ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 237

Leah Goldin, mother of late Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin, attends a press conference, August 5, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Leah Goldin, mother of late Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin, attends a press conference ahead of the cabinet meeting, August 5, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Interview'If they don't bring them all home, there is no more home'

9 years after Hadar Goldin’s capture in Gaza, fight to declare him ‘kidnapped’ continues

During a 2014 Hamas ceasefire, Leah Goldin’s soldier son was killed and his body secreted within the Gaza Strip. His remains weren’t part of any subsequent agreement. How about now?

Tal Schneider is a Political Correspondent at The Times of Israel

Leah Goldin, mother of late Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin, attends a press conference ahead of the cabinet meeting, August 5, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Nine years and nearly four months have elapsed since the tragic events of August 1, 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, when mere hours after Hamas agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire the group’s terrorists shot and kidnapped Lt. Hadar Goldin in an ambush.

Currently, Hamas holds the remains of both Goldin and 1st Sgt. Oron Shaul, another soldier killed during Operation Protective Edge. Goldin’s remains are believed to be held in a hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

On October 7, 2023, the Goldin family once again felt the ground giving way beneath them when 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed the border and killed 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians. Amid horrifying acts of brutality, the terrorists also took more than 240 others hostage, including infants and children. The attack was the worst in Israel’s history, and the biggest single-day massacre of Jewish people since the Holocaust.

That night united the Goldins in grief with hundreds of other Israeli families. Among them were many friends from the western Negev who consistently opposed the approach of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with other Israeli leaders, in nurturing Hamas.

These friends have supported the Goldin family’s quest for the better part of a decade, standing with them at the Black Arrow memorial site 900 meters (3,000 feet) from the Gaza Strip border, where protests advocating for Hadar Goldin’s return have been held over the years.

Leah Goldin, the soldier’s mother, asserts that Israel is not making enough of an effort to secure the return of her son’s body from Hamas.

A photo of Lt. Hadar Goldin taken while on army duty, as shown by his parents at their family home in Kfar Saba in 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

During each new round of fighting between Hamas and Israel, Goldin has urged the country to insist — at the very least — on agreeing to a ceasefire only if Hamas returns the bodies of her son and Shaul, along with civilians Avraham Mengistu, who crossed into Gaza in 2014, and Hisham al-Sayed, held hostage since 2015, who are presumed to be alive.

Despite assurances from politicians, IDF officers and chiefs of staff, Goldin notes a lack of tangible action. For instance, efforts by some Israeli parliamentarians to condition the entry of COVID vaccines to Gaza in 2021 on the return of the captives did not bear fruit. And in Operation Guardian of the Walls that same year, the Goldin family found that the issue of returning the captive soldiers and civilians was not included in the army’s operational plans or the ceasefire agreement.

Demonstrators with a banner showing the faces of captive Israeli civilian Avera Mengistu, and late soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, marching from the Israeli city of Ashkelon to the Karmia kibbutz on August 5, 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Despite the support from community and friends, the Goldin family has felt alone in their ongoing struggle. They have consistently stressed that theirs is a humanitarian issue — that the return of a fallen soldier in exchange for a ceasefire should be a fundamental aspect of the rules of war.

Unfortunately, in October 2023, many more families were thrown into a similar cycle of grief and agony.

Goldin hopes that one fact should be unequivocal to everyone: Abduction is a form of torture for both hostage and family. It constitutes a humanitarian crime, and there is a moral obligation to return all hostages — soldiers and civilians, whether alive or dead — to Israel.

Families of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 at a legal committee hearing at the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 13, 2023. (Noam Moskovitch/ Knesset Spokespersons’ Office)

Earlier this month, The Times of Israel spoke at length with Leah Goldin at the family’s home in Kfar Saba. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Times of Israel: Is there any information on where Hadar is being held in Gaza?

Leah Goldin: When they provided us with the IDF investigation file six months after the incident, their initial stance was that they didn’t know what happened. Later on, they assigned Moshe Tal [a seasoned Military Intelligence officer] to the case and he ran a thorough investigation. He cross-checked a significant amount of information that showed Hadar was in a hospital in [the southern Gaza Strip city of] Rafah.

We know he’s been there for some years. Unfortunately, Moshe Tal left the army, having concluded that he was not getting the necessary support to bring Hadar back.

How are you managing with the current situation?

My daughter Ayala immediately said, “If they don’t bring everyone home, there is no home — not anymore.” We feel that this is a huge national crisis, a social earthquake, with all the implications that entails.

We feel that this is a huge national crisis, a social earthquake, with all the implications that entails

Almost everyone who was responsible for military decisions since Operation Protective Edge is now in power or in senior military positions, or talking heads in TV studios. Hadar was abducted during a ceasefire when Netanyahu was prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon was defense minister, Benny Gantz was IDF chief, and Aviv Kohavi was head of Military Intelligence.

As soon as the fighting ended, they erased the issue of Hadar and Oron [Shaul]. They officially listed him as a fallen IDF soldier, talked us into having a burial service — and what did they actually bury? The evidence that he was abducted. For the first two years, he was declared a fallen soldier, but for us, this is the wrong definition. He is a kidnapped soldier.

