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Bring Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul Back Home: A Yom Kippur Plea

An open letter to John Kerry and Samantha Power, who can’t end the war in Syria, but can repent and take action for the dead IDF soldiers still held by Hamas

Liel Leibovitz
October 07, 2016
Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images
Family members mourn during the funeral for Israeli Lt. Hadar Goldin in Kfar-saba, Israel, August 3, 2014. Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images
Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images
Family members mourn during the funeral for Israeli Lt. Hadar Goldin in Kfar-saba, Israel, August 3, 2014. Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Power,

By now, you’ve probably read all about the White Helmets of Syria, the courageous men who rush into the rubble and rescue those civilians still alive. As their credo, they’ve chosen a bit of universal wisdom, originating in the Mishnah: “Whoever saves one life, saves all of humanity.”

I’m writing to ask you to do the same. I’d writing to plead with you for one life that, like every life, is measured against all of mankind. I’m writing to remind you of Hadar Goldin.

Early on August 1, 2014, a few weeks into the bloody war Hamas forced on Israel, a ceasefire, brokered by the U.S. and the UN, took hold. Two hours later, Palestinians terrorists took advantage of the lull in the fighting and snuck into southern Israel through one of their ghoulish terror tunnels. They murdered two Israeli soldiers, and abducted Goldin, an IDF lieutenant, almost certainly killing him as well.

You may recall, Secretary Kerry, how infuriating you found this blunt violation of an internationally sanctioned agreement at the time. “The United States,” you said in a statement you had issued that day, “condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s attack, which led to the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the apparent abduction of another. It was an outrageous violation of the ceasefire negotiated over the past several days, and of the assurances given to the United States and the United Nations. Hamas, which has security control over the Gaza Strip, must immediately and unconditionally release the missing Israeli soldier, and I call on those with influence over Hamas to reinforce this message.”

Those with influence over Hamas, including their paymasters in Tehran with whom you’ve spent considerable time negotiating, have yet to reinforce this message, and Goldin’s body—as well as the body of another IDF soldier killed by Hamas, Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul—has yet to be returned for burial in Israel, a clear violation not only of international law but also of any measure of basic human decency.

You hardly have to be the secretary of state or the ambassador to the United Nations to know that war, any war, is, to paraphrase the title of a well-regarded book, a problem from hell. I trust that you’ve done whatever was in your means to address the conflicts storming all around you, and that like many decent people who’d fallen short of their goals you’ll spend your retirement doing the painful calculus of matching up consequences and intent. In the few short months that remain before you leave office, you will not bring peace to Syria, resolution to Israelis and Palestinians, or comfort to any of the world’s wounded spots. But you can—and must—heed that famous motto and focus on one soul, on one family. You can and must bring back Hadar Goldin.

If you do, you’ll have the blessings of so many, and not only Jews. In September, a host of prominent American Muslims, including representative Keith Ellison and the Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, wrote to Hamas’s leader Khaled Mashal and pled with him to return the bodies of Goldin and Shaul to their families. Many American legislators and religious leaders of all denominations and convictions issued similar calls. They did so because they understand Goldin was a victim of an American-sponsored ceasefire, because they know that if the administration can’t or won’t guarantee his return to Israel for his last rites there’d be little reason to trust our word again, and because they are repulsed, as every decent person must be, by the intolerable cruelty of denying the dead their final resting place.

Secretary, Ambassador: We’re a few days away now from Yom Kippur, a time to search our souls, to ask for forgiveness of all we have wronged, and to recommit ourselves to what is right and just. I hope you, too, search your souls, and find there one uncomplicated imperative: bring these boys back home.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.

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