In bitter Knesset meetings, relatives of captives in Gaza plead for their safe return

Representatives for hostages taken by Hamas-led terrorists say ‘country has no right to exist’ if they’re not returned; Arab faction leaders call for prisoner exchange deal

Family members of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza attend a special Health Committee session in the Knesset, November 13, 2023. (Knesset Spokesperson)
Family members of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza attend a special Health Committee session in the Knesset, November 13, 2023. (Knesset Spokesperson)

Family members and representatives of the some 240 hostages held by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza attended various Knesset committee hearings and meetings on Monday, sharing the stories of those who were killed or captured and demanding answers from the government regarding the return of their loved ones.

During a Health Committee meeting, former public diplomacy minister Galit Distel Atbaryan, who resigned from her role shortly after the October 7 Hamas onslaught, faced strong criticism from family members of hostages after recently saying the IDF should “raze Gaza” to the ground.

Gil Dikman, who has two family members being held in Gaza, addressed Distel Atbaryan, saying: “My cousin is there, my cousin’s wife is there, babies are there, what is it supposed to do to our mental wellbeing to hear you talk with these mottos as if we are not here?

“This is all you have to say? ‘Erase [Gaza]? Destroy it?’ Who are you leveling? The human beings that you have abandoned!” he continued.

“If you have a shred of humanity left in you, please take care of our wellbeing and that of our relatives who are there; we don’t know if they are alive or dead. You have a job. First and foremost, stop speaking in platitudes and worry about the living, because there are people alive in Gaza, our relatives and those of many others.”

Dikman’s impassioned speech during the Health Committee hearing was in response to a post shared by Distel Atbaryan after she attended a Knesset screening on November 1 of the 43-minute-long raw video compilation of the atrocities on October 7, when Hamas-led terrorists killed some 1,200 people and took at least 240 as captives.

The post has since been blocked by X, formerly Twitter, for violating the platform’s rules.

“Invest your energy in one thing; Erasing Gaza from the face of the earth,” the Likud MK wrote at the time. “A vengeful and cruel IDF is needed here. Anything less is immoral. Just unethical.”

In response to Dikman, Distel Atbaryan said she wrote the post “out of immense pain, a minute after I left the screening, it didn’t come from a place of harming the efforts to return the hostages. At the moment, the State of Israel’s only goal is to return each and every one of the abductees, that’s why I’m sitting here.”

Distel Atbaryan’s explanation did not sway the relatives of the hostages. Shmuel Brodtz, whose grandchildren and daughter-in-law are being held in Gaza, told her to stop tweeting as though she has other motives.

“If this was your son in Gaza, what would you do?” he asked.

Brodtz told the committee that he would prefer for Israel to agree to a ceasefire if it could be ensured the hostages were visited by the Red Cross, which has yet to be able to reach them.

“I want a public announcement from the government that there will be a ceasefire and that at that time, Hamas will open the borders to the Red Cross,” he said.

“I have a four-year-old grandson. He doesn’t know what Hamas is. He’s lying there in the dark, I don’t know if he’s eating or drinking or alive. The Israeli government doesn’t care that I don’t receive any information. If [the government] needs to grant a ceasefire, it must do it.”

Also at the Knesset, representatives from the Abducted and Missing Families Forum addressed the Education Committee and appealed for action rather than empathy.

“There is no moral justification for the state, if we were first abandoned on that cursed Saturday and if they are then abandoned again to die and we don’t bring them back,” the forum’s representative said.

“The people are behind you. The people demand it. This will not be a victory over Hamas and then the return of the kidnapped. This is it. We will not repeat the experience of Ron Arad or Gilad Shalit, who waited five years.”

Similar sentiments were echoed during a meeting of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee by Zohar Avigdori, whose family members Noam and Sharon Avigdori were taken hostage by Hamas.

Family members of victims held hostage by Hamas in Gaza attend a special session of the Consitution, Law and Justice Committee in the Knesset, headed by MK Simcha Rothman, November 13, 2023. (Knesset Spokesperson)

“The abductees are citizens of this country, and if one of them does not return safe and sound, this country has no right to exist,” she said. “We walk around with the chilling feeling that we are being treated like bereaved families while these people are alive. These 239 people represent the State’s ability to be sovereign.”

Separately, the heads of the Arab majority Hadash-Ta’al faction, MKs Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, both met with members of the forum to hear their stories.

“Children should be at home with their families and not hostages, and we are ready to assist in efforts to return them,” Kan News quoted Tibi as saying. “A prisoner exchange deal is possible and must be enacted immediately.”

In a post shared to X following the meeting, Odeh echoed his political partner’s message, saying that “the return of the hostages and a prisoner exchange deal is the order of the hour.”

Most Popular
read more: