Photo Credit: Israeli Government Press Office
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin shows President Trump pictures of Hadar Goldin and Sha’ul Oron.

Hadar Goldin of Kfar Saba was 23 and engaged to be married when the IDF went to war against Hamas o in the summer of 2014. One of the combat soldiers in the campaign, Hadar never returned; his remains are still being held by the Hamas terrorists.

Hadar’s parents have some ideas as to how to change this but their message is not being heard, for a very simple reason: Previous family campaigns to bring back loved ones from captivity have harmed Israel. In fact, however, Professor Simcha and Leah Goldin want to take a totally different approach – one they say can only help Israel.

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The Goldins feel the Israeli government has squandered many opportunities to clamp down hard on Hamas. They wish to see their son’s body returned and an end to what hey describe as the ongoing national humiliation Hamas is inflicting upon Israel.

They face an uphill public relations battle, however. When Israelis hear parents demanding government action to retrieve their soldier-sons from Hamas captivity, they invariably think of another soldier whose parents fought for his release: Gilad Shalit.

In October 2011, after a long and well-publicized pressure campaign led by Gilad’s parents, Israel freed more than 1,000 terrorist prisoners, including hundreds serving life sentences, for Shalit’s release.

Though many celebrated Shalit’s return after more than five years in Hamas hands, the terrorist acts perpetrated later by many of the freed terrorists brought home the traumatic nature of the price Israel had been pressured to pay.

Hadar Goldin’s parents say they’ve been trying for over two years to have Israelis realize they’re not fighting for Israel to free terrorists for their son’s release.

“That’s not at all what we want,” Prof. Goldin told The Jewish Press. “There are many other ways Israel can pressure Hamas and end this disgrace.”

Hadar Goldin fell during the IDF’s Operation Protective Edge (Tzuk Eitan in Hebrew). The campaign was initiated because Hamas rockets against civilian population centers near Gaza had once again become unbearable.

Ironically, the Hamas attacks followed Israel’s aggressive efforts during and after the abduction/murder of three youths – an atrocity masterminded by Mahmoud Kawasme, one of the terrorists released in the Shalit deal.

The battle from which Hadar did not return took place on Friday, Aug. 1 – an hour after a cease-fire took effect, and just minutes after Hamas rockets violated it. A Hamas terrorist force sprung out of a tunnel, killed two Israeli soldiers, and abducted a third: Hadar Goldin. It is not known if they dragged his dead body through the tunnel or if they killed him shortly after the abduction; in any event, within 36 hours, the IDF chief rabbi declared him not among the living, and his funeral was held on Saturday night.

“We were told that if we accept the findings and agree to have him declared dead,” Prof. Goldin said, “we would be helping Israel, in allowing the war to end proudly for Israel without Hamas claiming they had kidnapped one of our men. On the other hand, others told us, based on past experience, that it would greatly hamper our chances of getting the body back for proper burial.”

“What is happening here,” he added, “is that Hamas abducts our soldiers, and then hold them until we pay the price they determine. Instead, we should be setting the price that they have to pay for continuing to hold them. The boys’ bodies should not be a negotiating card for them but must instead become a burden for them.”

Asked why the public does not seem to understand this message, Prof. Goldin said, “The public is afraid and confused after the Shalit deal. Our message is straightforward: The government must use the tools it has to pressure Hamas, but is not doing so. It should not be returning bodies of terrorists who attack us; it can make conditions harsher for the Hamas prisoners in our jails; and it need not continue making ‘humanitarian gestures’ at our checkpoints – all until they return our dead soldiers.”

Hadar is one of two soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge whose bodies are being held by Hamas. The other is Sha’ul Oron, whose father died last September; his family continues to struggle – though more out of the public eye than the Goldins – for the release of Sha’ul’s remains.

Prof. Goldin says that ‘quiet on the Gaza front’ is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s main interest, “and he pays very high prices for this goal.”

Ever since Protective Edge, for instance, Israel has been allowing Hamas to receive, via the crossing points, everything they need and then some.

“No limitations are in place. I’m not talking about bread and water, but rather about toys, perfume, cement and the like. Why are these things not made contingent upon the return of our soldiers?”

The Goldin and Sha’ul families had hopes last year that the reconciliation agreement forged between Israel and Turkey would include exerting some pressure on Hamas. Their disappointment that it did not happen led the Goldins to make their case more publicly.

“Netanyahu said at the time that the agreement was not connected in any way with Gaza,” Prof. Goldin said. However, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at the time that he consulted with Hamas before signing the agreement. In addition, the agreement included a clause stating that Israel’s maritime blockade on Gaza would remain in place but that Turkey would be able to send supplies to Gaza via the Israeli port of Ashdod.

This past January, Gaza suffered a grueling cold wave. “We allowed Qatar and Turkey to send supplies,” said Prof. Goldin. “Why were we so weak in not demanding that Hamas return the bodies in exchange? Now we have a situation in which the new leader of Hamas – a terrorist sentenced to 450 years in prison who was released in the Shalit exchange – promises he will achieve the release of all Hamas prisoners in Israel.”

According to Prof. Goldin, then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sought the inclusion of the return of the bodies in the agreement.

Goldin noted something of a contradiction in Netanyahu’s policies: “The prime minister says our policies of deterrence are currently scaring Hamas from starting a war – yet he also says that if we pressure them too much, it will bring about another war…”

Leah Goldin is also very much involved in the efforts to seek a proper burial for her son, spending much time abroad for the cause. She pointed out that Hadar was killed when Hamas violated a cease-fire that then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the United Nations had brokered and guaranteed – and that they therefore must share in the responsibility for bringing his body home.

“If the UN and the U.S. take on this matter as a priority,” Prof. Goldin said, “Israel too will not fear to push for it. This is a matter not only for Israel but for the entire Jewish people, as well as for those who support freedom around the world.”

Prof. Goldin says his hands were often diplomatically tied: “For instance, we couldn’t pressure Kerry very often on the above point at first, because it was during Netanyahu’s efforts to thwart the Iran deal, and we were told that if we would try to pressure the administration, they would simply say that Netanyahu had sent us as part of his efforts against the deal.”

An exhibition of paintings and drawings by Hadar Goldin has been on display in the United States, drawing attention to the cause. It was housed for a while in the Park Avenue Synagogue as well as the United Nations itself.

“It is vital that world leaders see first-hand,” Leah Goldin said when the art exhibit came to the UN, “that in addition to being an Israeli soldier killed and captured during a UN cease-fire, Hadar was a talented human being full of possibility. I call upon the UN and the international community to take responsibility and ensure that Hadar is returned to Israel for a proper burial.”

The Goldin and Sha’ul families were gratified that during President Trump’s recent visit to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s official residence, Rivlin showed Trump photos of Hadar and Oron and explained the importance of pressuring Hamas on their behalf.

If, says Prof. Goldin, the Israeli public and Israeli officials realize there are ways other than releasing terrorists to pressure Hamas, the road to the sought-after objective will be that much shorter.

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