'My prime minister is neither Sinwar nor Biden, it's you'

‘A wound that will never heal’: PM holds tense meeting with slain hostages’ families

Relatives angered by Netanyahu’s selective condolences, failure to visit Gaza border communities, castigate premier for comments appearing to renege on latest truce-hostage proposal

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with representatives of families of hostages held by Hamas (GPO)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with representatives of families of hostages held by Hamas (GPO)

Relatives of hostages killed in captivity met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and admonished him for the faltering efforts to release the captives in a deal with Hamas and for failing to reach out to their families, Hebrew media reported on Monday.

The Sunday meeting came three days after a similar meeting, said to have also been attended by Netanyahu, his wife Sara and several other officials. It was unclear which hostages’ relatives participated in the first meeting, or if there was any overlap among the two sessions’ participants.

Netanyahu has been repeatedly criticized for his failure to meet with hostages’ families and visit the hardest-hit sites of Hamas’s shock October 7 assault, when thousands of terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people and take 251 hostages, sparking the war in Gaza.

Negotiations mediated by the United States, Egypt and Qatar to secure a truce and the return of the hostages have faltered since a weeklong ceasefire in November during which 105 hostages were released. The parties are currently holding talks based on an Israeli proposal presented by US President Joe Biden in May, which both Hamas and Netanyahu have been accused of derailing.

Sharon Sharabi, whose brother Yossi was declared dead in Gaza in January after being abducted from Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, and whose other brother Eli is still hostage after his wife and daughters were killed, was quoted by Channel 12 as telling Netanyahu on Sunday: “We lost four family members. We don’t intend to bring back a fifth coffin.”

Paraphrasing the premier’s long-touted aim of “total victory” over Hamas, Sharabi said: “Every time you talk about ‘total victory’ — it’s neither a victory nor total,” Channel 12 reported.

Yossi (left) and Eli Sharabi, brothers who were taken hostage by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

“Now is the timing [sic] for a deal — Israel will have plenty of opportunities to continue the fighting,” Sharabi reportedly added, apparently criticizing Netanyahu’s insistence that Israel will not commit to a full ceasefire with Hamas, which has emerged as a sticking point in the truce-hostage talks.

“The hostages’ remaining in Hamas captivity is an existential hazard for the State of Israel — a wound that will never heal in Israeli society,” the outlet quoted Sharabi as telling the premier.

According to Channel 12, Netanyahu told Sharabi that the Israel Defense Forces would not leave the Gaza Strip until all the hostages were released, “but first we have to cut off Hamas’s governing and military capabilities.”

Later on Sunday, the premier said in an interview with a right-wing television channel that he would agree to a “partial deal” to temporarily pause the fighting in return for some of the captives.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Channel 14 in the first interview he’s given to an Israeli news outlet since October 7, on June 23, 2024. (Screenshot, Channel 14, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The comment was slammed by hostages’ families, who accused the premier of walking back his own proposal.

“Why not start the deal with the slain [hostages]?” Sharabi was said to have asked Netanyahu.

“Even right-wing parties won’t oppose it, and it might create a mechanism for the next steps of a comprehensive deal,” Sharabi reportedly added, referring to Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners, who are loath to end the war.

“That’s an interesting idea,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying, adding that “it too depends on [Yahya] Sinwar,” Hamas’s military chief in Gaza.

“My prime minister is neither Sinwar nor Biden,” Sharabi reportedly retorted, “It’s you.”

US President Joe Biden announces a proposed ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza at the White House’s State Dining Room in Washington, DC, May 31, 2024. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

According to Channel 12, a relative of Tamir Adar, whose body was taken to Gaza after he was killed defending Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, also pressed Netanyahu on the deal.

“Hamas’s demand [for a ceasefire] has been known since day one,” the unnamed family member was quoted as saying to Netanyahu.

“Are you prepared to declare an end to the war on the condition that all the hostages get out?” asked the family member, to which the premier reportedly answered, again, that Israel would not leave the Gaza Strip until Hamas is vanquished.

“How does that match up with releasing all the hostages?” Adar’s relative was quoted as asking.

Tamir Adar, 38, was killed and abducted by Hamas terrorists while he was defending his kibbutz, Nir Oz, on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

“You’d be surprised, there are ways,” Netanyahu answered, according to Channel 12.

The families also castigated Netanyahu for failing to console them for their loss, juxtaposing his apparent coldheartedness with Biden’s empathy.

“After we got the enemy’s notice that Itay was murdered on October 7, President Biden called and spoke to us for 15 minutes,” Channel 12 quoted a relative of Itay Chen, a dual Israeli-American citizen and IDF soldier who was killed in battle during the onslaught.

“There are families that you call and families that you don’t call,” they accused Netanyahu.

The premier was said to reply that the media did not always report his condolence calls with bereaved families. Others present in the meeting were reportedly not satisfied.

Itay Chen, 19, from Netanya, declared killed in action and his body seized by Hamas on October 7, 2023, while on duty near Gaza border (Courtesy)

Elad Katzir, may his memory be a blessing, was a good friend of mine,” Channel 12 quoted one of the hostage’s relatives as saying, referring to a hostage from Kibbutz Nir Oz whose body was retrieved from Gaza by IDF commandos in April.

“They returned his body and there was total silence. A week later Benjamin Achimeir was murdered and you desecrated the Sabbath for him,” the unnamed relative reportedly said.

Achimeier was a 14-year-old boy whose body was discovered in the West Bank in April six days after he had gone missing. At the time, Netanyahu issued a rare statement on the Jewish Sabbath condemning the murder and expressing his condolences.

Members of hostage Elad Katzir’s extended family, outside the Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv, December 19, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“Why don’t you keep on coming to us?” the unnamed relative asked, according to Channel 12, to which Netanyahu was said to reply that he didn’t have time to visit all the families.

“That isn’t true,” interjected one of Adar’s relatives. “You went to see Noa Argamani and didn’t visit my grandmother,” referring to Yafa Adar, who was released in the November ceasefire, 50 days after she was abducted from Nir Oz.

Netanyahu visited Argamani at Sheba Medical Center, also on the Sabbath, after she was rescued along with three other hostages in a joint operation of Israeli security forces on June 8.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with rescued hostage Noa Argamani, her father Yaakov and family at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024 (GPO)

According to Channel 12, Netanyahu didn’t respond to the accusation, and the family member was said to continue: “It’s been eight months, and I’m shocked that until now you haven’t come to Nir Oz, and that the IDF chief of staff came last week for the first time.”

A relative of Maya Goren, whose body was snatched from Nir Oz on October 7 after she and her husband Avner were murdered, also reportedly told Netanyahu that he needed to come to Nir Oz and the other Gaza border communities. “You’ll see, and you won’t be able to ignore [it].”

Netanyahu was said to answer: “I’ll come. I’m delighted by the Nir Oz community’s invitation.”

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