Leah and Simha Goldin have been placed in an undesirable limelight – but all they want is to finally be able to bury their son, who served in the Israeli army.

From their living room in central Israel, surrounded by books and family photos, they have been campaigning for years to bring back the remains of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, a soldier killed in the 2014 Gaza war.

Their efforts have received increasing attention in recent weeks as facilitators seek a long-term ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza Strip leaders Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement believed to hold its body.

"This thing that's in our hearts – running in our hearts with a knife – has been forced upon us," said Leah, a computer scientist.

"We are not diplomats, we are not legal experts," she said at her home in Kfar Saba, north of Tel Aviv.

The Goldins argue that the Israeli government has not done enough to bring back the mortal remains of their son.

The couple met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 2, along with the family of another soldier killed in the war, but accuse the prime minister of "doing nothing".

They say that a long-term ceasefire with Hamas, which does not guarantee the return of their son's remains, would be a stain on Israel and an insult to the family.

Netanyahu told them that there would be no agreement in the Gaza Strip without the return of the boys.

– pressure on Hamas –

Hadar Goldin's remains and those of another soldier killed in 2014, Oron Shaul, are believed to be in Hamas hands.

Two Israeli civilians, both of whom are considered mentally unstable, are also said to be in Hamas detention after entering the blocked Gaza Strip.

The Islamist movement has discussed the possibility of exchange, but the price would probably be high.

In 2011, Israel exchanged more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier held in Gaza for more than five years.

The Goldin family says the Israeli government should instead find ways to put Hamas under further pressure.

Last year, in part in response to the Goldins' campaign, Israel imposed new restrictions on the Islamist group, including refusing to return the bodies of its fighters.

"It is primarily the responsibility of the Israeli Prime Minister, the same one who sent Hadar to war," said Leah.

The family has organized events to raise public awareness, including exhibitions of Hadar's colorful paintings of landscapes and people.

They attend parliamentary discussions about their cause and meet with ministers and legislators.

With the support of former Canadian Attorney General Irwin Cotler, they attended meetings of the United Nations Security Council and the European Parliament.

Leah has vowed to continue her efforts – "even if I have to reach Gaza" – not only for her son, but also for soldiers "who will lead the next war."

– Gaza attack –

Hadar Goldin was on 1 August 2014 part of a team of Israeli soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip, trying to find and destroy militant tunnels.

This morning, a 72-hour humanitarian truce was declared, and Israel says that Goldin's team was not allowed to use weapons during their search, except in the case of imminent danger to their lives.

According to the Israeli military, the soldiers came under fire from Gaza militants who killed Goldin and forced his body into a tunnel. Two more soldiers were also killed.

The Israeli military at that time did not know if Goldin was dead or alive and launched a massive operation to find him and attack militant guards.

The attack was known as "Black Friday".

Human rights groups say more than 130 Palestinian civilians have died, while Israel's army recognizes that up to 70 civilians have been killed unintentionally.

The war would end in late August without Goldin's body being recovered.

Netanyahu "could have prepared the end of the war for the return of the soldiers," Simha said.

Missing soldiers evoke special sentiments in Israel, a country of about nine million people, where military service is mandatory for most Jewish citizens.

"The initial act of granting a dead man a Jewish funeral is an act of true grace," said Simha, a history professor.

"Every Jew in the world knows that this is the first, and it was not done."


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