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Nonpartisan Knesset lobby turns up the pressure to release hostages

"There is no politics in the hostage issue,” says Knesset member Boaz Bismuth, who launched the initiative together with MK Shelly Tal Meron.

Knesset members Boaz Bismuth and Tal Meron lead the Knesset lobby for releasing the remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Jan. 9, 2024. Credit: Tal Meron Spokesperson.
Knesset members Boaz Bismuth and Tal Meron lead the Knesset lobby for releasing the remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Jan. 9, 2024. Credit: Tal Meron Spokesperson.

Israeli lawmakers Boaz Bismuth (Likud) and Shelly Tal Meron (Yesh Atid) this week launched a cross-party lobby to raise awareness and bring about the release of the 136 captives still being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. 

“We must do everything and anything to free the hostages. This non-partisan lobby is a platform for us to do everything in our power to bring them home,” Bismuth told JNS. 

“Tal Meron and I are working together for the world to hear what is happening and keep the issue on the agenda. There is no politics in the hostage issue. It’s a coalition of secular and religious, left and right, in a country where life is sacred,” he added. 

The lobby was created in part to exert pressure on international organizations, diplomats and states to demand their immediate release.

Meron told JNS that the forum would push for the Red Cross to be allowed to visit the hostages and provide them with the medical care they require.

“We need to know if they are alive or not and if they are wounded,” she said.

The lobby’s first hearing took place on Jan. 9 at the Knesset and was attended by some 20 ministers and legislators, in addition to ambassadors from Austria, Japan, Taiwan and China, as well as representatives of human rights organizations.

“The assembly was very important. It was attended by many representatives of the families of the hostages and by two female former captives who told us what they went through, including Aviva Siegel, who spoke of the sexual assault she witnessed,” said Meron. 

Siegel and her husband Keith, 62, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, were abducted from Kibbutz Kfar Aza during Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion. She was released on Nov. 26 as part of a temporary ceasefire deal, but Keith is still being held hostage in Gaza.

“And forgive my language, but this son of a bitch touched her. And he wouldn’t even let me hug her after it happened. It’s terrible, it’s just terrible. I told her I was sorry,” Siegel told lawmakers on Tuesday, speaking of a hostage of which the identity was not revealed.

“They tortured her next to me, and I am a witness to it,” she added in reference to another female hostage who she said Hamas had mistakenly identified as an IDF soldier. “I am a witness to what is happening there. What is happening there is simply a catastrophe. It is impossible to continue,” she said.

Family members of the abductees also addressed the assembly, including Sigi Cohen, the mother of Elia Cohen, one of the 40 people abducted from the Supernova music festival on Oct. 7.

“Elia was shot and then kidnapped into Gaza,” Cohen told the assembly. “From that moment on I have no idea what has been happening with my son for 95 days. At least have the Red Cross come in and check what’s going on with him. He’s had epileptic seizures in the past.” 

Haim Hyman, the father of Inbar Hyman, who was murdered at the festival and whose body is being held in the Gaza Strip, demanded the return of her daughter’s remains.

“In the beginning we had great aspirations and hopes that Inbar would return alive. Now we just want her to come back so that we can bury her,” Hyman told the assembly. 

Meron told JNS that the session was the first of many. 

“We need to have more initiatives to free the hostages. Our job as Members of Knesset is to discuss this issue all the time, everywhere, and come up with initiatives for the government and the Cabinet to bring about their release,” she said.

“We need to formulate new ideas and give the families opportunities to speak whenever they want,” she added.

Bismuth stressed the important role that Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza played in securing the November hostage deal. 

“Without military pressure and our brave soldiers, we would have never been able to close the first deal and release 110 hostages. During the 2014 war, Hamas violated a ceasefire, as they always do, which led to the loss of soldier Hadar Goldin. We are still waiting to bury him in Israel,” Bismuth told JNS. 

“The first assembly took place in Jerusalem, where life is sacred, to bring back hostages from Gaza, where death is sacred. We need the war to bring our hostages back and I salute our soldiers,” he added. 

Last week, families of the hostages met in Doha with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani following the killing in Lebanon of deputy Hamas leader, Saleh al-Arouri, which is believed to have strained hostage release talks.

On Monday, a high-level Israeli delegation landed in Cairo to jumpstart negotiations.

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