NEW YORK — One month after the October 7 Hamas massacre in Israel, protesters in New York City sat in front of the United Nations to call attention to the 240 hostages from 40 different countries still being held by Hamas in Gaza.
The protest was organized by the NYC chapter of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a volunteer organization created by Israeli citizens to advocate for the return of the hostages. Over 130 protesters, including children as young as four, sat on the ground wearing black blindfolds while singing quietly while holding a large sign reading “Secretary Guterres, what if Hamas kidnapped your loved ones?”
In the month since Hamas took hostages to Gaza, advocates for their release say their requests have been buried and politicized. Around the world, posters featuring the faces of the kidnapped have been torn down, and the news cycle has long moved on from the terrorists’ brutal slaughter in southern Israel of 1,400 people — largely civilians, including entire families, massacred amid brutal atrocities — that started the month-long war with Hamas.
Omer Lubaton-Granot, the leader of the Hostages Family Forum in New York, said that the rally was meant to call for stronger support from the international community. Speaking at the event, he said that members of his own family had been kidnapped and murdered.
“I think that we feel that the support from the international community and especially from the UN is not as strong as we would expect when we face the biggest hostage crisis ever. And that babies and elderly and women and unassociated civilians are held hostage by a terror organization whose intent and cruelty is well-known,” he told The Times of Israel.
Asked if the Hostages Family Forum had specific policy requests, Lubaton-Granot said that “the UN has a lot of tools to negotiate or mediate or to put pressure or gain leverage on Hamas. And I don’t care [which] way they choose.” He called on the UN to use any militaristic, diplomatic or economic strategy possible to bring the hostages back to safety.
The Hamas onslaught and Israel’s massive military response have created a political firestorm in the United States and abroad. Pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protests are facing off, and there’s a rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate speech and attacks in the US.
On November 6, a Jewish man in his 60s died after sustaining a head injury the previous day at a pro-Palestine rally in Los Angeles, which the sheriff’s office is investigating as a homicide and has not ruled out as a hate crime. Last month, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy in Illinois was killed in what the Department of Justice is investigating as a hate crime.
“There are almost two sides right now. And they fall into political agendas: ceasefire and ‘free Palestine’ versus release the hostages and pro-Israel,” said Na’ama Keha to the Times of Israel. Keha is an Israeli filmmaker in New York who helped to organize the demonstration in front of the UN. She is also the co-creator of a new digital platform for the Hostages Family Forum called “One Min a Day,” where Americans can call their elected officials every day to demand the release of the hostages.
“I think once it’s been politicized we all lose. Because we cannot sense the basic compassion for innocent people,” Keha said.
Other participants agreed that the world was overlooking the October 7 slaughter and the hostage crisis amid the devastating human toll in Gaza. The Hamas-run Health Ministry claims 10,328 have been killed in Gaza since the start of the fighting. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen, killed in Israel and in Gaza, and the victims of many missile misfires that landed in the Strip.
Charlene Frank, a Jewish American retiree who is now a full-time activist, said that while she supported the push for humanitarian aid for Gazans, she thought that the hostage crisis was being ignored, a sentiment shared by other American Jewish progressives.
“I have friends from Gaza who had to leave – we had to help them leave – because the Brotherhood put contracts on their life because they were working with Israeli peace group,” she said. One is now living in Belgium, “but he’s terrified. He can’t get in touch with his family in Gaza,” Frank told The Times of Israel. She said that progressives were ignoring the plight of the hostages.
“I fought for immigrants, I worked in the camps in Matamoros, Mexico. I’ve been in every Black Lives Matter March. And nobody’s marching with me [to release the hostages]. And it makes me really sad, because I marched with everybody,” said Frank.
Shany Granot-Lubaton, who is married to the organizer of the New York Hostages Family Forum, had been a constant face at Israeli protests against the government’s judicial overhaul for the last 10 months. As one of the leaders of the pro-democracy movement in New York City, she’d been organizing protests with the group UnXeptable. But that changed on October 7.
“We thought the most fundamental thing we’re fighting for is democracy for Israel, and now we feel like the most fundamental thing is actually our very existence,” said Granot-Lubaton. “A lot of the people who were taken hostage are from the pro-democracy movement in Israel. Leaders from the pro-democracy movement, peace fighters.”
Like the protest movement in Israel, the offshoot in New York has pivoted to redirect all its efforts to helping Israelis affected by the war back home. Granot-Lubaton called on the UN to devote more humanitarian and political effort toward the hostages.
“I am not a [hostage] specialist, but they are. And we expect them to create solutions through Qatar, through Egypt, through the Red Cross,” said Granot-Lubaton.
“Time is running out,” said her husband, Omer. “Each day is critical.”