Despite the piercing cold, over a hundred Londoners gathered outside the UK offices of the International Red Cross Committee in London on Thursday evening to commemorate the first birthday of Israeli hostage Kfir Bibas and demand the immediate release of the remaining hostages in Gaza.
Kfir, recognisable on hostage posters by his shock of red hair, was kidnapped from Kibbitz Nir Oz with his four-year-old brother Ariel and his mother Shiri, 32, in a moment immortalised by a now-famous video showing Shiri clutching the boys close to her chest. Kfir was the youngest of the 240 hostages abducted by Hamas terrorists. His father Yarden, 34, was taken to Gaza separately.
The event, hosted by the Remember 7.10 campaign, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum UK and the Israeli Embassy, included speakers Hen Mazzig, writer and found of the Tel Aviv Institute, law lecturer Ze’ev Portner and Rabbi Joseph Dweck, senior rabbi of the S&P Sephardi Community.
Singer Pini Brown performed during the demonstration for Kfir's birthday on 18 January. (Photo: Eliana Jordan)
The rally opened with the buoyant melody of Happy Birthday blaring from a loud-speaker, which was abruptly interrupted by audio-clippings from October 7 of sirens, shouting and gunfire.
Florit Shoihet, from Remember 7.10, told the crowd: “Something broke in all of us on October 7. For weeks after I co-slept with my toddler, sniffing his reddish hair, ready to protect him with my tense body against evil. Evil that I didn’t know can exist.”
“We try so hard to build a safe world for our children while we ourselves rely on assumptions that there is an order, logic, general kindness in the world.... Now we know that this world is sick. It is a world where the posters of Kfir are torn, and swastikas are painted on his poor innocent face.”
Each speaker called attention to the inaction of international organisations and condemned the Red Cross for failing to visit the hostages during over 100 days in captivity.
Mazzig said: “The international community, represented by organisations like the Red Cross and the UN, was founded on principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality. Yet, in the face of this crisis, their silence is deafening. Once again, a collective silence is weighing heavily on the conscience of humanity.”
Hen Mazzig addressed the Red Cross and other international organisations in his speech demanding the release of the hostages on 18 January. (Photo: Eliana Jordan)
Musicians Noam Frank, Daniel Green and Pini Brown performed between speakers, dedicating their songs to Kfir, as many of those in attendance wiped away tears. The speeches were punctuated by impromptu shouts of “Bring them home” and “Let him go”.
Volunteers passed around orange balloons. At the foot of the stage, a box of birthday gifts for Kfir sat half-opened, full of sweets, stuffed animals and picture books, the presents from a celebration he has not been afforded.
During his speech, Portner offered prayers for the Bibas family and called for the safe release of all the hostages, whether they were Jewish, Muslim or Christian. He added: “The taking of hostages is a war crime, no ifs or buts. This is reiterated time and time again in international law.”
Rabbi Dweck, the final speaker of the night, said: “The Red Cross has lovely rhetoric on its website: how much they care and how dedicated they are and how committed they are. Words are empty. We want action.”
He concluded by offering words of strength to those in attendance: “We are the Jewish people. We are the people of Israel. We have seen it rise and fall; we have seen people build and crumble. We have seen governments come and go; we have seen nations come and we have seen nations go. We have seen it all.
“And I want to remind everyone, this is a horrible and dark time. It's an understatement to say that, but remember, [it’s] different than what it’s been for us for the last 2,000 years. We fight this war as a sovereign people on our homeland. That is new. And that, however it is that you understand it, is miraculous.”
The event came to an end with a rendition of Happy Birthday, sung to Kfir in both Hebrew and English.
The Red Cross was approached for comment.