The Hostages Are Not a Diversion From This War. They’re at the Heart of It.

More than five weeks ago, on Oct. 7, my brother-in-law Omri Miran was yanked away from his wife, my sister Lishay, and their two beautiful daughters, Roni and Alma, and kidnapped from his home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz. The four of them had been held captive together at gunpoint by Hamas terrorists and their accomplices for hours; the family witnessed their community burn and their neighbors executed. And then they were separated: Omri was taken captive to the Gaza Strip, and Lishay, Roni and Alma were left behind, waiting for a similar fate or worse before Israel Defense Forces soldiers eventually rescued them.

For 40 days, Lishay has not known whether Omri is alive or dead, what his mental and physical status is, if he is treated well or not and whether she will ever again be able to say “I love you” — her last words to him before they were separated. She lives in terrible limbo.

The Hostages Are Not a Diversion From This War. They’re at the Heart of It.
Illustration by Akshita Chandra/The New York Times

Hundreds of thousands marched through London, Paris, Berlin and other European capitals over the last few weekends. Tens of thousands more attended demonstrations across the United States, including an enormous one in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Some were in support of Israel’s right to defend itself, some called for a cessation of antisemitism, and others marched for a cease-fire in Gaza or in support of the Palestinian cause. But for my family, there will be no end to this pain and no peace until the 240 hostages that Hamas kidnapped are rescued. We march for their release.

Omri, Lishay, Roni and Alma are not political pawns; they are human beings who deserve to be reunited as a family. Hamas has yet to allow any international humanitarian group to visit the Israelis and foreign nationals being held captive; we have no means of knowing if Hamas has kept the hostages alive or in what condition, let alone their general well-being. We pray they are still alive and in good health. But that we have no idea illustrates the urgent need to prioritize the release of all the hostages as a condition for any humanitarian pause or cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

In a conflict where emotions run high, the release of hostages can be a potent symbol of good will and a step toward envisioning the day after the war, when Hamas and its accomplices can no longer be allowed to rule the enclave.

Omri Miran and Lishay Lavi met in March 2020; their love bloomed when the world froze amid a global pandemic. Within three years, they built a home in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz situated about two miles from the Israel-Gaza Strip armistice line, married and gave birth to two daughters: Roni, who is 2 and a half years old, and Alma, just 7 months old. Omri worked as a shiatsu massage therapist and a gardener in the kibbutz; Lishay led educational programs that aimed to integrate Muslim Bedouin-Israeli students into Sapir College, the higher-education flagship of the northwestern Negev region within the Gaza envelope. Spiritual lovers of nature and mankind, they were optimistic about their future together until the sun rose on Oct. 7, a sunrise that shone on the deadliest morning in the history of the state of Israel.

The tragedy of Omri’s capture is but one heart-wrenching story among some 240 others. The hostages are at the heart of the Israel-Hamas war that has been unfolding ever since Hamas and its accomplices, including members of other Palestinian armed groups, invaded Israel, killing some 1,200 people and brutalizing and torturing others in their path. This week, there have been reports that Israel and Hamas may be close to a large scale release of hostages — women and children — in exchange for a short cease-fire and a simultaneous release of Palestinian women and young people held in Israeli prisons. I hope this comes to pass. But we will not rest until all the hostages, irrespective of their ages, genders and nationalities, are home.

The Israel-Hamas war has resulted in countless casualties and untold suffering. It has dominated headlines and been the subject of shuttle diplomacy. But amid the chaos and complexity of this conflict, the hostages must not be forgotten. Their lives hang in the balance, and their families live in a perpetual state of anguish. The safe return of the hostages should be at the forefront of diplomatic discussions, the center of Israel’s demands and the focus point for the American response to the conflict. World leaders, irrespective of our spectrum of political affiliations, should be united behind our demand for their immediate release.

Taking hostages — civilians, including babies, children, the disabled and the elderly — is a grave violation of the Geneva Conventions. All parties must be held accountable for the well-being of these hostages. Qatar, which hosts some of Hamas’s political leaders, who live there comfortably, at the expense of the welfare of the Arab Palestinians in Gaza, must do more to free the hostages as part of its commitment to expedite a resolution to the conflict; the rest of the relevant stakeholders should push for a speedy resolution of the hostage issue as well.

As the international community rallies for a cease-fire, we must demand that the release of hostages be an integral part of any negotiated settlement or alternative exit strategy in the spirit of the universal interpretation of the duty of pidyon shvuyim, the Jewish mandate to free those who are held captive unjustly, for as it is written in the Talmud, “he who saves one life saves the world entire”. The lives of hostages like Omri are at stake, and those who define themselves as either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian must not fail them when they rally behind one cause or another, whether as members of the public or as elected officials and public servants in governments, parliaments and international organizations. Anything less will only continue to polarize the public in dangerous ways, as we witnessed in the past few weeks.

Addressing the plight of hostages is not a diversion from the broader political and military issues at the heart of the Israel-Hamas conflict. Freedom for our captives — freedom for Omri — will affirm our universal commitment to human rights, justice and compassion. Please help us, the heartbroken families, to bring them home.

Moshe Emilio Lavi was born in Sderot, Israel. He is a former captain of the Israel Defense Forces and now works as a management consultant.

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