Cities in North America, Europe hold rallies marking hostages’ six months ‘in hell’

Former captives, relatives and politicians, including Lapid and Bennett, attend protests calling for deal; congressman heckled in New York after urging more aid for Gazans

People holding photographs of Israeli family members abducted by Hamas on October 7, 2023, rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Sunday, April 7, 2024. (AP/Jose Luis Magana)
People holding photographs of Israeli family members abducted by Hamas on October 7, 2023, rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Sunday, April 7, 2024. (AP/Jose Luis Magana)

Former hostages, relatives of captives still held in Gaza and political rivals of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined rallies in several major Western cities Sunday to mark six months since the devastating October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel.

In Washington, former hostage Aviva Seigal, whose husband Keith remains kidnapped, as well as the families of captives Romi Gonen, Or Levy, Sagui Dekel Chen and Omer Neutra rallied alongside Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and supporters in front of the Lincoln Memorial, calling for a deal to free the 129 people abducted from Israel six months earlier.

“The need to put together a deal that’s agreed upon by all sides is urgent more than ever,” said Nuetra’s mother Orna Neutra.

Some 2,000 people attended the rally in Washington, including US Representative Jamie Raskin, who said freeing the captives should be the priority in Gaza, US news outlet The Hill reported.

“We say to all the governments of the world that the freedom, the security and the peace of the hostages and all civilians is the paramount ethical imperative and consideration at this moment,” he said.

“It takes precedence over all other political and ideological agendas.”

In New York, thousands rallied at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza outside the United Nations headquarters, including the father of Itai Chen, a slain captive whose remains are being held in Gaza.

Speaking at the rally, former prime minister Naftali Bennett rejected international calls for a ceasefire without the hostages being freed.

“No one call tell us to stop while there is even one hostage there,” he told the crowd.

Members of the Jewish community hold up posters of hostages as they gather to commemorate the hostages taken in the October 7 Hamas attacks, at St Johns Wood United Synagogue during a rally to call for their release in London, Sunday, April 7, 2024. (AP/Frank Augstein)

US Rep. Jerry Nadler, who also addressed the rally, was booed and heckled as he called for increased humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.

“We must do more, because we are better than Hamas. We must do more to bring food and assistance to those who are suffering,” he said, as participants shouted “Shame” or “Bring them home,” The New York Times reported.

Near the rally, a group of activists staged an installation in which several people were locked in cages or chained to poles, wearing clothes smeared with red paint and holding signs in Hebrew and English begging to be rescued.

In Toronto, an estimated 2,000 people gathered downtown to call for the release of the hostages under the banner “six months in hell,” as a small group of pro-Palestinian counter-protesters gathered nearby.

Two people were arrested amid police attempts to keep the groups separated, the Toronto Star reported, though there were no additional details.

In a video posted online from the event, a man wearing a Palestinian flag yells into a speaker threatening that “your happy days are over,” and calls participants “prophet killers” who killed Jesus, a common antisemitic trope, to cheers from those next to him.

Rallies were also held in several European cities including Brussels, London, Amsterdam, Milan and Paris.

The events, marking six months since thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapped another 253, coincided with a large rally in Jerusalem where demonstrators urged the government to reach a deal with Hamas for the release of hostages.

Reports in Hebrew-language media Sunday indicated that Israeli officials were cautiously optimistic as talks were set to resume in Cairo. An Egyptian outlet reported early Monday that the sides had left Cairo but were set to convene in two days to finalize an agreement.

People take part in a gathering organized by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF) calling for the release of hostages held in Gaza since the Hamas-led October 7 attacks on Israel, at the Trocadero esplanade with the Eiffel Tower in the background in Paris, on April 7, 2024. (Thomas Samson/AFP)

Speaking to Israel’s Kan public broadcaster from the sidelines of the rally in Washington, Lapid urged the government to grab the opportunity, even if the concessions it gives up are not popular.

“The government needs to be pressured into taking the deal. It’s going to be a painful deal. It’s not going to be liked, but it needs to be done so we can bring them home.”

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