Five women released from captivity in Gaza during a weeklong truce in late November made an emotional plea Wednesday, calling on the government to do everything necessary to secure the release of the remaining 136 hostages, saying only that would represent an “absolute victory” for Israel.
Their remarks stood in sharp contrast to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who moments before in a separate press conference had promised the nation that Israel was closing in on the “absolute victory” of eradicating Hamas from the Gaza Strip.
The released hostages urged the government to first and foremost bring the hostages home, warning their lives were at risk and saying that “we can deal with Hamas afterward.”
Aviva Seigel, 62, who was taken captive from Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7, thanked the public for the support it has shown the hostages and their families, and said that the people of Israel are “one country, one family, [with] one destiny.”
If the hostages are saved, “we’ll have saved the State of Israel and that will be absolute victory,” said Siegel, whose husband, Keith Siegel, is still captive in Gaza.
Adina Moshe, 72, whose husband Sa’id Moshe was killed by Hamas terrorists on October 7 and who was then taken hostage from Kibbutz Nir Oz, addressed the government while fighting back tears.
“I was there, I felt there, I hurt there, but I was released,” Moshe said. “My friends, the youth that I educated, they’re still there. I think that some of them did not survive. I know that they don’t receive their required medications, and I know that they’re no longer in the place that I was with them.”
“Again, I am asking you, Mr. Netanyahu, everything is in your hands, you’re the one who can do it, and I’m extremely scared, that if you continue along this path…there won’t be any more hostages to release,” she added.
Speaking earlier in Jerusalem, Netanyahu vowed that the return of the hostages remains a top priority, telling the families of the hostages that he never stops thinking about or working for the release of their loved ones.
But he argued that “continued military pressure is an essential condition for the freeing of the hostages.”
Released hostage Sahar Calderon, 16, whose father Ofer Calderon remains in Hamas captivity, broke down as she talked about her experiences in captivity in Gaza.
“Do you know what it’s like to be there for even a day? Not even a day, one hour is hell,” she said.
“I was there for 52 days,” she continued through tears. “Why did I, a 16-year-old girl, need to go through all of that? Why did I need to be in that place for two months?”
“Correct, I am alive and breathing, but my soul was murdered. And everyone who is still there is murdered anew each day,” she added.
Sharon Aloni Cunio, who was released from captivity at the end of November with her twin three-year-old daughters but without her husband, David Cunio, directed her remarks Wednesday night to the six members and observers of the war cabinet and their spouses, mentioning each by name.
“Generations of Israelis were brought up that we always try to save Jewish souls,” said Aloni Cunio. “The price is heavy, and it clenches the stomach and body. But if we don’t, it will stain Israel forever.”
Nili Margalit, another Kibbutz Nir Oz member, echoed Aloni Cunio’s words, adding that “millions of Israelis and Jews are waiting for six people to make this decision,” she said. “If they don’t come home, everyone will know that they are next in line, that we live in a country that doesn’t worry about our safety, that doesn’t protect its citizens.”
The press conferences came a day after Hamas released its response to a proposed outline sent last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators and backed by the United States and Israel.
The Hamas proposal included a ceasefire plan that would see a four-and-a-half-month truce during which hostages would be freed in three stages, and which would lead to an end to the war, and included demands for a complete Israeli troop withdrawal and the release of thousands of security prisoners, including some 500 serving life sentences for murder.
Netanyahu dismissed the Hamas proposal as “delusional” and said to surrender to Hamas’s demands would be to invite another slaughter.
Other hostage families also spoke out Wednesday calling for the government to agree to the deal, including several who are based in the UK.
“I don’t think Israel has another option,” Sharone Lifschitz, whose 83-year-old father Oded Lifshitz is being held hostage, told a press conference in central London.
Lifschitz, whose elderly mother was also kidnapped before being released, added that “Israel has a duty to return its citizens,” and “has to do what it takes to get there”.
Stephen Brisley’s sister Lianne Sharabi and her two teenage daughters were killed in the attack on Kibbutz Be’eri, close to the Gaza border. His brother-in-law Eli Sharabi remains a hostage, while Eli Sharabi’s brother, Yossi Sharabi, was taken hostage and later died in captivity. “Time is running out and the price of failure has been writ large,” said Brisley.
However, some hostage families sided with Netanyahu, fearing a deal with Hamas would endanger Israel.
Zvika Mor, father of hostage Eitan Mor, spoke Wednesday with the Jerusalem Press Club ahead of a visit to Capitol Hill.
Mor, one of the members of the Tikva Forum of hostage families that do not advocate a deal at high cost with Hamas, was concerned that Netanyahu would agree to a deal that wouldn’t have Israel’s best interests at heart.
“We care about the future of Israel and war is the main tool to win this war, to eliminate Hamas,” said Mor, a father of eight who has been living in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba for the last 25 years. “We have to make Hamas surrender; we have to keep pushing Hamas until it asks for a deal.”
Hamas sparked the war on October 7 with a terror onslaught that killed some 1,200 Israelis, most of them civilians, and saw another 253 people taken hostage
It is believed that 132 hostages seized that day remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military.
The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 29 hostages held by Hamas, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.
Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
AFP contributed to this report