‘This time it happened to us, but it could have happened to you’ hostage families tell UK press

The relatives were speaking at the Israeli Embassy in London on the eve of Shabbat For Israel


Relatives of hostages held in Gaza: Inbal Zach, Avivit Abady Yablonka, and Orit Meir, 7 March, 2024

The relatives of hostages still held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas have said they would support freeing convicted Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons in exchange for their loved ones, but fiercely condemned any moral comparison between the two.

Multiple relatives took part in a press conference at the Israeli embassy on Thursday morning, amid posters of their loved ones and wearing yellow ribbons and the faces of family members on their shirts.

Responding to a question from the media about how the relatives present might, in their grief, sympathise with the relatives of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons – including convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti – Gili Roman, brother of hostage Yarden Roman-Gat, who was released, but whose sister-in-law, Carmel Gat, 39, is still held captive, said: “This is the most ridiculous [question] I have heard since October 7.

"What is the connection between prisoners that are held, after trial, for being active in terrorism or murder, and my sister, who is a physician and worked with Palestinians in East Jerusalem and treated them, and others who are completely innocent?

“The fact that Hamas [prefers] to [seek the release] of prisoners instead of protecting their own civilians is a matter for Hamas. We are dealing with it only because this is their demand. Of course, we are trying to adhere to what is feasible to a negotiation. There is no comparison between Marwan Barghouti and Kfir Bibas. How can you even try to?”

Gili said the “dilemma between a ceasefire and continuing the operations [to rid Gaza of Hamas] is excruciating to every Israeli person. Now is the time for immense international pressure on Hamas to get them back to the negotiating table.”

Yehuda Cohen, father of Nimrod,19, responding to whether there should be an exchange of Palestinian prisoners for the hostages, said: “I think there should be an exchange. Yes, we are willing to free criminals, cold-blooded murderers, for our beloved ones.”

He said he would even agree with the Israeli government releasing Barghouti, who is currently serving five life sentences on charges of murder and directing numerous terrorist attacks, in exchange for his 19-year-old son, who “never even made so much as a scratch on anybody”.

“These people [in Israeli prisons], who maintain all their rights, have visitation rights, fair trial, are afforded lawyers, you want to compare them to innocent people who are living their lives and were kidnapped, and [about whom] we don’t even get information if they’re alive?”

Nimrod was serving in the IDF and stationed at the Gaza border when Hamas attacked. “He’s just a boy like any other. He was defending the border of his country; he wasn’t attacking anyone. He wasn’t there to harm anyone,” Yehuda said.

He later added in response to a question about calls for an immediate ceasefire: “We wish to see anything done so the hostages are released. What we want is whatever agreement it will take [for their release]; this is a responsibility of [the Israeli] government. We just want to make sure everyone comes home. What happens after is politics.

“If [all of the] hostages are marched from Gaza back to Israel, all this suffering will end.”

Michael Levy, whose brother Or, 33, is missing, said in response to a question about the suffering of innocents living in Gaza: “We hate to see anyone suffer, Israelis or Palestinians it doesn’t matter. But we are here because our loved ones are there.

Levy, who featured in a recent episode of Let’s Talk, the JC’s podcast, added: “If you want to ask someone [a question about the deaths of thousands of Palestinians], I think you need to ask Hamas. We all see them hiding behind children, trying to avoid being arrested, firing missiles, hitting Palestinian homes, killing innocents, shooting innocent Palestinians whose only crime was to get some food for their families. We do not hate anyone; we just want to get our loved ones back and to end the suffering of everyone.”

Pointing to an image of his brother, who, before being abducted, watched his wife being murdered, Michael said: “There is only one thing I want you to remember. Take a look at his face. Whenever someone takes it to politics, please remember this face. This is not about politics; it’s about human beings whose only crime is they wanted to go and celebrate peace and love in a music festival or wake up in their own homes and spend a quiet weekend with their families. Instead, they were brutally attacked by monsters.”

“At the moment, Hamas is watching every news report and statement from politicians [around the world]. They are looking to see if the world is backing a deal or whether they (Hamas) can they postpone it and manipulate the world.”

Inbal Zach, cousin of hostage Tal Shoham, 39, who was taken by Hamas from Kibbutz Be’eri, said: “This time it knocked on our doors; it happened to us; it can happen to you as well.”

She pleaded with the members of the media present to keep the hostages at the top of the news agenda: “Show us, and show them, you are supporting them. We need them back home to heal our families, and to heal the hearts of us all and the [nation].”

Orit Meir, who spoke to the JC last week about her son, told the room through tears about how just before heading to the music festival, Almog, 21, had given his handicapped grandfather a bath, with whom he had a special bond.

“On October 7, I was home alone. I really wanted to get to him but couldn’t,” she said. “How much I wanted to save him, but I was alone.

“Almog is a happy boy, loved by everyone. How I miss him; I miss the coffee we used to have with each other, I miss our arguments. [The family’s] life has come to a halt.”

Avivit Abady Yablonka, sister to hostage Chanan Yablonka, 42, said the other hostage relatives had become like family because of the amount of time they had spent together travelling and organising initiatives in the last five months.

Turning to those sitting wither side of her and then to the press, she said: “Orit is like my mother; Inbal is like my sister. I ask you, how do you feel, to see us, to see me, with these pictures? Can you [sympathize]? Do you care?”

She added later: “Even if one hostage is released and comes to Israel, this is good for us all. Even if one comes back to Israel, we know we have hope. This is what we need; we need hope.”

Orly Goldschmidt, spokesperson of the Israeli embassy, noted that of the more than 130 hostages still held captive, two have dual British-Israeli citizenship.

She said: “None of us imagined after five months, we would still be here discussing the fate of hostages, it is incomprehensible.”

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