Opposition, hostage families press coalition to nix upcoming 3-month Knesset recess

National Unity files bill to cancel summer break, but it needs coalition support to pass in time; hostage’s daughter to MKs: ‘There are 120 hostages and you’re going free’

Relatives of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza attend a Religious Zionism faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Relatives of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza attend a Religious Zionism faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition parties, along with relatives of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza for almost nine months, were up in arms on Tuesday over the Knesset’s upcoming three-month recess, slated to begin at the end of the month and to run until October 27.

The National Unity party submitted a legislative bill that seeks to cancel the wartime recess, arguing that the Knesset is currently holding “critical discussions” on issues such as ultra-Orthodox military service, the extension of conscripts’ and reservists’ service, and the rehabilitation of the battered north of the country.

Just as Israeli soldiers “are not going on vacation,” neither should elected officials, the party argued in a statement.

“Going on a three-month recess at this time — while 120 hostages are still in the hands of Hamas, thousands are still displaced from their homes, and thousands of men and women of the security forces are being called to serve and are forced to leave their homes, their families and their workplaces — harms government oversight during wartime, as well going against the public interest,” the statement read.

The bill will require unlikely support from the coalition in order to fast-track it through the approval process in time to cancel the recess.

National Unity’s announcement came a week after Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer, making a similar argument, called on Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana to cancel the recess.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer leads a Knesset committee meeting, March 27, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Recalling his party’s unsuccessful call to cancel the Knesset’s previous recess, which ran from April 7 to May 19 — also during the ongoing war — Forer said lawmakers now “have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and do the minimum required to change the situation.

“People fear the difficult security situation, which may further escalate, as well as the dire economic situation. More and more families are collapsing under the burden,” he added in his letter to Ohana, arguing that at such a time “it is unacceptable for the Knesset to freeze its work, the committees to be silenced and the Knesset plenum to go into hibernation.”

At a Knesset House Committee meeting Tuesday morning, lawmakers decided that parliamentary committees will be allowed to hold up to seven meetings during the break, while the Education, Culture and Sports Committee will be allowed to hold up to eight meetings ahead of the opening of the new school year on September 1.

The number of discussions in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will not be limited given the ongoing war in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel that left 1,200 murdered and 251 taken captive.

During the committee discussion, Ela Ben Ami, whose parents were both kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, spoke out against the Knesset recess. “This conduct has me really riled up; there are 120 hostages and you are going free,” she told the Knesset members.

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of hostages by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Her mother, Raz Ben Ami, was released on November 29 as part of a weeklong ceasefire deal brokered by Qatar and the United States, while her father Ohad remains captive in Gaza. Ela herself survived the massacre.

“My father would be ashamed if he knew what was going on here. Half of the year you’re on leave. My father has been in captivity for nine months and you won’t work for three months to get him back,” she said.

Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel Gat was also kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, told the committee: “Make a deal that will bring back the 120 hostages and you’ll get as much vacation as you want. But if there’s no deal — there’s no break.”

National Unity MK Pnina Tamano-Shata agreed with the hostage families during the meeting, saying: “I think we need to come to our senses. We can’t go on recess. We can’t afford not to cancel the break — we still have tens of thousands of evacuees, soldiers who are giving their all, and hostages in captivity. None of them are getting a break.”

Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality chair MK Pnina Tamano-Shata leads a session at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 2, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Seven hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 42 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

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