IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Families of people kidnapped by Hamas deplore Gaza violence and demand release of hostages

In an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt, 12 people whose loved ones were taken captive by Hamas on Oct. 7 said the world should not forget about their plight.
Get more newsLiveon

The families of American citizens kidnapped by Hamas in Israel nearly six months ago told NBC News’ Lester Holt on Thursday that they decry the killings of innocent civilians in Gaza and pleaded with the international community to remain focused on the plight of their loved ones still in captivity.

“There’s not a single person here who does not want to make sure that the people that are living in Gaza are safe [and] that they are taken care of,” said Liz Hirsh-Naftali, the great-aunt of Abigail Mor Edan, a 4-year-old girl who was released from Hamas captivity in late November.

“But where we are now is that we are a humanitarian group that is looking out, because we have to, for these hostages. … We have no choice,” Hirsh-Naftali added. She was referring to herself and the 11 other people who had assembled in New York for a group interview nearly half a year after Hamas militants stormed their homes and kibbutzim.

Hirsh-Naftali and others strongly condemned an Israeli military strike earlier this week that killed seven people working for a World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza. (Israel said the killings were a "grave mistake.") The families gathered Thursday shortly after President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was “unacceptable,” according to the White House.

Liz Hirsh-Naftali
Liz Hirsh-Naftali.Vanessa Leroy / NBC News

Gillian Kaye, the stepmother of Israeli American hostage Sagui Dekel-Chen, denounced the “horrific loss of life” in the Gaza Strip since the start of Israel’s retaliatory military campaign, saying in part: “How can you not look at [Gaza] and not feel unbelievable sympathy for the suffering that’s going on there?”

But amid the brutal toll of the Israel-Hamas war, Kaye said she is concerned the world is starting to forget about the people who were violently captured in southern Israel on Oct. 7, igniting a brutal conflict that has devastated the Gaza Strip, jeopardized the stability of the Middle East and provoked intense political divides around the world.

Gillian Kaye and Jonathan Dekel-Chen
Gillian Kaye and Jonathan Dekel-Chen.Vanessa Leroy / NBC News

“Here we are, with our innocent loved ones hostage for 181 days, hidden in tunnels. … They kind of disappear in this horror that’s going on, and there’s no question that it feels like the world is moving on,” Kaye said. “It’s hard to struggle with that.”

Hirsh-Naftali implored Netanyahu and Hamas leadership to reach a deal to stop the bloodshed and free the hostages. “He’s been talking for many months about how important hostage release is,” she said, referring to the Israeli prime minister. “We don’t have any more time for talking.”

The families said they appreciated the Biden administration’s commitment to securing the release of their loved ones. Kaye said they have all had “an extraordinary amount of access” to key figures in the U.S. government, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and CIA Director William J. Burns.

Ronen Neutra, whose son Omer Neutra was kidnapped by Hamas militants, said he nonetheless believes both the U.S. and Israeli governments should be doing more to free the hostages.

Ronen Neutra
Ronen Neutra, father of hostage Omer Neutra.Vanessa Leroy / NBC News

“They need to pull every lever,” Neutra said, “and it hasn’t been done, or else we would have had our dear ones back home.”

Rachel Goldberg, whose son Hersh Goldberg-Polin was recorded on video being loaded onto a pickup truck with one of his arms blown off, said she believes many people do not realize that the 134 people believed to remain in Hamas captivity come from all backgrounds and faith traditions.

“You very rarely hear about the eight Muslim Arabs being held with our eight American citizens as hostages. You very rarely hear about the seven young men from Thailand who are Buddhist [and] who are still being held with our hostages,” Goldberg said.

“I think there’s been a lot of noise,” Goldberg added, “and you don’t hear about all the different people from 25 different nations who are Christian, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus.”

The families are anguished over the fates of their loved ones, starved for news about their condition and left fearing the worst. Jonathan Dekel-Chen, father of Sagui, said he has grown increasingly scared that dozens of the hostages are already dead, describing the issue as a “national crisis.”

Rachel Goldberg
Rachel Goldberg, mother of hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin.Vanessa Leroy / NBC News

“I live my life in agony, in sadness,” said Yael Alexander, mother of hostage Edan Alexander.

In some cases, the worst has already happened. Joel Napchan is mourning the death of his cousin's son Itay Chen, a 19-year-old who was believed to have been kidnapped on Oct. 7 but was actually killed that day, with his body abducted, according to his parents. Andrea Weinstein lost a sister, Judith Weinstein, and a brother-in-law, Gad Haggai.

The people who are still waiting for the safe return of their loved ones said they cannot afford to lose hope. Emily Wesolowski, whose uncle Keith Siegel remains in captivity, said there is “no alternative” to hope.

Yael Alexander
Yael Alexander, mother of hostage Edan Alexander.Vanessa Leroy / NBC News

“I have seen these families,” Hirsh-Naftali said. “If they did not have hope, I don’t know how they could get up every morning.”

CORRECTION (April 5, 2024, 4:55 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of a 4-year-old girl who was released from Hamas captivity last year. She is Abigail Mor Edan, not Idan.