President Reuven Rivlin on Monday advised comrades in arms of fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oren Shaul not to return the insignia they received for fighting in Operation Protective Edge. The former army buddies of the two soldiers whose remains are being held by Hamas in Gaza met with Rivlin to protest the fact that four years after the war, the bodies of Goldin and Shaul have not been returned to Israel for proper Jewish burial in the soil of their homeland.

As a gesture of their displeasure with what they consider to be the government’s foot-dragging on the issue, they have opted to return their insignia. Rivlin advised against such a move saying that the insignia was not a prize or an indication of acceptance of the status quo, but something to which they were entitled by virtue of having fought in Gaza.

“Our need to serve in the IDF is an existential need of the state,” said Rivlin who urged his guests to rethink the situation and to take back their insignia. “The IDF is the people’s army in the full sense of the meaning,” he emphasized. “You and your friends are the main thrust of Israel’s security.” In addition to all the fighter planes and military equipment at the disposal of the IDF, Rivlin continued, Israel’s power is vested in her fighting forces.

Once again urging the young men not to surrender their insignia, Rivlin said that in giving back their ribbons and medals, they were alienating themselves from the IDF, something that he was certain they would regret.

Rivlin was confident that they had all fought valiantly in Operation Protective Edge. It wasn’t just their war, he said, it was the war of the whole country.

Or Cohen, who had been a close friend of Goldin’s and had been a member of his unit, said that the group represented the values of camaraderie, unity and mutual responsibility of people from all sectors of the population from all parts of the country. Mutual responsibility is the foundation of their campaign, he said. Quoting Goldin whose watchword had been “with strength and humility”, Cohen declared that there is no compromise on values. He saw the campaign as the right thing to do for the benefit of the state, for the benefit of the citizens of Israel and for the benefit of future soldiers.

 “Every soldier who joins the force needs to know that the State of Israel has done everything possible to achieve its aim through peaceful means or through other means designed to prevent a full-scale war. The other thing that every soldier needs to know is that he [or she] will be brought home whether injured, alive or dead for burial in Israel.”

After every previous military operation there was a prisoner exchange, Cohen continued, but not after Operation Protective Edge. “Our comrades Oren and Hadar did not return. For us Operation Protective Edge is not over until they are brought home.” The expectation he said, is that the government will act to make this happen. “Only after they are returned will we accept the insignia,” said Cohen.

“We are proud of the state. We are proud that we served in the army, and we would be willing to risk our lives again,” he said. “We were in the front lines of the battle for the ongoing existence of the state. We will continue to serve in the army, and we see no conflict between that and what we are doing now to strengthen the state.”

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