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Families of hostages held by Hamas plead for action on Capitol Hill

Keep thinking of our loved ones, they say, amid congressional infighting and a flurry of resolutions

Family members of hostages taken by Hamas — including Ruby Chen, father of Itay Chen — arrive for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Thursday.
Family members of hostages taken by Hamas — including Ruby Chen, father of Itay Chen — arrive for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Around noon on Saturday, Oct. 7, Noam Peri got a message on her phone.

“I got a text message from my mother, saying, ‘Dad has been kidnapped by terrorists. I’m alone in the safe room. Can’t talk.’ I never imagined in my life getting this message, and I’m sure you can’t either,” Peri said Thursday on Capitol Hill, surrounded by members of Congress.

Her 80-year-old father, Haim, was taken from the kibbutz where he lived near Gaza during Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel earlier this month. She and others, including families of Americans Liat Beinin and Itay Chen, traveled to Washington this week to raise awareness about those still captured or missing.

They visited senators’ offices, sat for television interviews and gathered for the emotional press conference in the Rayburn House Office Building, where they told their loved ones’ stories.

Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, took at least 200 hostages and killed around 1,400 people in that Oct. 7 attack, triggering widespread condemnation from the U.S. and an Israeli air assault. According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, more than 5,000 Palestinians — most of them women and children — have been killed since the start of the conflict.

Hamas has released less than a handful of hostages, and many remain unaccounted for.

“These families have shown tremendous courage during this deeply traumatic time … The Congress of the United States is committed — Republicans, Democrats, across the board — in leaving no hostage behind,” said Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, who was part of a bipartisan group of more than a dozen lawmakers present at Thursday’s event.

The families pleaded for the spotlight to stay on the hostages and for decision-makers to keep their safe return at the top of their minds. Members of Congress have largely expressed their support for Israel and denounced Hamas, but they spent much of their time this week on infighting and symbolic gestures.

In one of its first acts after electing a new speaker, the House on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted in favor of a measure to condemn Hamas, with one Republican and nine Democrats voting against it. One of them, Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, introduced a separate resolution demanding a ceasefire, which has 17 co-sponsors. 

Protesters, too, have descended on the Capitol demanding a stop to the Israeli airstrikes. More than 300 demonstrators were arrested by Capitol Police last week after they gathered in the Rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building. And protesters in recent days have occupied the Capitol Hill offices of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer; Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.; and House Minority Whip Katherine E. Clark, D-Mass.

But calls for ceasefire, especially coming from members of Congress, have drawn scorn. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., introduced a resolution this week to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, for speaking to protesters outside the Capitol before they eventually moved to a House office building.

In a statement on Thursday, Tlaib said Greene’s resolution is “deeply Islamophobic and attacks peaceful Jewish anti-war advocates.”

Hoyer and others present at the event with hostage families Thursday were united in their support for Israel, and several called for the eradication of Hamas.

“I’m proud to stand here with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to express our outrage about what’s happening in Israel by the brutal puppet of Iran, Hamas,” said Arkansas Republican Rep. French Hill, who co-chairs the Congressional Task Force on American Hostages and Americans Wrongfully Detained Abroad, along with Michigan Democratic Rep. Haley Stevens.

Hill and Stevens have worked together on a resolution condemning Hamas’ attack on Israel and demanding the hostages’ release. 

“I’d really like to see us vote on that,” Stevens said. “We were thrilled to get cross-Congress support. There will be a proper time, sooner rather than later, to keep pushing and reminding. And that resolution is going to do that,” Stevens said after the event.

Pushing and reminding may not seem like concrete action, but Stevens said it can make a difference, describing the task force’s other efforts. While the task force is not a committee and therefore does not have a budget or its own staff, Stevens said she and Hill are using resources from their personal offices to help members with constituent services. Largely, that means serving as a liaison between families of hostages and governmental agencies. 

“We’re all family now — a tragic family. That solidarity and that togetherness, it’s solace, but it’s also advocacy power,” Stevens said.

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