Interview'I work on the hostages as if it's a full-time job'

Uncle of hostage learns lobbying and legislation, in effort to bring nephew home

Almog Meir Jan was taken captive on October 7; his uncle, Aviram Meir, now spends two days a week at the Knesset

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Aviram Meir, uncle to hostage Almog Meir Jan, has devoted all his time to the release of his nephew and the other hostages (Courtesy)
Aviram Meir, uncle to hostage Almog Meir Jan, has devoted all his time to the release of his nephew and the other hostages (Courtesy)

In the nearly eight months since Almog Meir Jan, 22, was taken hostage, his uncle, Aviram Meir, has been forced to become an amateur diplomat, and now, a parliamentary lobbyist.

Beyond the daily struggle to secure the release of the captives held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza, there is a growing realization among hostages’ family members of the enormous burdens — psychological, physical and financial — that they will endure for the foreseeable future.

Hostage family members at the Hostages and Missing Families Forum are pushing to pass legislation this week that would offer government financial support to any released hostages — those released during a weeklong truce in November or in any future deal.

The law Meir hopes will pass on Wednesday would designate each released hostage as partially disabled, granting them a monthly stipend and a one-time payment, along with aid to purchase cars, pay for studies and residences, and help with ongoing medical care.

“We’re against the miserliness of the government,” said Meir. “The [proposed] law doesn’t allow for as much as it should; it’s modest, but it’s something.”

There’s no funding designated for their extended families, said Meir, although it’s clear that it will be family members who will support each released hostage through the first months and years after captivity.

Meir is part of a team of hostage families assigned to nudge Knesset members and ministers — his team is tagged to contact Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Foreign Minister Israel Katz — and is in touch with their staffs daily, making sure they’re paying attention to the latest headlines regarding the hostages.

Orit Meir, mother of hostage Almog Meir Jan, at a gathering marking his 22nd birthday on May 11, 2024 (Courtesy)

Last week, when the Forum published video footage of five young female soldiers being taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, Meir said he called Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s office to ask what kind of government aid the young women would receive when they were freed.

“They deserve the highest disability designation available and we’ll continue our campaign until it passes,” said Meir. “It’s a lot of work, it’s lawyers and the ministers’ teams, and the organizations for terror victims, and the National Insurance Institute and the defense minister and the finance minister, and we’re trying to push it all forward.”

Two such pieces of legislation have been introduced and are being deliberated in the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee — a government bill and a private member’s bill initiated by MKs Yitzhak Kroizer, Gilad Kariv and Vladimir Beliak.

Both aim to increase the stipend paid to returned hostages and to automatically recognize them as suffering from PTSD. Under the government bill, monthly payments to freed hostages would be raised from NIS 1,395 ($380) to NIS 2,600 ($708). Former hostages would also be recognized by the National Insurance Institute as having a psychological disability level of 50 percent.

The private member’s bill is still being prepared for its first reading, while the government bill has already gone through the first of three votes necessary for its passage. According to the Knesset’s online legislative database, the two bills are in the process of being merged.

Meir, 59, was an event planner before the October 7 attack in which Gazan terrorists killed 1,200 people and took 252 hostage, including his nephew. Meir Jan was last seen in a video taken by Hamas at 12:30 p.m. on October 7, following the Supernova desert rave.

On October 6, before Meir Jan went to the Nova party with friends, he helped his grandfather, who had recently undergone back surgery, shower and get ready for bed.

His 87-year-old father’s care has been completely sidelined since October 7, said Meir.

“All of the family’s attention before October 7 was on my father and his surgery and in one day, we just left all of that,” said Meir.

Meir and his sister, Orit Meir, Almog Meir Jan’s mother, are at the point of exhaustion, pulled in all directions to do anything they can for Meir Jan and the other hostages.

Meir is living off of his savings, with some help from his sister who has received a few grants, and from his elderly parents.

“It’s endless work. I work on the hostages as if it’s a full-time job. It’s all day and all night,” he said.

A giant banner painted in Or Yehuda, hometown of Hamas hostage Almog Meir Jan, taken captive on October 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

Besides the hostage legislation and staying in touch with Knesset ministers, Meir and his sister regularly lobby Likud supporters to get them to pressure Likud Knesset members, write letters to mayors to have them hound the government, and speak with all kinds of groups.

There’s also a T-shirt campaign the family organized with fashion company Renuar to create a shirt inspired by Meir Jan’s tattoo for his 22nd birthday on May 11, marked in captivity; weekly events held outside his grandparents’ home; and a giant wall of graffiti painted with his image in his hometown of Or Yehuda.

“We never know what helps,” said Meir, who was first assigned to the Forum’s diplomacy team, meeting with ambassadors and flying abroad, but which he pivoted from because that work felt less efficient to him.

Now he’s focusing on efforts inside Israel, which includes spending two days a week at the Knesset and speaking with all kinds of groups to confront issues of national unity.

Israeli celebrities wearing and posting photos of themselves in Renuar shirts created for Hamas hostage Almog Meir Jan (Courtesy)

Meir recently spent a Shabbat afternoon with members of a Jewish settlement near Ariel, and spoke about the perception that the Religious Zionism movement doesn’t participate in campaigns for the hostages.

After the two-and-a-half-hour conversation, said Meir, one of the community members called him to say that a carpool of people would attend the Saturday night rally in Tel Aviv for the hostages, a first for that community.

“We, as the hostage families, to my great sadness, offer a specific gravity to this country and what will happen after the hostages come home,” said Meir. “The subject of the hostages will be in the headlines for years to come, and that’s part of our work.”

It was all new for Meir, who had never been involved in political work before October 7.

“I was last in the Knesset as a kid,” said Meir. “We’ve learned with time that the solutions are in Israel, and I’m putting my energies here. The solution will come from here in the end, not the White House and Capitol Hill and 10 Downing Street. What happens here will bring about the solution.”

The expectations of the hostage families are simple, said Meir. The families want a deal or for the government to create conditions for a deal.

“[Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar sees the world pressuring us and he has no incentive to sign a deal. He says to himself, ‘I have time,'” said Meir. “With a limited army presence in Gaza and our distribution of aid, there won’t be a deal and Sinwar will continue yelling at us. Or we give him what he wants and he’ll let go of some of the hostages. That’s what we want.”

Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

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