Hadar's smile against the world
Father of Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was killed and captured in Gaza two years ago, writes about exhibition of his son’s paintings at UN’s central hallway last month as world leaders arrived to address General Assembly. ‘This pro-Israel display presents the Israeli soldier as a smiling officer, an artist, a moral, courteous and earnest person, rather than his usual image at the UN as a brutal soldier.’
The answer is in two exhibitions of my son’s drawings taking place in the city. One exhibition is being displayed in the Park Avenue Synagogue (PAS) gallery, one of the most interesting institutions of NY Jewry. The second exhibition, a display of Hadar’s work, is being presented at the United Nations. Two exhibitions have brought Hadar into the Jewish public opinion discourse in New York and into the global public opinion in the UN corridors.
Hadar’s exhibition at the PAS was inaugurated on September 15, in an event organized by the Israeli Consul-General in New York, Danny Danon. Many people gathered at the gallery in the evening hours, walking between Hadar’s paintings, looking at his drawings, stopping by the T-shirts he illustrated with his sharp humor, and standing amazed in front of an enlargement of an interpretation he wrote on Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s book, “Mesilat Yesharim” (“The Path of the Just”).
For me it was a very touching event, seeing my son’s work, so far away from our country, receiving such a warm and close welcome, and especially the understanding that Hadar now represents the Israeli soldier in the eyes of the world’s Jews. As the congregation Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove and Danny Danon said when speaking about the young man – an artist, a scholar and a fighter – who was killed during the battle for Gaza and whose body is being held by Hamas: His image and his work have gone on to represent the special nature of the Israeli soldier against the enmity, smear and poison being thrown at IDF soldiers by BDS, Muslims who hate Israel, representatives of the radical left and those who wish to remove the State of Israel from the map of the world.
The UN display is completely different.
Hadar was killed during the humanitarian ceasefire initiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was joined by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Together, they relayed to the Israeli leadership Hamas’ agreement to launch a ceasefire that would apply not only to rockets fired across the border, but also to the organization’s activity inside the Strip. Kerry and Ban issued a joint announcement and a written statement. Hamas violated this ceasefire. Hadar, Liel Gidoni and Benaya Sarel, three soldiers in the Sayeret Givati Reconnaissance Company, were killed, and my son’s body was taken by Hamas and has been held by it ever since, for over two years.
In a public interview, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal denied that the organization had agreed to this comprehensive ceasefire. As soon as I got up from the Shiva, I attempted to put this issue on the international agenda. Either Mashaal is lying, I said, or Kerry and Ban are lying. In any event, they are responsible for returning Hadar to his country.
'You shouldn’t,' I was told at the time by officials in the highest ranks. 'The prime minister is in the midst of a conflict with Kerry and US President Barack Obama on the Iranian nuclear program,' they explained. 'Your demand will drown in this dispute, and the secretary of state won’t pay any attention.' We agreed.
In the past two years, we tried to reach the UN secretary-general three times to demand his responsibility, and he avoided us repeatedly. We sent a letter, we met with his chief of staff, and finally, several months ago, we met with him at the prime minister’s residence. In this meeting, my wife Leah accurately presented the situation to him and demanded that the UN take responsibility, and we even handed him a letter with a request that he appoint a special representative from the UN’s committee on missing persons to investigate the fate of Hadar and fallen soldier Oron Shaul. He expresses his sincere condolences, agreed to take the letter and flew off.
Now my wife, my son and I have embarked on a journey to New York, to the UN General Assembly. For two consecutive weeks, representatives of the entire world visit the city as guests of the organization’s institutions and hold discussions on every issue related to the world and what is taking place in it: Border conflicts, hunger, diseases, slavery, etc. Thousands of people will walk through the corridors of the UN, and this is the time to present our matter. We decided that during this time, we must create something that would help us fight the cynicism, the hypocrisy and the weakness of the United Nations, and put the issue of our enemies’ inhumanity on the global agenda. We presented the idea to Danny Danon, our tireless ambassador to the UN, and he and his delegation managed to get approval to display Hadar’s work throughout the entire General Assembly.
I am now standing at the display in this huge building and looking into my son’s eyes, which are looking back at me with his eternal smile. Hadar, an Israeli officer, is presented with his paintings and his story along 50 meters of the busiest corridor in the UN building, which has elevators on one end and a cafeteria on the other. Our friend, curator Elinor Milchan Barak, took advantage of this large space in order to create a huge fist which is shoved into the faces of the people passing through the corridor without any ability to avoid it.
Three huge portraits of Hadar hang in the hallway, one at the beginning of the display, one at the end of the display and another in the middle, overlapping with the three pillars supporting the corridor and serving as three pillars of earnestness and a smile holding the exhibition. Hadar, a giant smiling at you with a captivating look, once as a fighter in a flak jacket, once as a cadet at the graduation of his officers’ course at the Bahad 1 military training base, and once – happier than ever – during his engagement.
Between the portraits are Hadar’s paintings, capturing and wrapping you in a flow of vivid colors. A painting he made at the age of 14 in Cambridge — musicians playing delightfully on a rainy day— a painting he made for his fiancée, Edna – a couple on the beach alongside a fisherman fishing stars under the halo of the moon — a child drawing in a river’s water and a piper in an oasis near Eilat.
