Yulia Karra
March 27

When reserve soldier Yona Golan published a social media post, looking for someone to adopt a cat he rescued from Gaza, he didn’t think that one of the first people to respond to him would be Iris Haim. 

Haim lost her son, Yotam Haim, less than three months ago. The 28-year-old professional drummer was kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the border with the Gaza Strip.

At the end of December, Yotam was shot dead by Israeli troops in the Hamas-controlled enclave along with two other hostages, after the soldiers tragically mistook them for terrorists. 

Saeed the cat

“I already have two cats,” Golan tells ISRAEL21c. “I was away from home, on reserve duty a lot. If I had just left [the cat from Gaza] with my own cats, they would have been fighting non-stop.”

The cat rescued from Gaza by a reserve soldier. Photo by Yona Golan
The cat rescued from Gaza by a reserve soldier. Photo by Yona Golan

Golan has been operating with the central command of the Gaza Division since the start of the war. “We were inside one of the Islamic University of Gaza buildings, when I saw a ginger cat sitting on the roof of a car that was parked nearby,” Golan recalls. 

The 23-year-old professional photographer decided to take a few pictures of the fluffy feline. “While I was taking the pictures, he just came over and sat on my army vest.”

The cat, which Golan’s unit named Saeed, accompanied the troops throughout the day, while they were scanning the university building.  

A few days later, the soldiers came back to map the structure before its demolition. “But, I told myself that I had to take the cat with me.”

Golan searched for the cat for nearly two hours. “I almost gave up, but I knew the next day the building would be blown up and there was no way I would leave the cat there,” he says.

Finally, he spotted Saeed sitting on the hood of the IDF truck. “I gave the cat to my navigator while I drove us back to Israel.”

Once on Israeli soil

The rest of Golan’s service was spent at a makeshift base on the border with Gaza. 

“Saeed would follow me everywhere; he loved to sleep in my bed. Everyone loved him, even my commanders, who took him to a vet clinic to get him all the necessary vaccines,” explains Golan. 

Ultimately, Golan decided the situation wasn’t sustainable and the cat needed a proper home. 

“I published a [social media] post with pictures I took of the cat, and Iris Haim’s daughter contacted me. She said they wanted to adopt him.”

After discussing the matter with the Haim family some more, Golan decided to part ways with Saeed after nearly a month together. 

“The day after I was released from reserve duty, me and my friend Ron drove the cat to Iris’ house. She made us tea, while I told her the story of how I found the cat. He was the only thing that felt like home to me during that time,” he adds. 

Apricot 

Although never explicitly mentioned, it is hard not to notice the similarity between the redheaded Yotam and the cat with the shaggy ginger fur. 

The late Yotam Haim. Photo courtesy of the Haim family
The late Yotam Haim. Photo courtesy of the Haim family

According to his mom, Yotam was a big cat lover. His most recent cat, Ramsey, ran away on the day of his owner’s abduction and never returned. 

Iris wrote on her social media that adopting homeless animals, primarily cats, was her way of immortalizing her son. 

She urged those who want to honor Yotam to do the same. 

“Every little cat that gets a home and doesn’t freeze in the cold outside is a world of its own. I’ve already adopted three cats. One of them — a redhead — was saved from the inferno in Gaza,” she wrote. 

Saeed was renamed Mishmish (Hebrew for “apricot”) not only because of his color but also in memory of a previous cat of Yotam’s that passed away. 

More on Life

More on Cats in Israel