Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Hostage release is not a leftist plot

In the renamed 'Hostages and Missing Square,' Tel Aviv. Image, Yossipik via Wikimedia Commons
In the renamed 'Hostages and Missing Square,' Tel Aviv. Image, Yossipik via Wikimedia Commons

We’re at it again, even before the dust has had a chance to settle on the Gaza border. While tens of thousands of Israelis showed up to support the families of hostages and call for their release, commentators on the television were pointing to the scene and proclaiming “Sinwar sees this demonstration and knows it is a sore point for us. He will press for more compensation for the next rounds of hostage release, and engage in further psychological terror around the hostages.”

It’s a variation on the trope: “The left is responsible for this war. Because they demonstrated (against our perfectly reasonable bid to dismantle Israel’s democracy), Hamas thought they could take us down.”

In truth, Sinwar or his underlings may even be watching the Israel Channel 12 news, and they almost certainly know about the public pressure to get the hostages home. They definitely know how to twist the knife, once inserted, as they demonstrated Saturday evening.

But the sad fact is that public pressure is necessary – and will continue to be necessary – to get the hostages released. It is necessary to keep hostage release at the top of the priorities list, both within the cabinet and in the army. We have seen this, most recently with Ethiopian-Israeli Avera Mengistu and Bedouin Arab Israeli Hisham al-Sayed, who have been held in Gaza for years. No one marched in the streets or demanded prisoner releases to save them, and they are apparently still there. We saw it in the first days of the war, when hostage release was listed somewhere beneath killing all members of Hamas and returning security to the border. It took public pressure to get hostage release promoted to at least sharing the top spot on our to-do list.

Possibly even more than the pro-democracy demonstrations, the current ones are non-political, crossing nearly the entire swathe of public opinion from left to right. There are no calls to topple the government or resist legislation. Only to keep the hostage issue top and center. The hostages are overwhelmingly secular, many left-wing, but the head of the Shas, center-right religious party, Aryeh Deri, voted with the deal to release 50 of the hostages, saying there is no more sacred work than freeing those held captive.

We know that concessions will be granted, Hamas and other Palestinian prisoners released. Hamas will obtain fuel and food that may prolong the war. We know there will be a steep price to pay.

Yet the issue of hostage return is exactly where the Israeli public is choosing to unite, and to stay strong. It is here that we can say: “together, we will win.” And we will need to stay strong in the weeks to come, to stay strong for the families of hostages who remain in Gaza, to stay strong for the sake of our country. We must remain a country in which there is no more sacred work than releasing those held captive, in which freeing those held hostage has a higher priority than waging war.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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