The family of IDF soldier Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was killed during last year’s fighting in Gaza and whose body has not been recovered, on Thursday night rejected a new Hamas version of the events that led to the seizing of Goldin’s body as outrageous, untrue, and marking an attempt by the terror group to slander the Israeli army.
The Goldin family statement came in response to a Hamas operative’s claims in an interview broadcast Thursday by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network that the Israeli army evacuated the body of a Palestinian fighter wearing IDF uniform by mistake, thinking it was Goldin’s, before realizing that Goldin was missing.
“The lies and slanders of Hamas are played up again and reported favorably by al-Jazeera, which is outrageous,” a statement issued by the Goldin family read. “We fully endorse the army, the security forces and the State of Israel, and consider them to be the sole and exclusive address for accurate information.”
The family also called “to increase pressure on Hamas to return Hadar [Goldin] and Oron [Shaul], whose bodies were kidnapped, for burial in Israel.” (IDF soldier Oron Shaul was also killed in Gaza during last summer’s 50-day military campaign against Hamas, and his body has also not been recovered. Shaul was one of seven Israeli soldiers critically wounded on July 20, 2014, when, amid fierce battles in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, his armored personnel carrier became stuck in the middle of a city street and was hit by a Hamas anti-tank rocket.)
On the morning of Friday, August 1, 2014, Goldin went missing in action following a deadly ambush by Hamas fighters in southern Gaza in which two other soldiers were killed, with Israel saying it suspected he had been snatched by Palestinian terrorists. The ambush came an hour and a half into an agreed upon humanitarian ceasefire, Israel said.
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, and they were working on decommissioning it when they were attacked, the IDF said at the time. 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’s body was apparently seized by Hamas and has been held in the Strip by ever since. At the time, the IDF activated the controversial Hannibal Protocol — a tactic that involves heavily bombarding the area where a soldier is believed to have been captured in an effort to prevent the captive from being moved further afield.
In the Al-Jazeera interview, a member of Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, laid out the terrorist group’s version of the events. The Hamas man, identified as a commander called Abu al-Walid, said that the sequence began at 7:30 in the morning of August 1, half an hour before the ceasefire came into effect.
Two unarmed Hamas members emerging from a tunnel in Rafah identified IDF forces close by, al-Walid claimed. After reporting the Israeli forces to their commanders, a firefight ensued that lasted no more than five minutes, at which point the Hamas fighters retreated back into the tunnel. Al-Walid said IDF forces evacuated two critically wounded soldiers from the scene, along with the body of a Hamas member wearing an IDF uniform who they erroneously believed to be Goldin. (Al-Walid’s comment appeared to mark a first Hamas admission that some of its fighters wore IDF uniforms.)
It was only after the IDF realized that they did not have Goldin’s body that the Hannibal Protocol order was issued, with a massive bombardment of Rafah beginning two hours after the contact, he said.
According to Gaza-based sources, over 120 Palestinians were killed in the rain of bombs, missiles, and artillery shells that followed.
Israeli officers have said that their consciences “are clean” about the Hannibal Protocol and that an enemy acting amid civilians — an enemy that had violated a ceasefire that morning and sought to cut at Israel’s most sensitive wound, attempting to duplicate the Gilad Shalit abduction and prisoner trade — ought to have known that the response would be overwhelming.
The commander of the Givati Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion, Lt. Col. Eli Gino, told Ynet in September that, “I’m at peace with the orders I gave. The fire was proportionate, and when they kidnap a soldier, all means are kosher, even if it exacts a price.”
The administrative director of the Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital in the Gaza Strip, who was also interviewed by Al-Jazeera for Thursday’s report, said that about two hours after the kidnapping, the IDF contacted him to warn that the hospital would be targeted by the Israeli Air Force, since it was suspected that Goldin was being held at the site.
Contrary to the Hamas member’s version of the events, the IDF claims that Goldin’s unit was ambushed after the 8:00 ceasefire had already come into force, and that in the minutes after the initial clash another soldier pursued Hamas fighters into the tunnel in a desperate effort to retrieve Goldin’s body. The soldier and a fellow member of his unit were able bring back some of Goldin’s blood-soaked equipment, the IDF said, providing enough evidence for him to be declared dead and given a funeral ceremony.
Al-Walid claimed the attack tunnels were all booby-trapped, thus rendering the possibility that IDF soldiers followed Hamas fighters underground improbable, since the dug-out structure would most likely have blown up in such a case.
The IDF in December released harrowing recordings of the events, shedding light on the circumstances of Goldin’s abduction and the consequent developments.
Hamas has claimed it is holding both Goldin and Shaul’s bodies.
In April, Ruhi Mushtaha, a senior Hamas official who was released from prison as part of a deal that secured freedom for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011, said “Hamas will not reveal anything about the fate of the soldiers missing in Gaza without a price,” indicating that Hamas intends to use the missing bodies as bargaining chips to exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
The Gilad Shalit swap in which Israel freed 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the IDF soldier took place in October 2011. Several of the freed prisoners have carried out deadly terror attacks since their release.
Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.