People ask me, how does a prophet of the apocalypse feel when his prophecies come true? Or how does a historian feel when he holds up a mirror to leadership and they ignore or shatter it? How does a bereaved father feel when he points to the completely mistaken concept of achieving “quiet” at the cost of abandoning any security value, and yet the military and political leadership dismissively mutters, “He’s just a bereaved father.”
My response is always the same: Those who abandon the dead will abandon the wounded and the living. By bolstering Hamas, we invited their aggression. And as we’ve learned, there’s no barrier impervious to a determined enemy.
Hadar Goldin, a valiant soldier and outstanding officer in the Givati Brigade, was captured in a Hamas ambush during a humanitarian ceasefire. His comrades risked their lives to rescue him, but their superior officers failed to bring him home. Then chief of the Israel Defense Forces, Benny Gantz, marked the Gaza Strip’s hospitals and clinics as no-go zones. The operation to rescue Hadar stalled near the hospital, despite the knowledge that the tunnel Hamas used to kidnap him led there. The Hannibal Directive, initiated by Hadar’s commander Col. Ofer Winter, halted just outside the hospital, even though there was no enemy presence. The soldiers, including the Givati Brigade, the Paratroopers Brigade, Armored Corps, and elite Special Forces, refrained from entering the hospital to save their wounded comrade. The next day, Major General Yoav “Poli” Mordechai delivered a generator to the same hospital.
Since then, my family has struggled relentlessly to bring Hadar home, with no success. Despite promises and guarantees, the political, military, and religious leadership opted to abandon our fallen soldiers rather than return them to their homeland, even when it was feasible. We have spent nine years, two months, and two weeks attempting to bring Hadar and Oron Shaul, another soldier captured by Hamas in 2014, back from the battlefield. Our repeated calls to repatriate our soldiers went unanswered and, at the same time, the misguided notion of achieving “quiet” at any cost continued to fester. We quickly realized that the reluctance to challenge the Hamas organization stems from fear. The fear that destroys the values of the IDF, the values of Israeli society, and creates a military threat.
It’s our faith in the security doctrine of “quiet” that has led us astray. It’s the belief that we should give Hamas anything they demand, as long as they don’t launch rockets or send destructive kites and balloons into our country, as long as they don’t harm our soldiers. It’s the notion that we shouldn’t pressure them to return our soldiers home. When I demanded to know where the return of the soldiers was in the list of priorities for the army, time after time I received no answer, until one day I was shown a list of priorities for negotiations: a. food; b. water; c. medicines; d. electricity; e. sewage; f. salaries; g. captives and missing persons. These two outstanding soldiers, Oron from Golani and Hadar from Givati, who were less important than the sewers of Gaza, less important than the salaries given to Hamas. All for “quiet.”
My concern was not just that the army and the leadership had renounced their commitment and promises, but that they had also abandoned the core values of the IDF and Israeli society. They had abandoned the ability to initiate military actions. It was evident to me that this abandonment would cost us dearly. Everything I had learned and taught pointed to this inevitable outcome. Whenever we demanded the return of the soldiers, Hadar and Oron, they slapped us in the face with the same response: “But at what price?” Today, we understand the price we pay.
Four years ago, a young officer, who is fighting fiercely against the enemy as I write these words, wrote a reasoned article about “the fence syndrome.”
We suffer from the fence syndrome [...] fences have turned from a tactical defensive tool into a psychological barrier [...] even though there are alarming historical examples of security fences that have failed, such as the Maginot Line, the Great Wall of China, and the Bar Lev Line [...] Escalating reliance on protection and fortification produces biases in the commanders, and the biases affect the operational capacity.”
We didn’t heed his warning.
When construction on the “barrier” began, I attempted to explain to everyone I could that the barrier’s construction would lead to a fatal admiration of it, an admiration that would only grow stronger as the financial cost increased. That’s how we buried billions in the barrier, and that is how we fell in love with it more and more. We hung our passions and dreams on it. It dulled our vigilance, crippled our maneuverability, and made us fall in love with an inanimate structure.
