newsIsrael at War

New York City rally for release of hostages draws 7,000

Families of hostages demand international pressure on Hamas, six months into their loved ones’ captivity. 

A demonstration in New York at the U.N. headquarters calling for the return of the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza, April 7, 2024. Credit: Hostage and Missing Families Forum.
A demonstration in New York at the U.N. headquarters calling for the return of the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza, April 7, 2024. Credit: Hostage and Missing Families Forum.

An estimated 7,000 Israel supporters packed a plaza opposite the United Nations in New York City on Sunday, marking six months of captivity for the 133 hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Louis Har, 71, who was rescued by Israeli forces in Gaza’s Rafah city in February, led an appeal to the international community to exert pressure to force the release of the remaining captives.

Appearing along with Har were former Israeli premier Naftali Bennett; a bipartisan delegation of New York congress members; family members of murdered and still-captive hostages; Argentinian Consul General Pablo Piñeiro Aramburu; and local rabbis.

“I can’t start healing until they are all back. None of us can,” Har said at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza. “I’m demanding [of] all the relevant leaders—you know who they are, from all countries and governments, including my own: Strike a deal. Bring them home now.”

The rally included an exhibit featuring activists shackled inside cages, with bloodied clothing, replicating the reported condition of the hostages, based on the testimony of some of those released thus far.

“The release of all hostages is the greatest moral obligation of the Jewish people. No one can tell us to stop until the last one of them returns,” said Bennett, calling on pressure to be applied to Hamas and Qatar. “No one can preach to us about disproportionality when our hostages are there [in Gaza].” 

Shira Matalon, whose two uncles were held captive, also spoke at the Sunday rally. One uncle, Yossi, was shown dead in a recent Hamas video. The second uncle, Eli, is believed to be alive. 

“Eli’s return and Yossi’s proper burial is the least we can hope for in this devastating time,” said Matalon, noting she has buried “four of my favorite people in the world” due to Hamas’s massacre. 

“I keep hearing people talking about cost,” she continued. “The Jewish people have paid the greatest cost. There is no price tag on human life. This is how we differ from our enemies. We value life.”

Earlier on Sunday, several of the family members met with New York City Mayor Eric Adams in Brooklyn.

On Friday, some of the family members of American and Israeli hostages met with Alya Ahmed Saif Al Thani, Qatar’s U.N. ambassador. Coming out of the meeting, those attending reported Al Thani saying a hostage deal was within reach, though she evaded a question about why Qatar harbors Hamas leaders, who live a life of luxury in Doha.

Earlier on Friday, hostage family members demonstrated outside the Qatari U.N. mission. 

“It’s unacceptable for Hamas leaders to receive noble shelter while their people and our sons live in hunger and are held captive under harsh conditions,” said Jonathan Dekel-Chen, father of American-Israeli hostage Sagui Dekel-Chen. “We call on Qatar, for the sake of both peoples, to pressure Hamas into a deal.”

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