Family of IDF soldier killed in Gaza vows to keep up fight for son’s remains
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Family of IDF soldier killed in Gaza vows to keep up fight for son’s remains

Leah and Simcha Goldin have waged a years-long campaign to repatriate their son Hadar’s body, say Netanyahu government not doing enough to pressure Hamas

  • Simha Goldin, the father of Israeli soldier Lt. Hadar Goldin, holds up a picture of his son as he speaks during an interview at their family home in the central Israeli city of Kfar Saba on August 29, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
    Simha Goldin, the father of Israeli soldier Lt. Hadar Goldin, holds up a picture of his son as he speaks during an interview at their family home in the central Israeli city of Kfar Saba on August 29, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
  • Parents of late Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin at a protest tent outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    Parents of late Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin at a protest tent outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
  • Leah Goldin (R), the mother of Israeli soldier Lieutenant Hadar Goldin (L), holds up a picture of her son as she speaks during an interview at their family home in the central Israeli city of Kfar Saba on August 29, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
    Leah Goldin (R), the mother of Israeli soldier Lieutenant Hadar Goldin (L), holds up a picture of her son as she speaks during an interview at their family home in the central Israeli city of Kfar Saba on August 29, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
  • This picture taken on August 29, 2018 shows a reproduction of a photo of Israeli soldier Lieutenant Hadar Goldin taken while on army duty, as shown by his parents at their family home in the city of Kfar Saba. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
    This picture taken on August 29, 2018 shows a reproduction of a photo of Israeli soldier Lieutenant Hadar Goldin taken while on army duty, as shown by his parents at their family home in the city of Kfar Saba. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

AFP — Leah and Simcha Goldin have been thrust into an unwanted spotlight — but all they want is finally to be able to bury their son who served in the Israeli army.

From their living room in central Israel, surrounded by books and family photos, they have waged a years-long campaign to bring back the remains of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, a soldier killed in the 2014 Gaza war.

Their efforts have received increased attention in recent weeks as mediators seek a long-term truce between Israel and Gaza’s rulers Hamas, the Palestinian terror group believed to be holding his body.

“This thing that’s in our hearts — to run around with a knife in our hearts — has been forced upon us,” said Leah, a computer scientist.

“We’re not diplomats. We’re not legal experts,” she said at her home in Kfar Saba, north of Tel Aviv.

The Goldins argue that Israel’s government has not done enough to bring back the remains of their son.

Leah and Simcha Goldin, parents of late Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin, protest as they call for their son’s body to be released outside the UN Headquarters in Jerusalem on August 1, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The couple met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 2, along with the family of another soldier killed in the war, but they accuse the premier of “still doing nothing significant.”

They say a long-term truce deal with Hamas that does not guarantee the return of their son’s remains would be a mark of shame for Israel and an insult to the family.

Netanyahu told them “there would be no arrangement in the Gaza Strip without the return of the boys.”

Pressure on Hamas

Hadar Goldin’s remains and those of another soldier killed in 2014, Oron Shaul, are believed to be in the hands of Hamas.

Two Israeli civilians — both reputed to be mentally unstable — are also believed to be in Hamas custody after entering the blockaded Gaza Strip.

The ruling terror group has mooted the possibility of an exchange, but the price would likely be high.

Tzur Goldin, the twin brother of slain and captured IDF soldier Hadar Goldin, speaks during a protest of IDF reserve soldiers who fought in the 2014 Gaza war, outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, in Jerusalem, on July 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In 2011, Israel traded over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier held captive in Gaza for more than five years.

The Goldin family says Israel’s government should instead find ways to further pressure Hamas.

Last year, partly in response to the Goldins’ campaign, Israel imposed new restrictions on the Islamist group, including refusing to return the bodies of its fighters.

“It’s first and foremost the Israeli prime minister’s responsibility, the same one who sent Hadar to war,” said Leah.

The family has organized events to raise public awareness, including exhibitions of Hadar’s colorful paintings of landscapes and people.

They attend parliamentary discussions on their cause and meet with ministers and lawmakers.

Supported by former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, they have participated in sessions at the United Nations Security Council and the European Parliament.

Leah Goldin, mother of fallen IDF soldier Hadar Goldin, speaks at a State Control Committee hearing in the Knesset on April 19, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Leah has vowed to keep up her efforts — “even if I have to reach Gaza” — not just for her son, but for soldiers “who will fight the next war.”

Gaza assault

Hadar Goldin was part of a team of Israeli soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip on August 1, 2014, trying to find and destroy attack tunnels.

A 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire had been declared that morning, and as a result Israel says Goldin’s team was prohibited from using weapons during their search except in the case of immediate danger to their lives.

According to Israel’s military, the soldiers came under fire from Gaza fighters who killed Goldin and took his body into a tunnel. Two other soldiers were also killed.

Israel’s military did not know at the time if Goldin was dead or alive, and it launched a massive operation to find him and attack Hamas posts.

The assault came to be known as “Black Friday.”

Rights groups say more than 130 Palestinians civilians died, while Israel’s army acknowledges that up to 70 civilians were killed unintentionally.

Simcha and Leah Goldin with US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, left. (US Mission to the UN)

The war would end later in August without Goldin’s body being recovered.

Netanyahu “could have conditioned the end of the war on returning the soldiers,” said Simcha.

Missing soldiers evoke particular emotion in Israel, a country of around nine million people where military service is compulsory for most Jewish citizens.

“The initial deed of granting a dead soldier a Jewish burial is an act of true grace,” said Simha, a history professor.

“Any Jew in the world knows that’s the first thing to do, and it hasn’t been done.”

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