The concerned relatives appeared at a Knesset National Security Committee session asking politicians not to advance legislation that would allow terrorists to be sentenced to death. The families argued that such a move could put their loved ones in even more danger while still in Hamas captivity in Gaza—but some legislators refused to listen.
Lawmakers from the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, which is pushing for the new capital punishment legislation, ignored the families’ fears at the hearing, according to The Jerusalem Post. A man whose wife and daughter are being held in Gaza begged for the lawmakers to stop “talking about killing Arabs and start speaking about saving Jews,” The Times of Israel reports.
“You have no monopoly over pain,” Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Almog Cohen shouted back. “We have also buried more than 50 friends.” Cohen reportedly continued: “My friend is a hostage in Gaza, and by the way, he’s never heard of you. Don’t talk about us wanting to kill Arabs. We didn’t go to kill them on that Shabbat [Oct. 7]; they came to kill us.”
Cohen’s Otzma Yehudit colleague Limor Son Har-Melech also allegedly yelled at the relatives: “You are silencing other families.” Earlier in the hearing, another lawmaker from the party, Tzvika Fogel—who also acts as the committee’s chairman—accused anyone opposing the legislation of “representing Hamas more than they represent the State of Israel.”
When one hostage’s family member asked Fogel if he believed the families were being used by Hamas, Fogel answered: “I am hinting that Hamas is trying to exploit you, yes. And I’m not hinting. I’m saying it openly.”
Bizarrely, National Security Minister and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir appeared to construe the highly confrontational session as harmonious. In a post on X, Ben-Gvir posted a photo of him hugging one of the relatives along with the caption: “We love and embrace the families of the abductees.”
Gil Dickmann, the man being hugged by Ben-Gvir in the image, wrote a scathing response. “Take your hands off me,” Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel Gat was taken on Oct. 7, said. “My look here says it all. I told you: don’t hug me. You hugged anyway. I told you: Don’t put our loved ones at risk. Still, you took a risk. All for the picture.” Dickmann also accused Ben-Gvir of having “no limits.” “Everyone sees that you are making a circus about the blood of our families,” Dickmann added. “It’s not too late. Stop.”
At the hearing itself, Dickmann had made an impassioned plea for lawmakers not to proceed with the legislation. “Please do not have a hearing now on the gallows, please do not have a hearing now on the death penalty,” he said. “Not when the lives of our loved ones are in the balance, not when the sword is on their necks. I am here in the name of Carmel and for her to remain alive. Please, choose life and ensure they come home alive and whole.”
Around 240 hostages are currently being held by Hamas in Gaza, according to Israeli authorities. Over 30 of them are thought to be children. So far, just four hostages have been released by Hamas, and another one has been rescued by the Israeli military. The Israel Defense Forces has also recovered the bodies of two female hostages during its operations near the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
Over the weekend, U.S. and Qatari officials indicated that a potential deal to release some of the hostages is close, but as yet no formal agreement has been reached. A Washington Post report on the proposed deal claimed that dozens of women and children would be freed in exchange for a five-day pause in the fighting.
With hundreds still in captivity in Gaza, hostages’ families are anxious to avoid placing their loved ones in further jeopardy. The Family Headquarters for Captives and Missing People, a group representing the hostages’ relatives, said in a statement that the death penalty debate Monday “endangers the lives of our loved ones beyond the already existing risk and this without promoting any public purpose.”