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This Israeli general saw the horror of the Hamas attack. Now, he's urging optimism

Yair Golan rescued people stranded at the Nova festival when Hamas attacked.
Ayman Oghanna for NPR
Yair Golan rescued people stranded at the Nova festival when Hamas attacked.

The morning of the Hamas attack on Israel, Yair Golan — a former member of Israel's parliament and a major general in the country's military reserves — leapt into action.

Now, a month later, he tells NPR the message he wants to spread is one of optimism: "We need to concentrate right now not on revenge but on building — rebuilding our nation."

Who is he? Golan was a member of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, until last year. His party is on the left of the political spectrum.

  • Golan joined the recent massive street protests against the far-right government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • He has five sons, aged between 34 and 19. The youngest will enlist in Israel's military this month, meaning all five will be serving.
  • What happened? When Golan saw the news of the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, he got in his car and drove down to the area around the Nova music festival that was attacked to see how he could help.

  • First, Golan's sister asked him to pick up three people who had escaped the festival. She sent him their location on Google Maps, and when he found them, they were hiding in bushes.
  • He got two more calls and made two more trips back and forth to get people out.
  • He says the third time he went to pick someone up, he was much closer to the festival site. "When I drove along the road, suddenly I realized the horror because there were bodies, you know, along the road," Golan said.
  • What is he saying? Golan spoke to All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly in Israel this week.

    Here's what he said about being called a "hero" by Israeli press:

    I can tell you the following, and it's not a matter of modesty: Compared to other things that I did in my life, it was relatively less dangerous. I fought a lot. I managed to question so many people who really fought the terrorists in the kibbutzim, in the villages, in the towns. I can tell you that if you look for bravery, talk to them, not to me.

    On how he talks to his sons about their military service:

    You think about every word, because if you give advice that could be lethal, well, you're going to take it with you for the rest of your life. So it's a very cautious discussion for my part.

    And why he holds on to hope and joy:

    Well, we need to live, and we need to go as soon as possible to normality. You know, I learned it from my father. My father was born in Germany and escaped Germany while he was five years old, and half of his family was executed by the Nazis. And he told me all the time, we are going to concentrate on building, not on sorrow, not on, you know, all kinds of negative feelings. We must be optimistic. And I think this is a lesson that lead me through my adult life. It's not just we need to be optimistic. We need to build this optimism. We need to work hard in order to convince ourselves and others that we could do something really, really good. And, you know, I look at the Israeli nation. We did something fantastic. We need to concentrate right now not on revenge but on building — rebuilding our nation. This is a true political goal.

    Learn more:

  • The death toll in Gaza surpasses 10,000 as the conflict enters a second month
  • Hospitals in Israel move underground to keep working amid working from Lebanon
  • The U.S. wants a humanitarian pause in Gaza, not a cease-fire. What's the difference?
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Megan Lim