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Families of Israeli hostages travel to D.C. to plead for release

Relatives of Israelis abducted by Hamas last month traveled to downtown D.C. on Sunday to urge the international community to maintain pressure and demand the release of their family members.

Assembled outside the headquarters of the American Red Cross, the relatives held photos and invoked the names of their captured loved ones — a young boy, a husband and wife, and a grandfather among them — as they pleaded for help.

Itay Raviv spoke of Ohad Munder, a boy who reached his ninth birthday in captivity and who was taken hostage Oct. 7 along with his mother, Keren, and grandparents, Abraham and Ruth Munder.

“It has been 30 days and we don’t know what their condition is or how they are treated,” Raviv told the crowd of a couple hundred people, some of whom held fliers with photos of hostages. “We don’t even know if they’re alive or not.”

Referring to the Holocaust, Raviv said: “The world stood in silence. Do not be silent again. We need you to help us to bring our loved ones back.”

Hamas militants abducted about 240 people and killed 1,400 during the Oct. 7 attack, according to Israeli authorities. The hostages include soldiers, civilians, grandparents and 33 children. Four hostages have been released, and Israel has said it rescued one soldier in an operation.

Shani Segal, whose cousin, Rimon Kirsht, and Rimon’s husband, Yagev, were abducted from Nirim, a kibbutz in southern Israel, told the crowd it was up to the Red Cross and other organizations to “do your job” and maintain pressure on Hamas to release the hostages.

“If we allow to have civilians taken today,” she said, “it will happen again tomorrow.”

The families spoke a day after thousands of people massed in downtown Washington in support of Palestinian rights, with speakers demanding a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and calling on President Biden to end American aid to Israel.

Hamas, which is the governing authority in Gaza, is recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

In the weeks since the Hamas attack, at least 9,770 people in Gaza have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. On Oct. 27, Israel launched a large-scale attack in Gaza, seeking to dismantle Hamas.

Over the past few weeks, families of the Israeli hostages have traveled to cities in Europe and the United States as they have sought to focus public attention on the plight of their relatives.

The families who rallied Sunday in Washington had just arrived from Miami, where they also pushed the campaign for their relatives’ release. They are scheduled to meet with members of Congress on Monday at the Capitol.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) was among those who spoke at Sunday’s gathering, which was sponsored by a coalition of Jewish groups led by UnXeptable, a grass-roots organization of Israeli expatriates.

“You are not alone, we are with you,” the congressman told the family members. “It is a crime against humanity to make civilians suffer.”

Before the speeches, volunteers handed out fliers with “KIDNAPPED” printed across the top and photographs of those who have been reported abducted, including Amelia Alony, 5, Tomer Eliaz, 17, and Liraz Assulin, 38.

“Take a photo of this poster and share it,” the fliers said.

David Pinto, 58, a Rockville, Md., software executive, went to the rally with an Israeli flag wrapped around his shoulders. He said he has been “consumed” by the fate of the hostages since their abduction.

As time passes, he said he is becoming more concerned about a need for a resolution and about what he fears is a worsening perception of Israel around the world.

“Right now, it’s less of a shock and more, ‘Do something,’ ” he said. “Showing support in numbers means something.”

Members of the hostages’ families said they were buoyed by the turnout Sunday. A few became visibly tearful during the rally.

Rita Lifshitz, 59, whose stepfather Oded Lifshitz, 83, was among those kidnapped, had left their kibbutz Nir Oz the night before to travel to Tel Aviv. “I believe a guardian angel was watching over me,” she said in a brief interview.

On Oct. 7, she learned of the harrowing events at the kibbutz as they unfolded through text messages from friends and family, including that Hamas had abducted “a father and his two children,” along with “many, many elderly people” and “a 10-month-old baby.”

Lifshitz told the crowd that a woman she knew tried to escape with her husband and three children — the youngest 2 years old — by jumping out of the window of their bomb shelter.

“Hamas was standing there and decided to shoot all the family members,” Lifshitz said.

As she concluded her remarks, she thanked the crowd for attending and reminded them that insisting on the hostages’ release is essential “every day, every hour, every minute, every second.”

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