'Do everything you can': Families of Hamas hostages call for lawmakers' help in securing their release

"The hostages are running out of time," a family member said.

January 17, 2024, 9:29 PM

American and Israeli families of hostages being held by Hamas came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, continuing their calls for lawmakers to help bring their loved ones home.

"You are all lawmakers of the most powerful country in the world, a beacon of democracy, a defender of civil and human rights," said Yarden Gonen, whose younger sister was kidnapped on Oct. 7 by Hamas, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist group. "Please, with this great power comes great responsibility. I ask you to do everything you can to get our hostages home where they deserve to be."

A bipartisan group of senators hosted the families in the Capitol to discuss the importance of the United States' support in helping to bring their family members home after spending more than 100 days in captivity, according to a news release.

Orna and Ronen Neutra, whose son Omer is held hostage by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, hold pictures of him during a bipartisan press conference by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Jan. 17, 2024, in Washington.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The senators assured the families they had their support and would continue to push for the hostages' release as the war rages on between Israel and Hamas.

In the Gaza Strip, more than 24,400 people have been killed by Israeli forces since Oct. 7, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health. In Israel, at least 1,200 people have been killed by Hamas and other Palestinian militants since Oct. 7, according to Israeli officials.

"We are making slow, slow, slow, but important progress," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Not that that progress can't come fast enough."

Relatives of people held hostage by Hamas in the Gaza Strip react as Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., speaks during a bipartisan press conference by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Jan. 17, 2024, in Washington.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Orna Neurta, whose son Omer was abducted by Hamas, recalled a meeting over a month ago she had with President Joe Biden, who encouraged the families to keep hope.

While she said she is trying to stay hopeful, as Biden suggested, she called for more action.

"At no point in our lives, so far, has hope and prayer in and of themselves without action ever yielded results," Neurta said.

The families also underscored the urgency for the release of their loved ones.

Jon Polin said his son Hersh was kidnapped from the Supernova music festival and lost his arm while being taken hostage.

At least 260 people were killed at the music festival after Hamas targeted the event in its massive and unprecedented attack on Israel. Many of its attendees were taken hostage as well.

"For 103 days, my wife Rachel and I have received minimal information on Hersh. We don't even know if he's alive," he said. "One hundred three days is 103 days too many, and we are running out of time. The hostages are running out of time."

Gonen's younger sister was also at the festival when she was kidnapped after watching the murder of her best friend, she said.

"Instead of having the time of her life celebrating love, peace, freedom and friendship, she was the victim of unimaginable hate, torture and pure evil," Gonen said.

During the news conference, Liz Naftali, an aunt of 4-year-old Abigail Idan, who was taken hostage and then later released, criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that she was briefed that there there were several deals regarding the release of the hostages and claimed that the hold up was with his government.

She also claimed the prime minister wants the war to continue so he can remain in office.

In his opening remarks, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said lawmakers "will not rest until the hostages are home and we will not forget our commitment to bring them home safely."

On Wednesday afternoon, House Speaker Mike Johnson held a bipartisan candlelight vigil, where some members wore what looked like a strip of tape with "103" written on it, representing the amount of days since the hostages have been held captive by Hamas.

During remarks at the start of the vigil, Johnson took a swipe at Democrats, saying "sadly there are some who continue to sympathize with Hamas. Their actions and their rhetoric, which are shocking, remind us exactly why we need a vigil like this."

Related Topics