On Dec. 7, 2021, the barrier was inaugurated. The officer who wrote the article I mentioned above was not invited to the ceremony. In the historic photograph from that day stood former Chief of Staff Kochavi, then commander of the Southern Command, and then Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Gantz said: “We are placing an iron wall, concrete, and sensors between Hamas and the residents of the south. With this obstacle, we are providing a wall of protection to the residents of the south and, no less important, a sense of personal security that will allow this beautiful region to continue to grow.”
Of all places, the dignitaries chose to station themselves near Netiv HaAsara, a village protected by three old walls and one new barrier. Until Simchat Torah a week ago.
I said it everywhere; I shouted it at the Black Arrow, the commemoration site of a retaliatory operation that went completely wrong and resulted in a horrible number of dead and injured. It was in 1955. Our fighters pledged they would bring all their comrades back—alive, wounded, and dead—at any cost. So they did. We tried to keep the spirit of their pledge alive. We stood at the Black Arrow for 286 consecutive Friday mornings: in the burning heat of summer and the freezing cold winds of winter; when they burned the fields and blew up incendiary balloons; and when they fired a missile at a bus. We stood there with all our friends from the south, fighting to return Hadar and Oron from the battlefield. For nine long years, only the Goldin and Shaul families were on the playing field, the rest of Israel were watching from the grandstands. On Simchat Torah, the grandstands collapsed.
The attack by Hamas on the holiday of Simchat Torah shattered Israeli society, and now we must rebuild it. As with all difficult beginnings, Israeli society will rise again after this war. A war in which the challenge is social as much as it is military. Hamas, a terrorist organization, occupied parts of the State of Israel, including kibbutzim, settlements, cities, and army camps. Hamas massacred babies, women, the elderly, and young people. They took captive soldiers and civilians—men, women, infants less than a year old and Holocaust survivors in their 80s. We need our army to defeat the enemy and to bring our loved ones—both alive and dead—back to our land. Without this, there is no Israeli society. Victory on both fronts, military and social, must be achieved simultaneously.
I’ve always said that those who abandon the fallen will also abandon the wounded and the living. I witnessed a leadership that did not take responsibility for the abandonment of my wounded son on the battlefield. They preferred “quiet,” even though they knew that “quiet” is a quagmire that abandons blood and soul. I saw minds clouded by fear, causing division and, ultimately, failure.
It is clear to me that the victory will come, and it will include a military victory against those who committed the massacre, but the social victory will come when we restore Israeli society to its former state. When we bring the civilians and soldiers held by Hamas, from the days of Operation Protective Edge, Oron and Hadar, and to the last of the soldiers who fell into Hamas’ hands in the current war, alive or dead. We will not end a campaign if we leave female or male fighters on the battlefield. When they abandoned Hadar, they destroyed those values, and when they did not bring him home, they abandoned the promise of “never leaving a soldier behind.” We can heal the wounds of abandonment and confront the nightmares of exile and merciless attacks that have been ingrained in our people.
During conflicts with other nations, we possessed the ability to regroup and unify, even in the face of failures, surprises, and significant sacrifices. A defining moment occurred at the end of the Yom Kippur War when we encircled the embattled Egyptian Third Army. We insisted on the repatriation of our soldiers, both those who were still alive and those who had fallen, in exchange for sparing the lives of the Egyptian soldiers.
Now, 50 years have elapsed, and our adversary is a terrorist organization. Therefore, it is imperative that we unwaveringly uphold the commitment to repatriate both the living and the fallen, encompassing soldiers and civilians alike. This achievement will signify a dual victory for both the Israeli military and Israeli society.
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Dr. Simha Goldin is the Director of the Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center at Tel Aviv University. He is the father of Lt. Hadar Goldin, a fallen IDF soldier who has been held captive by Hamas in Gaza since 2014. Along with his wife, Dr Leah Goldin, Simha has led the efforts to return his son along with the other fallen soldier and civilians that have been held hostage in Gaza for the last nine years.