Relatives of Israelis being held hostage by Hamas in the Gaza Strip burst into a session of the Knesset Finance Committee on Monday to demand that the government do more to secure their family members’ release.
Knesset security staff were unable to prevent the entry of the hostages’ relatives, many of whom carried pictures of their loved ones, and had to forcibly remove them — including one who required first aid and was eventually taken away in a wheelchair.
“You will not sit here while our children die,” the protesters screamed. “What about ransoming captives?”
“You dismantled a government over hametz but for [the hostages] you don’t dismantle it,” others yelled at committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni, referencing a 2022 fight over religious values that prompted a member of the previous government’s razor-thin coalition to defect, eventually bringing about its collapse.
“We came to make our voices heard,” Noa Rahamim, whose cousin Sgt. Matan Angrest is being held in Gaza, told The Times of Israel.
“Every day they die there and every day it is announced that another hostage was killed. It simply can’t go on like that and we came to the Knesset [to demand] that they get up and do something. Nobody will silence us.”
"אתם לא תשבו כאן ולנו מתים הילדים שלנו!" – משפחות החטופים התפרצו לוועדת הכספים בדרישה להשיב את החטופים: "מה עם פדיון שבויים?" pic.twitter.com/dypLHW8pNC
— ערוץ כנסת (@KnessetT) January 22, 2024
“Is it reasonable that 260 trucks of flour are entering Gaza now and my brother is eating nothing?” asked Angrest’s sister Adi. “It doesn’t make any sense that my brother isn’t eating anything when they bring them 260 trucks of flour.”
Israel pledged during a truce in November to start allowing in 200 trucks of aid every day and has since facilitated the transfer of food, water, medical supplies and shelter equipment into the Gaza Strip via the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings.
“Every day we receive body bags. Yesterday we received the news of another soldier who was kidnapped and who is dead,” agreed Aviram Meir, the uncle of hostage Almog Meir Jan, calling on the government to take the “slightly contradictory” actions of both halting humanitarian aid shipments and negotiating an “agreement with Hamas in order to free the hostages.”
“We’re trying to attract attention. We have been forgotten among the country’s endless problems and this is the most urgent problem, above all other problems,” he said, adding that the protesters’ goal was to disrupt the Knesset’s routine.
“If the hostages aren’t freed than the crisis between the government bodies and the citizens will get worse,” he predicted.
Responding to the demonstrators, Gafni, the committee chairman, said that in his view and that of the committee, “redeeming captives is the most important commandment In Judaism, especially since it is about saving lives.”
However, he cautioned, “withdrawing from the coalition will not help anything.” He promised to convey the families’ concerns to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and added that he would “do everything” to help bring home their children, brothers and wives.
Hamas took over 250 people captive on October 7, when some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.
Israel believes over 130 hostages remain in Gaza, following a deal in late November that freed 105 civilians. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 28 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.
The families’ protest came on the heels of another protest outside the Knesset on Monday, in which dozens of protesters, many of them elderly, gathered outside the Knesset to demand new elections before being dragged off by law enforcement.
The protesters called the coalition parties in power “traitors who have given up on the hostages.”
Many of them were elderly. This man was apparently injured when they carried him off pic.twitter.com/l8TQFWbrls
— Sam Sokol (@SamuelSokol) January 22, 2024
PM: No Hamas proposal; Israeli initiative
Following a meeting with representatives of the hostages’ families on Monday, Netanyahu declared in a statement that there was “no real proposal from Hamas.” But, he said, “there is an initiative of ours, and I will not elaborate.”
In a video message on Sunday evening, Netanyahu said that Israel completely rejects Hamas’s demands for “surrender” in exchange for releasing the remaining hostages in Gaza.
His comments came after The Wall Street Journal reported that the US, Egypt and Qatar are pushing Israel and Hamas to accept a comprehensive plan that would end the war, see the release of hostages held in Gaza, and ultimately lead to full normalization for Israel with its neighbors and talks for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Also on Sunday evening, a group of hostages’ families and protesters blocked off traffic outside Netanyahu’s private residence on Azza Street in Jerusalem, demanding the government reach a deal to ensure the return of the remaining hostages in Hamas captivity.
Organized by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, the demonstration walked a fine line, attempting to hold the government accountable for the lives of the hostages while avoiding forthright condemnation.
Charlie Summers and Michael Horovitz contributed to this report.