Monday, December 4, 2023

In the midst of the Gaza nightmare, a light flickers, then dies

This was published as a Viewpoint in the CT Mirror on Monday, December 4, 2023. It is an updated version of an op-ed published a week earlier in the Waterbury Republican-American.

In the midst of the Gaza nightmare, a light flickers, then dies

by Alan Stein, Ph.D.

On Friday morning, Nov. 24, I watched live as 13 Israeli women and children held hostage in Gaza were released seven weeks after being kidnapped by Hamas terrorists.

They were the first of four groups to be released during a four-day pause in the war Hamas started on Oct. 7, with an agreement that it could be extended an additional day for every 10 hostages Hamas released, up to five more days. Ultimately it lasted just a week, punctuated each day by drama orchestrated by Hamas. It ended with Hamas crossing too many red lines, refusing to release a group of hostages as agreed and firing 45 rockets when the ceasefire was still in effect.

The deal was a double-edged sword.

On the plus side, a handful of hostages were freed each day.

On the minus side, three terrorists were released for each freed hostage, large amounts of "aid" was sent into Gaza knowing much would stolen by Hamas and used to rearm, lengthen the war and kill more people.

Israel also agreed to stop its aerial surveillance of southern Gaza, by aircraft, drones and balloons, and also stop its surveillance of northern Gaza for six hours each day. One does not need much imagination to figure out why Hamas made that demand: to give it the opportunity to move the hostages around, eliminating the value of any intelligence about their location Israel might have gained from the hostages who got released and making further rescue far more difficult. And, each day, the pressure increased on Israel to agree to another "permanent" ceasefire that would again let Hamas survive, rearm, and perform more atrocities.

Although efforts continue to be made to forge a new hostages-for-terrorists agreement, I think a new agreement is unlikely in the near future. Hamas will be trying for an even more one-sided deal, while Israel will be trying to make sure Hamas can't again violate it with impunity. Israel also can't keep stopping, restarting and dragging out a war while hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens remain displaced (Hamas doesn't care about its citizens) and its economy is stalled because so many workers are on reserve duty.

On that first day, I watched as some children were released with their mothers while their fathers were still being held hostage. Some are now orphans traumatized by seeing their parents slaughtered in front of them; some have just one parent because Hamas murdered their other parent on October 7. In several cases, in violation of the agreement, Hamas released children without their mother. Hila Rotem Shoshani, a 13-year-old girl, was released late that Saturday night - itself a violation of the agreement, since the hostages were supposed to be released around 4 p.m. - without her mother, Raaya. Hamas falsely claimed they did not know where her mother was, even though, as Hila told her relatives, they had been held together until two days earlier.

In a complicated procedure, Hamas gathered the hostages and brought them to International Red Cross ambulances on the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing into Egypt. The Red Cross brought them into Egypt and drove to the border with Israel, where they were transferred to the Israeli military and brought into Israel and then to Israeli hospitals.

That first transfer to the Rafah crossing into Egypt was delayed because the Red Cross needed to provide urgent care that couldn't wait for the short ambulance ride to the Rafah crossing. On November 24, 84-year-old Elma Avraham was hours from death when she was released. She'd been in good health when taken hostage, but needed medications that were withheld from her by Hamas. Upon her release, she had a weak pulse, low blood pressure, a body temperature in the 80's and had to be rushed by helicopter to Soroka Medical Center, where she fell into a coma.

The children were not immediately told whether their parents were alive or dead; that waited until they were in the care of trained professionals, and then only if it was known whether their parents were alive or dead.

Those traumatized children are the "lucky" ones.

They are not among those who were beheaded on Oct. 7, or burned alive, or had their limbs torn off so their Hamas torturers could enjoy watching them bleed to death.

Similar scenes, with cruel variations forced by Hamas, were repeated six more times. Each day relatives were still wondering whether their children, wives, sisters or mothers would be returned and in what condition. Hamas was required to provide a list each day of who would be released the next day. Each time, Hamas delayed providing the list, or provided one violating the agreed upon criteria. On the second day, hours after the transfer to the Red Cross was supposed to take place, Hamas still hadn't provided an acceptable list, at which point Israel announced that unless the hostages reached Israel by midnight - itself eight hours after they were supposed to be transferred to the Red Cross - it would resume the war. Hamas cruelly kept the suspense going for hours more, with the hostages reaching Israel just two minutes to midnight.

The only concession by Hamas in the agreement besides the release of some of the hostages it kidnapped in violation of international law was to permit the International Red Cross to visit the hostages, give them emergency medical care and give Israel a list of their names and conditions. This is all also required under international law. Not surprisingly, Hamas reneged on that commitment. When the pause was extended, Hamas again committed to allowing Red Cross access and again reneged.

The most problematic parts of the deal were the cease fire and its timing, coming when Israel was days away from clearing the terrorists from northern Gaza.

Pausing operations halted Israel's momentum and, as noted, predictably led to increased pressure on Israel to agree to a permanent cease fire, leaving Hamas intact and able to rebuild. The prime ministers of Belgium and Spain came to the Rafah crossing before any hostages crossed, bizarrely criticized Israel and called for a permanent cease fire while uttering neither a single word of criticism of Hamas nor welcome for the release of hostages.

The freed hostages have revealed some of the cruel treatment by their terrorist captors and accomplices.

When 12-year-old Eitan Yahalomi was dragged into Gaza, residents - often referred to as innocent civilians living in Gaza - beat him. Hamas forced him, at gunpoint, to watch videos of the atrocities they committed on 10/7.

Women were held in cages.

When 9-year-old Emily Hand was in captivity, she was conditioned to not speak above a whisper, so much so that upon her release her father could not hear what she said without putting his ear right next to her lips. Emily's mother had died from cancer when she was 2 years old and her stepmother was murdered on October 7.

Kfir Bibas was 9-months-old and in diapers when he was kidnapped, along with his 4-year-old brother Ariel, mother Shiri and father Yarden. At one time, Hamas has said it couldn't release him because it didn't know where he was. On November 28, Israeli officials revealed Hamas previously claimed it had given the entire family to another terror group. On November 29, Hamas claimed that Kfir, Ariel and Shiri had been killed by an Israeli airstrike. Three cruel assertions by Hamas, each contradicting the other two. If he's still alive, he's now 11 months old and has spent a fifth of his life underground without seeing a single ray of natural light.

Early on, Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed Hannah Katzi had been killed by an Israeli airstrike. She turned out to be alive, being among the first group of hostages released.

The cruelty extends to the ordinary, innocent "civilians" in Gaza for which so much "humanitarian aid" is being provided.

Roni Kriboy, released as a favor by Hamas to Vladimir Putin and the only adult male released, managed to escape when the building he was in collapsed. After spending four days trying to avoid recapture and find his way back to Israel, a group of ordinary Gaza civilians captured him and promptly brought him to Hamas.

One hostage was held for nearly 50 days by a teacher from UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, while another was held hostage by a physician!

When Hamas ended the ceasefire with its barrage of rockets on December 1, the terrorists were still holding nearly 140 hostages, underground, not knowing the fate of their children, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, parents, grandparents.

There can be no doubt but that we must stand with Israel and, for the good of Israel, for the good of America, for the good of the democratic world and for the good of the Gazans themselves, ensure Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah and allies can terrorize no more.

Alan Stein, Ph.D., is President Emeritus of PRIMER-Connecticut (Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting) and the founder of PRIMER-Massachusetts and PRIMER-Israel. A version of this commentary was published in the Waterbury Republican-American on November 29, before Hamas ended the hostage-for-terrorists deal.