Is now the time to press Hamas to free the captives from Gaza?
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Is now the time to press Hamas to free the captives from Gaza?

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Leah Goldin has waited seven years to bury her son Hadar.“It is my responsibility as a mother” to do this, and it is “my human right,” she told The Jerusalem Post this week, as her voice broke slightly.

Lt. Hadar Goldin was killed by Hamas on August 1, 2014, at age 23, while serving in the IDF during that summer’s Gaza war, but his body is believed held by Hamas. He was killed two hours into a brief US-brokered truce that had been erroneously expected to halt hostilities.

Almost seven years later, Leah Goldin, a computer scientist and the mother of three other children, sees a renewed opportunity to bring him home, given that truce talks are still ongoing. At issue are the conditions under which calm between Israel and Gaza can be maintained in the aftermath of the 11-day IDF-Hamas war, which ended on May 21.

There has even been talk of a more formal Egyptian-brokered understanding, with US backing, something that has been impossible to achieve in more than a decade of conflict.

Goldin is pushing for her son’s fate to be part of those talks, which could be the most significant ones to be held since the end of the 2014 Gaza war, known as Operation Protective Edge.

“The opportunity is still here. After the war and when the fire stops, that is the moment when negotiations start,” Goldin said, and those talks open new options after many years with scant hope for a breakthrough.

“The timing is right. It should be put on the agenda,” she said.

Goldin could not help but note the similarity between the time that her son was killed in 2014 and this last war, known as Operation Guardian of the Walls.

“We have the same leadership that we had in 2014 when my son was killed and abducted two hours after a ceasefire was declared, Goldin said.

Then as now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the country. Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz was at the time the IDF chief of staff. Current IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi was then head of Military Intelligence, and US President Joe Biden was then the vice president.

The United States in particular, she said, has a special responsibility here, and as such she has already sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in the region

“Since that [2014] ceasefire was brokered by the United States, they should bear the responsibility of his return. Hadar is the victim of a ceasefire, rather than a victim of a war,” Goldin said.

The Goldin family is not the only one with a captive in Gaza. Hamas is also believed to be holding the body of St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, killed at age 19 during the 2014 Gaza war. In addition, it is presumed to be holding two Israeli citizens who wandered into Gaza after the war and are believed to be alive, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.

Over the last seven years the Goldin family and representatives of the other captives have traveled to the United Nations, the European Union and the White House to meet with top dignitaries. They have held rallies and press events in Israel, but have met with little success.

At issue in particular has been the informal nature of the calm, in which humanitarian aid was traded for the absence of violence, with the idea that any more substantive issues such as the hostage release must be done at the tail end of the process, not at the start.

“For us it’s obvious that before even thinking of establishing a new ceasefire, the first thing to do is to rectify the unjustice of the previous one,” Goldin said.

The release of the captive should be a very public and very loud condition, she added.

“Hadar’s kidnapping is a violation of laws of war, violating the ceasefire agreement, and since then Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are in a standing violation of humanitarian law,” she said.

It is also a violation to hold helpless people captive and to refuse to return missing persons, she added.

The US knows how to secure the release of hostages. It did so with enemy countries such as Iran and North Korea, so it should be able to do it here as well, Golden said.

In addition, according to Resolution 2474, UN member states are responsible for ensuring the return of missing persons when conflict ceases, she said. All those countries who are now prepared to send humanitarian assistance to Gaza, also have a responsibility to weigh in, she said .

BRIG.-GEN. (ret.) Shlomo Brom, who is a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, told the Post that he believes there is an opportunity now for a more formal ceasefire with Gaza, and that it could include the captives.

Such a possibility, he said, is contingent on the scale of the damage the IDF caused to Hamas and whether it was extensive enough to act as a deterrent against further violence, Brom said.

Large-scale aid packages will also play a factor, he said.

Then there is the issue of how much each side is willing to give, but there is certainly a moment here that could be seized, and that moment could and should include the return of the captives, he said.

US involvement is of particular importance, he said, because it has a lot of leverage.

He spoke, however, as the possibility of formal ceasefire talks were still in its infancy and the possibility of renewed conflict or even an informal understanding still remained. Even if talks were to push forward, the lack of relations between Israel and Hamas and the substantive issues between them would make it difficult to conclude a deal.

LEAH GOLDIN said that the battle for her son and the captives has been a very prolonged one.

“Seven years is very long” with “many days,” Goldin said. Her story, unfortunately, she said, is akin to that of mothers throughout the world who are waiting for the return of their children.

“This is not my personal problem. I am representing many mothers around the world,” Goldin said. This includes mothers who are Jewish, Christian or Muslim who all feel the same pain.

In the past weeks, however, she has felt a renewed sense of hope and believed that suddenly “the stars are aligned to bring Hadar home.”

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