I accompanied hostages’ families to the Knesset. It shook my soul

Family members of Karina Ariev and Liri Albag demand their release at the Knesset. (Gila Hochman)

October 7 paralyzed me. For half a year, the excruciating grief and the necessity to function for my kids and my job have forced me into a mechanical existence in which I go through the motions of life.

Writing has always been my lifeline: my profession and a form of therapy, a means to unravel my tightest emotional kinks. Yet, for the past six months I haven’t been able to write how I feel about October 7 and the war.

Instead, I’ve consumed the smart and the fake news, the self-righteous and vengeful posts. The overwhelming sea of narratives has helped me distance myself from my own truth.

Until this week.

On Tuesday, I volunteered to accompany family members of the Israeli hostages at Knesset hearings. Besides our desperate cry for a hostage deal NOW, the families and we, their supporters, protested the fact that our elected officials are going on recess for 1.5 months while the war rages on and 134 Israelis rot in Hamas captivity. It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. It’s taken me more than 48 hours to process and write this.

Upon reaching the Knesset, I walked through the tent camp set up by families who have walked all the way to Jerusalem (again) to demand their family members’ release.

My first assignment was to attend the Status of Women Committee meeting. I stood in the back holding a photo of hostage Judith Weinstein and a sign reading “Help!”, amidst mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins of hostages.

The first thing that struck me was their searing rage and helplessness. I’ve felt and experienced their agony at rallies and other events but that day was different. After months of being polite and apolitical, many of the families are now directly blaming Bibi, calling him the impediment to a deal.

I’m summarizing and paraphrasing the following from memory and media reports (here, here, and here.)

A mother of a female soldier said that every day women are raped in Gaza, and anyone who is not proactively working toward a hostage deal is complicit in the crimes: as if they are walking through the streets and watching women being raped without doing anything.

The cousin of Doron Steinbrecher, a 31-year-old woman, said that she remembers her grandparents (apparently Holocaust survivors) telling her as a child how she must appreciate Israel because she doesn’t know what the world was like without it.

“What is the State of Israel?” she implored the Knesset members repeatedly.

I ask myself the same question.

What is a state worth if it cannot protect its citizens? If it can evade so many opportunities to save lives, to save women from the most catastrophic fate of all?

Then Yarden, the sister of hostage Romi Gonen, read a testimony of a rescue worker who arrived at the Nova rave following the massacre. He recounted that the Hamas terrorists broke into Israel bearing instructions written on notes detailing the scale of destruction to reap: kill, burn, kidnap, rape, torture. They had time to do all of this because so few came to the victims’ rescue. He described terrorists playing soccer with decapitated heads and breasts of women which they had cut off. He described extensively the mutilation of genitals: nails drilled into pelvises, stab wounds on thighs, and more, not only on women but on men too.

Shai Dickman, cousin of hostage Carmel Gat, read more testimonies including the one recently published by released hostage Amit Soussana. She described how Amit was beaten and sexually assaulted at gunpoint, how she was tortured repeatedly without mercy.

Released hostages Mia Regev and Sharon Aloni-Cunio also spoke. Sharon’s husband, David, the father of her twin girls, is still held in Gaza. She broke into sobs.

The mothers and sisters and cousins concluded that the same terrorists who ruthlessly committed the heinous crimes described are almost certainly continuing to commit them on their daughters, sisters, and cousins. It’s unbearable. Members of the Knesset are responsible for releasing them and for the fact that they’re still there, they said.

(Gila Hochman)

This was before sisters of two of the kidnapped soldiers, Liri Albag and Karina Ariev, dressed up as their beaten and abused sisters, in the clothes the world has seen them in. The world saw them like that and moved on.

Everyone was silent during the testimonies. Many cried. The aunt of hostage Noa Argamani fainted, and the committee took a break.

Beyond the mutilated genitals and the stupefying stories of abuse, rape, and savagery, what shook my soul that day was the apathy and indifference of our lawmakers—the same lawmakers that are going on vacation now for 1.5 months while we pay their salaries and the hostages rot in Gaza.

MK Pnina Tamano Shata, the committee’s chair, and others complained that they have no power to lobby the government. MK Merav Ben-Ari mentioned something about trying to get enough signatures to cancel the Knesset break. Too lesser known MKs, Yasmin Fridan and Tatiana Mazarsky, whimpered and sought the forgiveness of the hostages’ families for not saving their loves ones. They have no power, they said. Luckily, the mothers were not having it. “You’re shirking responsibility,” Meirav, Romi’s mother, shot back.

If a country’s parliamentarians don’t have power, who does?

Where has MK Pnina Tamano Shata been for the past half-year? Why has it taken her so long to convene the committee to talk about the ongoing rape of the hostages when it has been known all along? Why was she shocked that her party’s leader, Benny Gantz, to whom she is close, was the first minister to meet with released hostage Moran Stella Yanai and that only happened this past week after she went public with her testimony?

No ministers attended the hearing including the Minister for the Advancement of the Status of Women, May Golan.

Perhaps the low point of the meeting was when a member of the coalition started one-upping members of the opposition about how many people from each side attended as the mothers and sisters and cousins of women who are being abused by sadistic terrorists, if they are even alive, looked on.

At least, at the Status of Women committee people were mostly respectful and silent. They let the women speak. During my next assignment at a Finance Committee meeting, things were worse. The head of the committee Moshe Gafni did not look or listen to the hostages’ families who came to speak at first, despite their pleas for him to hear them out(!) Others patted each other on the back or read from their computers as the family members spoke, including David Amsalem (a minister but not an MK!) who just returned from a well-publicized vacation to Greece.

These members of Knesset are not worthy of our trust, our votes, our tax money. These self-interested simps don’t deserve the amazing people of Israel who took care of each other while the government cowered after October 7. We must replace the entire Knesset. They’ve failed to bring home the hostages. They’ve failed to win the war. They’ve failed to be decent human beings. And, still, they’re going on vacation.

The hostages and their families have no vacation. They don’t sleep. They have been living a nightmare for half a year.

When will this nightmare end?

About the Author
Born in Canada and living in Israel since 2003, Melanie Takefman writes about life in Israel, herstory and cross-cultural identity. She is currently working on a book about women and migration.
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