The story of Israeli soldier Lieutenant Hadar Goldin a”h seems to be a never-ending tale. It seems commonsense that a soldier going out to battle can rest assured that if the worst occurs, his remains will be returned to his loved ones. In 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul vanished, soon to be revealed as casualties. The years have passed ever so slowly for both of these families as they await the return of their sons to bring about a sense of closure. The families have called upon the Israeli government and their American allies to facilitate this basic right. One would assume that the hundreds of millions of dollars, $235 million precisely, that the US has pledged to rebuild Gaza, can amount to the return of these soldiers, at a bare minimum.
Also missing, and presumed alive, are two Israeli citizens, both with mental instabilities, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who also ventured into Gaza over five years ago. Mengistu, a then-28-year-old disabled resident of Ashkelon, entered the Gaza Strip on September 7, 2014, and al-Sayed, a young Bedouin suffering from schizophrenia, entered Gaza in April 2015 after being discharged from the IDF.
Since the election of President Biden, Congress has mounted a reverse course from the vocal President Trump, who publicly demanded Hamas to return the soldiers’ remains. In recent weeks, 73 members of the House have advocated for such an about-face.
It seems apropos to rehash the circumstances of that fateful morning of August 1, 2014. The military operations of the past year had taken their toll, and a ceasefire had been brokered at the hands of the Obama administration and the United Nations. But Hamas militants, in typical fashion, showed little concern for those efforts and used the newfound silence to take advantage of their tunnel network and sneak into the State of Israel, just two hours after the agreement was announced. The Palestinian forces murdered two unassuming IDF soldiers and captured Goldin, who was presumably slain during the military action that followed. “It was an outrageous violation,” stated John Kerry, then US Secretary of State, in his condemnation of the breach.
When allies of Israel ask what they can do from 5,688 miles away, the answer is quite simple: Demand that their government do its part to retrieve these soldiers and bring solace to their families. There is no need for money to stream into a Gaza rehabilitation with these bodies still at large. It is not enough to assert support for such an ultimatum; rather, serious pressure must be exercised, not more empty promises.
“Let us pray that this long-overdue release will finally occur as part of the current cease-fire negotiations,” said Dr. Paul Brody, a longtime outspoken advocate. He and Dr. Joseph Frager have long been vocal advocates of this pidyon sh’vuyim effort. In May of 2017, the duo organized a jubilee commemoration of the Six-Day War, recognizing the reunification of Yerushalayim. The event, held at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem, included the participation of Goldin’s parents, Simcha and Dr. Leah Goldin, as well as Governor Mike Huckabee. Brody and Frager led the effort for the Goldins to discuss a concrete strategy to obtain the release of their son. US Ambassador David Friedman, Rabbi Shlomo Amar (Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem), Knesset Ministers, and a number of activists were included on this mission. Notably, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who was then an Education Minister and Minister of Diaspora Affairs, was in attendance. Other names included activist Ken Abramowitz, Rebbetzin Shulamit Melamed (director of Arutz Sheva), and Ayelet Shaked (the current Minister of the Interior, who was then Minister of Justice).
Following the election of Prime Minister Bennett, renewed efforts, including those with diplomats, have been launched to help retrieve those held captive. The new ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, agrees that Israel needs its children to return home but has not laid out a plan of action that stops money flowing to Hamas’ hands from their Iranian counterparts. Still, Thomas-Greenfield has met Goldin’s mother and pledged, “The US will continue to advocate for the return of Israeli soldiers killed in action in Gaza, as well as the return of Israeli civilians held captive there.” Since the May conclusion of Operation Guardian of the Walls, minimal fuel has been allowed into Gaza, and its sole power plant remains at 70 percent capacity. The US is working in tandem with the UN to get Gaza and its Palestinian Authority back on track following the damage of the war. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hopes that the aid gets to the citizens of Gaza and not the militants aimed at destroying Israel. Blinken’s representatives are wary of such a conclusion: “As we’ve seen in life, as we all know in life, there are no guarantees.”
Goldin’s family remains hopeful. The family believes that negotiations are underway to bring home Israel’s sons, as Hadar’s death emanated from an American-brokered ceasefire. The Goldins remain optimistic in a fresh start with a new American administration with President Biden at the helm. They feel that his time as Vice President will come into play as decisions are rendered.
For those in the US, we must insist that our government not close its eyes in face of this issue and must not cave in to terrorism. We must call on our elected officials in Congress to act and jump on open opportunities to negotiate with Hamas over the exchange of prisoners. One can join the Goldins’ cause at www.hadargoldinfoundation.org.
By Shabsie Saphirstein