Members of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party screamed at family members of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza during a Knesset committee hearing on Monday over controversial legislation to impose the death penalty on terrorists.
Relatives of some of the approximately 240 hostages taken by Hamas terrorists on October 7 beseeched the Knesset members not to hold the hearing about the legislation, concerned that the move might have severe repercussions for their abducted relatives.
Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel Gat is one of the hostages in Gaza, broke down in tears as he begged Knesset National Security Committee Chairman MK Tzvika Fogel of Otzma Yehudit and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, the Otzma Yehudit leader, not to go ahead with the hearing.
Fogel said that anyone trying to hold up the bill was “representing Hamas” more than the State of Israel, while MK Almog Cohen shouted at a man whose wife and daughter are being held hostage by Hamas that he had “no mandate over pain.”
Fogel went ahead with the committee hearing on Monday to prepare the controversial bill for a first reading in the plenum despite failing to secure coalition support for the legislation.
He began the hearing by asserting that Israel should not keep Hamas terrorists in prison and that “we do not need to feed these beasts,” adding that the terror group was trying to manipulate the relatives of hostages into opposing the legislation.
Asked by a family member of a hostage if he thought the families were being used, Fogel said, “I am hinting that Hamas is trying to exploit you, yes. And I’m not hinting, I’m saying it openly.”
He added, “This [death penalty for terrorists] does not contradict the goal of bringing back the hostages, and anyone who tries to present it as a contradiction is someone who is trying to represent Hamas more than the State of Israel.”
In response, Dickmann objected to Fogel’s assertion that he and others were representing Hamas, and begged Ben Gvir not to proceed with the legislation.
“I asked you already last week and I begged you to stop. I begged you not to make any kind of hay out of us or our suffering,” he said in tears.
“If you see us, please remove this from the agenda. If you have a heart, please do not say we are representing the people who murdered our loved ones,” he added.
“Please do not have a hearing now on the gallows, please do not have a hearing now on the death penalty. Not when the lives of our loved ones are in the balance, not when the sword is on their necks.
“I am here in the name of Carmel and for her to remain alive. Please, choose life and ensure they come home alive and whole.”
As the atmosphere of the hearing got more heated, a man whose wife and daughter are being held captive spoke out.
“Stop talking about killing Arabs and start speaking about saving Jews,” he shouted. “You requested, you helped, you pressured to kill Arabs,” he continued, although it was unclear what he was referring to.
Cohen responded fiercely. “You have no mandate over pain,” Cohen yelled furiously.
“We have also buried more than 50 friends… My friend is a hostage in Gaza, and by the way he’s never heard of you. Don’t talk about us wanting to kill Arabs. We didn’t go to kill them on that Shabbat [October 7]; they came to kill us.”
Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har Melech shouted, “You are silencing other families,” as the hearing descended into chaos.
Interviewed later on Channel 12 News, Cohen refused to apologize and objected fiercely to the language used by the hostages’ family members in the committee, although he said he believed the time was not right to advance the death penalty bill.
Several moments later, off-camera, Cohen had a coughing fit and was taken to hospital.
The bill proposed by Son Har Melech says the only punishment for someone convicted of killing an Israeli citizen due to racist motivations or “hostility” to the Israeli public “in order to harm the State of Israel and the revival of the Jewish people in our land” is the death penalty.
Former deputy attorney general Ran Nizri, who was representing the families of the hostages at Monday’s hearing, argued, however, that current law allows for the death penalty against terrorists, a position supported earlier this week by former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit.
After the ill-tempered hearing, Ben Gvir posted a picture of himself hugging Dickmann on X (formerly Twitter), and professed that he “loves and embraces the families of the hostages,” while insisting that the death penalty was a crucial tool in pressuring Hamas.
תוריד ממני את הידיים שלך.
המבט שלי כאן אומר הכל.
אל תחבק אותי.
בכל זאת חיבקת.
אל תסכן את האהובים שלנו.
בכל זאת סיכנת.
הכל בשביל התמונה.
איתמר בן גביר – אין לך שום גבול.
כולם רואים שאתה עושה קרקס על הדם של המשפחות שלנו.
עוד לא מאוחר.
— Gil Dickmann (@gildickmann) November 20, 2023
Dickmann reposted Ben Gvir’s post, saying that he told the minister not to hug him but Ben Givr had done so anyway.
“I told you: Don’t hug me but you hugged [me] anyway. I told you: Don’t endanger our beloved ones but you endangered them anyway. All for a picture. Itamar Ben Gvir, you have no boundaries. Everyone sees that you’re making a circus out of the blood of our families. It’s not too late. Stop.”