Claiming to free hostages on “compelling humanitarian” grounds, the militant group exposes its cynical disregard for human life
By Allan Ripp
When Hamas agreed to release two elderly Israeli women on October 23, the group’s military wing said it was doing so for “compelling humanitarian” reasons.
That is a noble posture and gives hope to the estimated 220 other individuals still being held captive in Gaza – more than half of whom are said to be non-Israelis from 25 countries, including 10 Americans.
By their own accounts, the two women – kibbutz residents Yocheved Lifshitz, age 85 and Nurit Cooper, 79 – were treated well enough, though fed only modest meals of hard cheese and cucumber. Lifshitz even shook hands with her masked captor upon being freed, though she described her experience as “hell.”
Still, the photo op has played widely across media channels and no doubt softened – and humanized – the profile of the militants who stormed into Israel with murderous zeal on October 7, slaughtering some 1,440 and injuring many hundreds more. Following the October 20th release of two American women from Evanston, Illinois, Hamas can demonstrate its compassion on the world stage and play to those who believe its assault and trophy killings were a justified form of resistance against the occupying Zionists. As more aid and supplies are delivered to Gaza, additional hostages may be returned, as a sign of Hamas’s respect for the sanctity of its captives’ lives. Surely someone will put forward the group for a Nobel prize.
In fact, there isn’t a Schindler’s shred of humanitarianism in Hamas’s decision to release hostages. Although some of those being held are believed to be soldiers, the overwhelming majority are reportedly civilians – as many as 20 older than 80, and perhaps 30 children younger than 18, including a nine-month infant. At least one Palestinian is among them, a bus driver whose family said he spent the night at the Supernova music festival where at least 250 attendees were slain.
By what warped standard of benevolence and kindness could one justify the taking of ordinary citizens and forcing them into the labyrinthine tunnels of Gaza, to be used as ransom chips and shields, and then released as an act of humanity? What belief system would countenance violent abduction of innocents, and then project their subsequent freedom as a demonstration of what good people the kidnappers are?
A trivial comparison perhaps, but it would be as if I stole $1,000 from my neighbor and then returned $500, claiming it was a gesture of charity. That I didn’t return all that I snatched is equivalent to the current situation, since who can say that any of the hostages will ever be whole again even after their return? Consider that the husbands of both women freed October 23 remain imprisoned by Hamas, which surely impacts the wives’ ability to speak freely about their treatment. The “hell” they will forever recall of the events they witnessed and their ensuing captivity reflects the utter inhumanity of Hamas.
In days following the October 7 incursion, Hamas threatened to execute a hostage for every missile fired by Israel’s air force – not exactly a humanitarian’s pledge. As Israel has continued to pound Gaza with airstrikes and degrade its enemy’s ability to launch future raids and rockets, Hamas is now using the hostages to stave off an expanded ground invasion. Ironically, Qatar, which hosts a number of Hamas’s senior leaders in Gulf State comfort, is being praised as a peacemaker for helping negotiate on behalf of the hostages.
According to numerous international conventions and courts the very act of civilian hostage-taking constitutes a serious war crime in armed conflict, no matter the political purpose or fate of the individuals. Those who would preach to Israel about the disproportionality of its response to the October 7 attacks should recalibrate their moral high ground. If Hamas truly were a humanitarian body, the only correct course would be to release all of the hostages, unconditionally. Until then, the compelling residue that remains is its cynical disdain for what it means to be human.
Mr. Ripp runs a press relations firm in New York. He can be reached at email@example.com