says Goldin. “Hadar was killed two hours after the start of a ceasefire that was mediated by Ban Ki-Moon and John Kerry. Hamas took advantage of the ceasefire in order to ambush the soldiers. We believe that the United Nations, the US administration and the international community should take responsibility for their return. “
In addition to the domestic efforts, the Goldin family undertakes international efforts to return their son. The family met with various government and public figures in the United States and Europe and came to the UN. They even met Ban Ki-moon, who was on a secret visit to Israel in June last year. The family harnessed the effort of American Congressmen, and recruited jurists and prominent figures from the JCRC (the umbrella organization of the Jewish communities in New York) and the Orthodox Organization (OU). The family recently met with the US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and marked a new goal: a meeting with US president Donald Trump.
“In our story there are a number of humanitarian violations,” Goldin emphasizes in her main message that the family is trying to convey to international officials. “There was a violation of the humanitarian ceasefire that was intended to help the residents, and a violation in the abduction of the bodies, an attempt to negotiate over the bodies and the prevention of burial. The current US administration is correcting the mistakes of the previous administration. We have a request for humanitarian assistance from the international community: Help us return Hadar home for burial. No less than us, the State of Israel should also be asking for this as well.”
We are enemies of the people?
Goldin says that the general public frequently inquire into the issue of Hadar: “Families whose sons are enlisting call Simha (Leah’s husband and Hadar’s father) and stop Chemi on the street. When people ask us what’s going on with Hadar, they are in essence asking what will happen to their own son when he is drafted into the IDF. Our problem is a national problem and from this point of view it is a success for Hamas. “
She refuses to be moved by the statements of senior Hamas figures in the recent past, which according to them, there are serious exchanges being held regarding the trading of prisoners. “Always after such hearings, officials in the government are interviewed and say they ‘are doing their best.’ In reality, we know that this is not real progress.”
“We see the rehabilitation of Gaza, and Israel is the only crazy state in the world that in the midst of a battle feeds the enemy and gives it medical treatment. Obviously it is very important to provide the basic existence of Gaza – that should not to be touched – but with regard to upgrading Gaza, the establishment of alternative energy and the desalination of seawater – here we must look at the relationship of ‘humanitarian for humanitarian’: Let’s find the way to condition these humanitarian transactions on the release of Hadar and Oron Shaul.”
In June 2016, the family discovered that an agreement was about to be signed with Turkey, but the issue of Hadar and Oron was not included in it. “Several days before signing the agreement, we received a phone call from the Prime Minister, who informed us that an agreement was about to be signed with the Turks and that it had nothing to do with Gaza. After three minutes it became clear that the agreement was absolutely connected to Gaza, regarding the transfer of goods to the Gaza Strip. It became a conversation that lasted more than half an hour and was very tense: how in actuality the Prime Minister broke a promise that he made to us and to the Shaul family, how he reached an agreement that had a humanitarian clause, without reference to Hadar and Oron. From our perspective, it was a total crisis of confidence. They tried to spin it as if we were against the agreement, which was not true, and turned us into a bereaved and miserable family with a narrow worldview that is working against the interests of the State of Israel. We have become enemies of the people. This deeply hurt us.”
Gilad Shalit Syndrome
Hadar’s release did not happen during the tenure of the previous Defense Minister, Bogie Yaalon, who is related to the family. In August 2016 it was reported that the current Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman said in a closed conversations that the soldiers’ bodies would not be returned and that he refuses to negotiate with terrorist organizations. Lieberman rushed to publish a denial of the statement, but Goldin tells of their tremendous disappointment from their meeting with him.
“We met with Lieberman just after he took office,” she describes. “He said to us: ‘You can talk, now I will not speak’. We talked and talked and he sat in silence. How is it even possible to carry on a conversation like that? He did not say anything until Tzur (Hadar’s twin brother), turned to him and tried to ask where is the Lieberman who fights so hard for so many things, and is this the same Lieberman who said, ‘give me 48 hours’ (referring to the liquidation of Ismail Haniyeh). Lieberman has other interests unrelated to Hadar and Oron. Our relationship with this Defense Minister is one of terrible frustration and pain. “
As Goldin has said in the past, in her last conversation with Hadar, the day before, he said to her, ‘Do not worry mom, everything is over, maybe on Shabbat we’ll already be home.” When the horrible news came Goldin was ironing, an act that she has since come to hate. At 10 AM of that Friday there was a knock at the door. “It took me a while to understand why there were so many people there, and then I tried to push them outside, that they would leave. It was probably an instinct. I asked them, ‘Who is it, which one of the two?’ They did not know that there were two soldiers in the house. Hadar and Tzur fought approximately 700 meters away from each other. In conversations with foreign officials, I talk about the humanitarian aspect as far as my two twins are concerned: how Tzur, who commanded a rescue squad, rescued not only the dead and wounded among our soldiers but also Palestinian families, at the same time Hadar was held captive by Hamas.”
Already during the weekend, when the Goldins thought that Hadar was alive and kidnapped, they began to send emails in an attempt to reach international officials that could help. When the news about the abduction got out, international officials demanded immediate action. US President Barack Obama condemned the kidnapping and said that “this soldier should be released unconditionally as soon as possible.” White House spokesman Josh Ernest accused Hamas of a “barbaric violation of the ceasefire agreement.”
