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UN Security Council holds first meeting solely focused on hostages in Gaza

“Since Oct. 7, the Security Council and the U.N. have done practically nothing to secure the release of the hostages,” said ambassador Gilad Erdan.

Demonstrators outside of Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv rally for the release of Israeli hostages taken on Oct. 7 and still being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, May 16, 2024. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Demonstrators outside of Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv rally for the release of Israeli hostages taken on Oct. 7 and still being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, May 16, 2024. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

The U.N. Security Council achieved two milestones with respect to the Jewish state on Thursday.

First, the council devoted a meeting solely to the captives that Hamas terrorists are holding in Gaza for the first since Oct. 7.

And second, although the global body has long been accused of damning silence when it comes to the plight of Israelis and Jews, a U.N. diplomat’s silence and inability to complete his remarks on Thursday appeared to be reticence borne out of genuine concern for Jewish suffering.

Sangjin Kim, the South Korean deputy U.N. ambassador, choked up and appeared visibly shaken as he spoke of the Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23 years old at the time he was taken. The diplomat was unable to continue with his prepared remarks.

Five Security Council members and 20 other countries co-sponsored the informal meeting, which Washington pushed. JNS learned from diplomatic sources that the meeting was held off for months due to U.S. concerns that it could upset ongoing, sensitive ceasefire and hostage release negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

Washington finally relented, apparently pessimistic about the current state of those talks, JNS was told.

“If the council truly wants this war to end, then bringing the hostages home should be the top priority,” said Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, who has railed against the council and the world body at large for their lack of concern about the condition of the hostages and their release.

Three Security Council resolutions have called for the immediate release of hostages, and all have also called for a ceasefire, which would prevent Israel from achieving its goal of rooting out Hamas in Gaza.

‘Afraid she may be captured again’

Ayelet Samerano, the mother of massacre victim Jonathan Samerano, attended the meeting. Security video footage documented a U.N. Relief and Works Agency worker taking Samerano’s body to Gaza.

Shoshan Haran—who was kidnapped along with her daughter and two grandchildren, all of whom were released in November—and Gili Roman, whose family member remains captive, also participated in the meeting on Thursday.

Haran spoke on Thursday about the impact that 50 days in captivity had on Yahel, her 3-year-old granddaughter.

“Three weeks after we were released, Yahel only whispers, too afraid to make a noise. She hid from everyone, too afraid to go outside,” Haran said. “She wet her bed and had nightmares, too afraid she may be captured again.”

Haran warned the Security Council that Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attacks have global significance.

“We cannot allow the normalization of this unprecedented form of terrorism, the mass hostage-taking of unarmed civilians, women, children, elderly,” she said. “What you see as our problem today might become a worldwide problem to each and every country in the near future.”

Pain into purpose

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, thanked the Israeli who spoke at the event “from the bottom of my heart for speaking out, for sharing these deeply painful and personal stories with the world after all you have endured and you continue to endure.”

“I am truly in awe of your courage, but you should not have to be here. You should never have had to live these horrors,” the U.S. diplomat said

“The fact that you are here with us today, says so much to all of us about your strength. You have turned your pain into a purpose,” she added. “I am deeply grateful for that.”

Six U.S. citizens are believed to remain hostages in Gaza.

Erdan said on Thursday that the time has long passed for the Security Council to take concrete action.

“Has the council condemned Hamas and demanded they permit the Red Cross to check on the hostages? Have you imposed sanctions on Hamas leadership until they release the hostages? What action has been taken?” he demanded.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, briefs reporters on the situation in the Gaza Strip on Feb. 2, 2024. Credit: Manuel Elías/U.N. Photo.

“In the past 32 weeks since Oct. 7, the Security Council and the U.N. have done practically nothing to secure the release of the hostages,” declared Erdan.

Thomas-Greenfield said the council must be honest with itself. “The plight of these hostages has not received the attention that it deserves from the U.N. Security Council. That needs to change, and I hope today is the first step towards that goal,” she said. “We must not relent until all hostages are back home with their loved ones at long last.”

Moral equivalence  

All of the Security Council members at the meeting on Thursday condemned Hamas in some form for taking and holding hostages. Russia, China and Algeria criticized Israel and the United States in addition to the terror organization.

Russian envoy Georgy Barsukov said that Washington was giving cover to Israel on Jerusalem’s ongoing military operation in Gaza against the consensus of the international community.

“There are many indications that genocide is being committed against Palestinians in Gaza,” said Barsukov, adding that “the Israelis are defying the overwhelming majority of the international community and launching an operation in Rafah, home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians.”

Israel denies that it is committing genocide, stressing a low civilian-combatant casualty ratio in Gaza’s densely-packed terrain as Hamas uses civilians as human shields.

Erdan said the world should put aside its hyperfocus on the humanitarian situation in Gaza to discuss what is needed to end the conflict.

“The hostages are the most urgent and critical humanitarian issue that the council must focus on,” the Israeli diplomat said. “It is heartbreaking and amoral. Our hostages are enduring beatings, torture and rape.”

Pramila Patten, U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, was scheduled to brief meeting participants but pulled out days ahead of time.

Patten authored a report released in March that found “clear and convincing information” indicating that hostages in Gaza were subjected to “sexual violence including rape, sexualized torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

The report’s findings were listed in the concept note for Thursday’s meeting.

Patten’s office told Israeli media she wouldn’t attend the meeting but did not specify a reason.

A diplomatic source told JNS that Patten was pressured to pull out of the meeting because some would see her presence as an indication that she is slanted towards Washington and Jerusalem, and because the meeting was to focus broadly on the hostages, whereas her specific purview is sexual violence in conflict.

The diplomatic source said the pressure came from someone with “sway,” but could not confirm if it came from the office of António Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, or elsewhere. A spokesman for the secretary-general referred JNS to Patten’s office, which had declined to comment.

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