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Some 400 IDF officers and soldiers who fought in 2014’s Gaza military operation returned their medals Sunday in protest against the State’s failure to retrieve the remains of fallen soldiers Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul.
“We are entrusting you with our medals from Operation Protective Edge until our brothers return home. Only when they return will we be able to end the campaign,” they wrote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We, former soldiers and presently serving as reservists, enlisted with the knowledge that there is an unwritten agreement between the State and its soldiers that we defend the borders of the State and its citizens, while the state is concerned bring us home after the war, whether we are alive or not,” read the letter.
“The unwritten agreement between the soldiers and their families and the State is now being tested, four years after the launch of Operation Protective Edge…Only when they [Goldin and Shaul] return will we be able to finish the campaign,” the letter concluded.
On Sunday, more than 30 IDF veterans of Operation Protective Edge protested outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem marking the four-year anniversary of the military operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
That seven-week-long operation, which claimed the lives of 67 IDF soldiers, six Israeli civilians and more than 2,000 Palestinian civilians and gunmen belonging to Hamas and other Gazan terrorist groups, was launched after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas operatives in the West Bank.
Hamas has been holding the remains of Lt. Goldin and St.- Sgt. Shaul for four years. Goldin was killed on August 1, 2014 – two hours after Hamas agreed to a cease-fire – when terrorists ambushed him and two other soldiers from a tunnel located in a house in the coastal enclave. The two soldiers were killed, and Goldin dragged into a tunnel in the Hamas-run territory. The IDF declared him killed in action.
Shaul was killed on the second day of the ground offensive when his armored personnel carrier was hit by an anti-tank missile in Gaza City’s Saja’iyya neighborhood.
While the remains of the six other fallen soldiers killed in the attack were recovered by the IDF, Shaul’s body was snatched by Hamas. The IDF declared him a fallen soldier whose place of burial was unknown, a definition Shaul’s family refuses to accept.
Last week the Goldin family boycotted the official memorial service for soldiers killed fighting Hamas during Operation Protective Edge. At that ceremony Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the government is “making great efforts” to return the bodies of the two soldiers, and the two civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, being held by Hamas.
The militant terrorist organization has attempted to use all four as bargaining chips in negotiations for prisoner releases.
The veterans who returned their medals, many of whom were members of the unit in which Lt. Goldin served, demanded the return of “every last soldier.”
“Today, four years ago, Operation Protective Edge was launched. In addition to being a military campaign, Protective Edge is a moral campaign that is based on the phrase “To be a free people in our country.” The IDF embarked on the operation with every soldier willing to risk his life in order to protect the citizens of Israel and to ensure that we live as a free people,” said St.-Sgt. Or Cohen, one of the initiators of the event, who served with Goldin in the Givati brigade.
“Today, too, we have the same moral statement: We want to be a free people in our country and to live with values such as mutual responsibility, friendship, truth and striving for peace as a moral compass,” Cohen said. “However, four years after the opening of Operation Protective Edge, we cannot remain silent as long as the basic values of our society are violated.”