At the end of that Shabbat, a delegation arrived, including the Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Brig. Gen. Rabbi Rafi Peretz, and the head of the IDF Human Resources Branch, General Orna Barbibai, and presented the family with findings proving Hadar was no longer alive. Hadar was declared a fallen soldier, but in practice because he was not returned, the family requested that he be declared a fallen solider in the status of a captive and missing, in order that efforts would be made to return him. This unique classification confused the public, and officials did not treat Goldin as only a fallen soldier with the family awaiting his return.
Goldin: “During the seven day mourning period, we tried to clarify with the Defense Minister at the time, Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, on how to engage the international community. It was a period of the Iranian agreement and they told us not to talk. We are people that are loyal to the system, so we were silent. After a year, when we asked what was happening, they took the usual response that we call the “Gilad Shalit syndrome”, and they told us, “do not talk, it will just raise the price.” After a year, Tzur got up one morning and said it’s time to reverse the equation. Instead of Hamas kidnapping bodies and using them to release terrorists, it is time for the State of Israel to set a price for Hamas so that the holding of the bodies will change from being an asset into a liability. “
The Goldin family made tremendous efforts to arrange a meeting with former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the letter which was passed on to him in December 2014, they noted that Ismail Haniyeh’s daughter and Musa Abu Marzuq’s sister received medical treatment in Israel, and that they expect Hamas to act with the same level of humanitarianism so that they could bring Hadar to the burial in Israel.
“I understand that all this maybe a bit inconvenient for you, Ban Ki-moon wrote to the Goldin family in January 2015, “Nothing can fully heal the pain of losing a child … be sure that I will spare no effort to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East so that fathers and mothers would not have to go through the pain that you are going through.” “In essence, he replied that when there will be peace in the Middle East – our problem will also be solved,” says Goldin in frustration. In another letter written by Leah and Simha Goldin to Ban Ki-moon, they used other tones: “The attack did not occur during the battle but rather during an UN-brokered ceasefire, and therefore the UN has the highest responsibility to secure the release of Hadar …”. They submitted to Ban Ki-moon that letter at that quick meeting with him in June 2016, but never received a reply.
Last September, the Goldin family presented an exhibition of Hadar’s paintings in the central corridor of the UN building, thus it was possible to meet key figures who came to the General Assembly of the United Nations. Goldin tells how Frank Lowenstein, who served as deputy envoy to the Middle East, was in charge of the exhibition. “At one point he said, ‘I’m going to get John Kerry.'” A single door separated us and John Kerry, but he chose not to come. He could not look us in our eyes or look at Hadar’s pictures in the exhibition.”
In February they met the current US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who promised to help bring Hadar back. “Her husband is an officer in the army, and when we introduced her to our family of five officers, the connection was immediate and the conversation was clear that you did not leave soldiers behind and obviously do not kidnap bodies. Congressman Brian Mast, with whom we met, was wounded and lost his legs in Afghanistan. We asked him what would have happened if their soldiers had been kidnapped. He replied that in such a case they would ‘have flattened the area.’ “
Israel Gives Up
Since the abduction, Hamas has published quite a bit of misleading information. “Hamas publicizes that they are holding four live soldiers,” says Goldin. “They created videos and posters in which Hadar and Oron and the two civilians are “dressed” in IDF uniforms. The Palestinians in an Israeli prison believe that Hamas actually has four soldiers. That is why Yahya Sinwar is now king of Gaza. He is responsible for the kidnapping and holding of Hadar and Oron, he holds the assets. And Israel is silent and gives up. When we asked about Hamas’ commitment to a ceasefire, they say, ‘well, they are a terror organization’. They are given exemptions. All international conventions were written between states and once you have a terrorist element that is not a state, it is as though that it is not obligated.”
“We asked Netanyahu to raise the subject in a meeting with Trump, and although they promised us he would, he did not raise it. After, we were told that he had explained it during his conversation with the Vice President. Was it more important that the Prime Minister be a faithful advocate for Egypt than to mention Hadar and Oron.” Concurrent with the efforts to return Hadar, the commemoration of Hadar continues. This month, Mizpe Hadar was launched in his memory in Moshav Sal’it on the western border of Samaria. Simha and Leah Goldin were even invited to join the IDF Chief of Staff’s delegation to Poland as part of the March of the Living.
“Both Simha and I are children of Holocaust survivors, and as such we are in favor of humanitarian aid to others,” says Goldin. “I believe you absolutely have to behave in a humanitarian way, but what about us? We are ready to run to the end of the world to save souls in Haiti, but when the moment comes to ask where our rights are, it has become an altruism in which we just give but get nothing.”
“I appeal directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu after the third holiday of freedom (Passover) since the capture of a Hadar in Rafah by Hamas: You can make the change and the repair. Pressure that will be applied to Hamas directly as a ‘humanitarian response to humanitarians’, will cause the enemy to return Hadar and Oron, the soldiers who went out to defend the State of Israel, and will increase Israel’s strength against future kidnappings. In the past few weeks, I met your son Yair and we embraced with excitement, and I ask you to listen to him and to your son Avner and the young people who are still fighting the wars of Israel, how important it is for us to force the enemy to see us remaining true to our Jewish values and Israeli heritage and not give up.”