I stand and look at people with neckties stopping in front of the smiling eyes or the appealing pictures, and suddenly realizing that they are looking at a pro-Israel display, which presents the Israeli soldier as a smiling officer, an artist, a moral, courteous, determined and earnest person, rather than his regular image at the UN – a brutal soldier. Amazed, they read the captions on the wall and understand that our inferior, inhuman enemy is their enemy too.
This hallway is also a station for photographers and reporters from all around the world, who sit there prepared to jump at any event or important figure. They are all staring at Hadar’s drawings, trying out their cameras’ focus, repeatedly taking pictures of them.
Our delegation at the UN organized many meetings for us with every possible delegation. We climb up elevators, sit in spacious rooms, covered by windows from every side, overlooking Manhattan’s breathtaking view, skyscrapers and a river. We meet with delegations’ ambassadors, with ministers from important countries, with special deputy ministers for Middle Eastern affairs. They are all courteous, they are all sensitive. In all these meetings, we raise the issue of Hadar and Oron being held by Hamas, and Leah presents the following question to everyone: 'What do you think about this act?' They all express their opinion that it’s horrible, that it’s inhumane, that it’s barbaric and should be condemned and of course stopped. They all define the issue as humanitarian, because the return of fallen soldiers on both sides after a battle is a clear humanitarian act. They all agree.
'How do you plan to help?' Leah asks.
While I cannot present the conversations and answers in public, there are two things I can describe in writing: The quality of the coffee and my conclusions.
The Italian coffee was of course the best, followed by the French and German. All the rest are far behind, and last is the English tea which was served with biscuits.
The conclusion is that they all have a painful link to terror. One minister has a son Hadar’s age who is in the army, another has twins who were in the middle of a terror attack and survived, a German minister served in Afghanistan and had to deal with the killing of soldiers under his command, a British minister lost his brother in a battle with al-Qaeda, a French minister is involved in activity against Islamic terror, and of course a Swiss one who tells you that everyone is suffering and that you have to listen to the other side. They all agree that terror must be dealt with, and they are all waiting for the breakthrough that will show them the way.
As a family, we feel we managed to create some movement in the countries’ stagnation, but there is still a need for someone to instruct them how to operate. The Western states appear to be talking about the values that have shaped them for centuries, and are now afraid to launch a battle on their behalf.
This is of course the place to ask the following question: Will the State of Israel prove once again that it has the courage to deal with terror, or will it trail after the others? Will the State of Israel present the issue as an anti-humanitarian matter with the required solution being uncompromising pressure on Hamas until it gives in to our values? Or, will the State of Israel join the others, the general choir of the hypocrisy of an artificial and immoral separation between humanitarian gestures, which serve and strengthen the enemy?
In this context, I must mention the New York's Jewish leadership.
On September 19, determined people gathered on the corner of 43rd Street and Tudor City in order to voice their opinion about Hamas’ evil acts and call for a resolution that will be submitted to the UN to amend the situation. This resolution is being orchestrated by Rabbi Michael Miller of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), a strong Jewish organization in New York, in cooperation with members of Congress, representatives of the New York City Council, representatives of the State of New York and the Israeli consul. They are all calling on the UN to work to release Israeli citizens held by Hamas and return Hadar and Oron’s bodies to their families.
These are moral and responsible people who are presenting to the world a brave resolution against evil, and who believe in the power of joining forces in order to root out evil. “It’s not a question of politics or of religion,” they said. “It’s a question of right or wrong, and this is wrong. We can distinguish between good and bad. We are holding the Bible in one hand and a great constitution in the other hand, and we will warn against any evil.” Consul Danny Dayan spoke bravely and excitedly about “human dignity.”
In the spirit of the exhibition, the display and the resolution of the bold and the determined, we waited for the highlight of the effort – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the UN General Assembly. We sat at the sideline of the auditorium – my wife and I, Hadar’s parents, and his twin brother Tzur, who fought 700 meters away from him during Operation Protective Edge.
As usual, the prime minister’s speech was edited splendidly, focusing on the State of Israel’s increasingly important role among the world’s nations, among moderate Arab states and among African countries. This trend, the prime minister is convinced, will position Israel in its appropriate place in the UN as well, in accordance with its real nature and positive roles, and will keep away the choir of detractors comprised of most of the organization’s member states. When the prime minister went on to describe Israel’s immoral enemies, he said: “That’s the same Hamas terror organization that cruelly, unbelievably cruelly refuses to return three of our citizens and the bodies of our fallen soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.”
Why doesn’t the prime minister, on this historical occasion, mention the UN’s role and responsibility in the ceasefire? Why doesn’t he demand that US Secretary of State Kerry take responsibility? Why doesn’t the prime minister represent the unequivocal demand to return the bodies in the institution which is perpetuating this situation? Why isn’t the prime minister standing at the forefront of the campaign against Hamas terror? Where is the young head of the Israeli delegation to the UN who sought to stand at the forefront of the war on terror and to lead Western democracies against the most dangerous threat? Where is the Jabotinsky-style “valor and glory” that our leadership should use against Hamas?
We, the Goldin and Shaul families, are not miserable families groaning under Hamas’ cruelty. We are proud Israeli families demanding a battle against Hamas. Action. A way which will lead to a change in the passive trend against barbaric, inhumane organizations which are grabbing Western states by the throat.
This journey to New York made it clear to us that like in Israel, both Jews abroad and the world’s leadership are yearning for leadership that will deal with this challenge.