Parents, family members and friends of late IDF soldier Hadar Goldin attend a demonstration outside the state memorial ceremony for the 2014 Operation Protective Edge at Mount Herzl, calling for the return of the missing soldiers Goldin and Oron Shaul who were killed and taken by Hamas during the operation 7 years earlier, seen on June 20, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

For years, I have been arguing with the Izkor website [the official commemoration website of fallen defense and security forces of Israel] and the IDF, trying to explain, “Why are you categorizing Hadar as ‘fallen’? List him as kidnapped, include two definitions in tandem — not just that he is fallen.”

But senior officers in the army — then and now — have told me that there is no other definition, and that we’re talking about only two soldiers. For years, we waged a procedural battle, insisting that Hadar not be declared as fallen but missing.

To my infinite grief, after October 7, who knows how many more soldiers will be added under this designation? Even at this moment, the Izkor website — an official IDF site — states that Hadar is a fallen soldier buried in Kfar Saba. Even in the management of this website there is a lack of sensitivity.

Ayelet Kaufman speaks at a memorial service for her brother, fallen soldier Lt. Hadar Goldin, at the Kfar Saba military cemetery on August 9, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

You say that your son’s case has been overlooked over the years — such as in the State Comptroller’s official report on Operation Protective Edge, where the plight of Hadar and Oron Shaul is not mentioned.

We couldn’t believe it. We read it, and it discussed failures, the deaths of Thai workers, the death of Daniel Tragerman [a 4-year-old Israeli boy killed by a mortar shell that hit his home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz]; and no mention of the two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were kidnapped by Hamas.

We felt that they were trying to make this thing disappear, that there was a huge mess-up, that there was someone constantly trying to cover this up, someone who didn’t want this Pandora’s box opened.

How are Hadar and Oron currently classified?

We sent a legal letter requesting that the status of the four previously held Israelis, including Hadar and Oron, be made equivalent to the status of the kidnapped today. We turned to Yaniv Asor, head of the IDF Personnel Directorate, and asked, “How do you currently define the people kidnapped from the kibbutzim and the Supernova festival?” He said: “We haven’t declared any of them as fallen.” So, that is what I’m asking — that Hadar should also be categorized as kidnapped.

A few weeks ago, at the beginning of the war, IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari gave a briefing on Friday evening and listed the number of captives and missing. A journalist asked him: “Are you also counting Goldin, Shaul, Mengistu, and al-Sayed?” Hagari corrected himself, and since then, the number he reports includes all four of them.

Israelis attend a rally calling for the return of the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin held by Hamas in Gaza, near the home of Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Rosh Haayin, May 21, 2021. (Flash90)

What is your next legal move?

Through a legal team, we have demanded that the IDF and chief military prosecutor remove the designation “fallen” from Hadar and equate his status with that of IDF soldiers currently held in Gaza.

Our claim is that during Hadar’s funeral, what was really buried is the evidence of his kidnapping — but he is not there. Currently, we don’t know how many of the IDF’s missing soldiers are actually categorized as “captured and fallen.”

What was really buried is the evidence of his kidnapping — but he is not there

Let’s talk about what has been happening with your family since October 7.

Zur, Hadar’s twin brother, told me on that Saturday that we have a mission — no family should feel as alone as we’ve felt. We’ve set up an operations center offering aid to every family of captives and missing, ensuring they’re not left alone. So far, we’ve managed to help hundreds of families.

Unfortunately, everyone needs to wipe away their tears and be more assertive. Tears may boost TV ratings, but the focus here should be on bringing the people back. Families shouldn’t sit in TV studios and listen to talking heads provide insights such as “We’re sacrificing soldiers to bring back women and children.” It’s unacceptable; they shouldn’t engage with such arguments. They should be interviewed separately.

From left to right: Avera Mengistu’s mother Agarnesh Mengistu, his sister Tsige Engidaw, Lt. Hadar Goldin’s mother Leah Goldin, First Sergeant Oron Shaul’s brother Ofek Shaul, Hisham Al-Sayed’s father Shaaban Al-Sayed and mother Manal Al-Sayed pose in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva, on July 5, 2023. – (GABRIEL MONNET / AFP)

Over the years, you’ve met with numerous intelligence personnel, IDF officers, IDF chiefs, and cabinet members. You’ve essentially developed strategic expertise. What should the strategic approach be?

Today, from Hamas’s perspective, the captives are an asset. As long as they’re an asset for them, they won’t give them back. Once the captives cease to be an asset for Hamas and begin to be a liability, the equation will change.

The Gaza war has erased the distinction between soldiers and civilians

Another thing to understand is that the Gaza war has erased the distinction between soldiers and civilians. People have been comparing it to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, which began with a surprise attack by the Arab coalition against Israel on October 6; but it was soldiers who paid the price then, not civilians. The 2023 war is a war of civilians. Civilians were abducted, civilians saved other civilians, civilians are now running the country, and only civilians will save the captives.

What needs to happen right now is the coming together of Western countries — the United States, Germany, France, Britain, and others. They must understand that what was done to our people could happen in the wider Western world. They need to form a strong coalition under American leadership and declare that until the last captive and fallen soldier is returned, no ceasefire will be accepted, no humanitarian aid will be given to the other side.

The world needs to persist until the return of the last captive. This is a basic humanitarian principle that we have been vocal about ever since Hadar was taken. When I talk about turning the captives into a liability, I mean that it should be an international liability. It should be a heavy burden on Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

As for Saudi Arabia, there will be no peace agreement with them before the last captive is returned. The question looming above all this is, who wants to bring back the captives? Because, in my opinion, anyone who had a hand in creating the problem is now managing the failure — not the victory.

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