Israeli soldier Lt. Hadar Goldin was killed in Gaza on Friday morning, the IDF’s Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz and other officials told his family late Saturday night.
The family said it accepted the news with deep sorrow. Goldin is officially listed as a fallen IDF soldier.
The military said in a statement that “findings in the field” were such that it could be established that Goldin was dead. Peretz headed a special panel that confirmed Goldin’s death late Saturday night.
According to Israel Radio, Goldin, an officer in the Givati Brigade, was part of a group of soldiers who had found a Hamas tunnel in a rural area near Rafah overnight Thursday-Friday, and they were working on decommissioning it when they were attacked on Friday morning.
Goldin’s group was targeted, and two other soldiers close to him, Benaya Sarel and Liel Gidoni, were killed in an explosion, apparently detonated by a Hamas suicide bomber.
Goldin was seized by other gunmen, and other soldiers who reached the scene tried to chase after the kidnappers, into the tunnel, but they were unable to thwart the kidnapping. The soldiers searched hundreds of meters into the tunnel, Channel 2 reported on Sunday, and found “items” that were central to determining that Goldin was dead.
IDF troops had been searching throughout Friday and Saturday for Goldin in the Rafah area.
Hamas denied it had any information on a kidnapped soldier.
Earlier on Saturday night, hours before the family heard the news, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been evasive about the case, saying that he empathized with the Goldin family, and that “the State of Israel will continue to do its utmost to bring home its MIAs.”
He said he would speak to the family later in the evening.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Peretz, and IDF Manpower chief Orna Barbivai delivered the news of Goldin’s death to the family.
Outside, a large crowd had gathered, and was praying and singing in solidarity with the family, hoping that Goldin was still alive. When the news of his death was reported, many in the crowd broke down in tears.
Shortly after the end of Shabbat, and before Netanyahu’s press conference, the Goldin family had reacted to news that the IDF was partially withdrawing from Gaza by pleading that Israel not leave Goldin behind.
At an emotional press conference outside their home in Kfar Saba, the family, which is religious and did not listen to news during the Sabbath, said they were taken by complete surprise when they heard some troops were leaving Gaza. They said they had not heard from Netanyahu, though they said this was probably because Shabbat was only just over.
Hadar’s father Dr. Simha Goldin said he could not “imagine that the IDF will abandon its combat soldier.”
“I am a reserve battalion commander. I did reserve duty until age 50… my personal commander was [IDF chief of staff] Benny Gantz and I know it’s impossible that he would give an order to leave [the Gaza Strip] while there’s a soldier inside…I know Givati Brigade Commander Ofer Winter. I can’t believe he would forsake an officer anywhere,” said Simha Goldin.
“The soldiers we sent… my sons …went out to protect the people of the Gaza periphery,” Simha said. “I can’t believe the people of the Gaza periphery will lend a hand to the abandonment of a soldier in the field, who went out there to protect them.”
Goldin’s mother Hedva, said: “I demand that the state of Israel not leave Gaza until they bring my son back home.”
“He’s our smile,” Hedva said. “He’s the child who saw the good in everything.”
Goldin’s older sister, Ayelet, said that “if a captive soldier is left in Gaza, it’s a defeat,” and called for Goldin’s return. “It’s important to say this… Hadar was sent by the country and was abducted by a terror organization and he’s alive. He’s alive now and I will not allow for any other terminology to enter the lexicon,” Ayelet said.
Hadar’s fiancée Edna addressed him directly, saying: “I love you and I miss you. I’m waiting for you, waiting to dance at our wedding.”
Goldin’s father told the press that the military knew what it needed to do — bring his son home. “We’ve done more complicated things. We made it to Entebbe,” he said, referring to the 1976 rescue operation in Uganda which brought back 102 Israeli hostages.
“Hadar’s alive,” his twin brother Tzur said. “He went in alive, he’ll leave alive.”
“I will do everything for you,” said his brother Menahem, echoing the declaration that to leave him would be a defeat.
IDF sources had stressed earlier on Saturday, discouragingly, that Goldin was very close to the other two soldiers who were killed — Major Benaya Sarel, 26, from Kiryat Arba, and 1st.-Sgt. Liel Gidoni, 20, from Jerusalem.
Goldin, 23, one of four children, was raised for part of his childhood in England while his parents taught at Cambridge University. He got engaged just weeks before Operation Protective Edge sent him to the Gaza Strip.
Goldin’s family is reportedly distantly related to Defense Minister Ya’alon. The family raised Goldin to love his people and his country, he told Israel National News in an October 2013 interview upon finishing his officer’s training — which he completed along with twin brother, Tzur.
“In life, you can choose to do things for yourself and you can choose to do great things,” Hadar said of his motivation to become an officer.
He added that both his grandfathers were Holocaust survivors who participated in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.
The twins, Hadar and Tzur, went to school in Kfar Saba together, studied together for exams, attended the Beit David premilitary academy in Eli together, became combat soldiers at the same time — although they didn’t serve in the same unit — and later were trained as officers together.
“We think everyone should know how to give of oneself, not necessarily in combat but in any area,” they said in the joint October interview. “You must always be prepared to carry the stretcher together (in other words, to shoulder the burden), out of a commitment to the people and the country.”