Israeli lawmakers scream at family members of captives

The family members of captives held in Gaza since 7 October at the end of a multi-day march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 17 November.

Hadas Ruso Polaris

Members of Israeli national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party screamed at the family members of people being held captive in Gaza during a Knesset hearing on Monday.

Video of the hearing shows a heated and emotional exchange between the extremist lawmakers and the family members of some of the captives:

Family members of some of the 240 captives in Gaza urged Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to forgo hearings on the so-called “Death Penalty for Terrorists” bill proposed by Jewish Party lawmaker Limor Son Har-Melech and championed by Ben-Gvir.

They say that advancing the bill, and the inflammatory rhetoric used by its proponents, endangers their family members being held in Gaza.

Chen Avigdori, whose wife Sharon and 12-year-old daughter Noam are held in Gaza, said that “I want my child back home, it’s very simple, not to satisfy any enemy, I just want my girl back home.”

“Instead of talking about death, which was the most frequent word in this discussion, talk about life, 239 living hostages – get them out.”

“Gross violation of international law”

The proposed legislation would impose a death penalty as a mandatory sentence “for a person who willfully or negligently causes the “death of an Israeli citizen out of a motive of racism or hostility toward the public” aiming to “harm the State of Israel” and the “revival of the Jewish people in its homeland.”

According to several human rights groups based in Israel, the bill empowers military courts “to impose the death penalty on a Palestinian defendant with a regular majority verdict, and that this punishment, if given in a final judgment, cannot be reduced.”

The groups say that “the very proposal of this bill conveys a message that Palestinian lives are less sacrosanct than those of Israelis and contributes to a process of dehumanization of Palestinians.”

The human rights groups add that the application of the bill in occupied territory “constitutes a gross violation of international law,” as Israel’s parliament does not have the authority to extend Israeli law to territories under military occupation.

The only court-ordered execution in Israel was that of convicted Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1962. But Israeli forces routinely extrajudicially kill Palestinians under open-fire regulations that permit troops to shoot at Palestinians even when they don’t pose an immediate threat.

Ben-Gvir’s stunts

The Times of Israel reported that Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel Gat is being held in Gaza, “broke down in tears” as he beseeched Zvika Fogel, the chair of the Knesset’s National Security Committee and a member of the Jewish Power party, and Ben-Gvir to not move forward with the hearing.

Fogel asserted that the bill “does not contradict the goal of bringing back the hostages, and anyone who tries to present it as a contradiction is someone who is trying to represent Hamas more than the State of Israel.”

The far-right lawmaker “went ahead with the committee hearing on Monday to prepare the controversial bill for a first reading in the plenum despite failing to secure coalition support for the legislation,” The Times of Israel added.

Fogel is a proponent of settler violence against Palestinians, saying “a closed, burnt Huwwara – that’s what I want to see” after a deadly, hours-long rampage in the Palestinian town earlier this year.

Last week, Ben-Gvir staged a publicity stunt in which he visited a prison wing where alleged members of Hamas’ Nukhba commando force are being held and boasted about the ill-treatment and poor conditions to which the detainees are subjected.

He used the visit to promote the death penalty bill, saying that “we can apply it to these vile murderers.”

After the hearing on Monday, Ben-Gvir posted a photo of him with Dickmann, who said that the national security minister embraced him without his consent.

“I told you: don’t put our loved ones at risk,” Dickmann said. “Still, you took a risk. All for the picture.”

Dickmann accused Ben-Gvir of “making a circus about the blood of our families.”

Media reports suggested yet again on Tuesday that a deal to free some of the captives held in Gaza may be close.

Israel said that its military recovered the bodies of two of the captives last week.

Weeks earlier, Hamas released four women and girl captives, including two US citizens, on two separate occasions after Qatari mediation. The resistance group is calling for a major prisoner exchange to secure the release of other captives.


Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.