Hamas and other armed groups must release civilian hostages

Friends and family grieve at a funeral in Israel

Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israel/OPT: Hamas and other armed groups must release civilian hostages and treat all captives humanely

Press release

7 November 2023

Amnesty International reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of all civilian hostages, some of them children, who have been held in the occupied Gaza Strip for a month after being abducted by Hamas and other armed groups on 7 October.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Israel in recent days criticizing the Israeli government’s response and demanding their loved ones be brought home. Last week, a video released by the Al Qassam Brigades – the military wing of Hamas – circulated online showing three civilian hostages being held in Gaza directing a message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Recording and publicly sharing testimonies from hostages amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment.

“Hostage-taking and the abduction of civilians are prohibited by international law and are war crimes. Hostages must be treated humanely and in accordance with international law, not paraded in online videos or coerced into making statements,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“Instead of using distressed civilian hostages as tools to score political points, Hamas should release them immediately and unconditionally. As a bare minimum they should grant independent monitors immediate access to visit the hostages to ensure their wellbeing and facilitate their communication with their families.”

The Israeli authorities that at least 240 civilian hostages and military captives remain held in Gaza but have not provided a breakdown of civilians and military captives. The hostages , older people and foreigners or dual citizens, as well as Israeli soldiers. Four civilian hostages, all women, have been released by Hamas so far – two on 20 October, both are US citizens, and two on 24 October.

As Israel’s brutal siege and relentless bombardment of Gaza continues and the devastating civilian death toll continues to rise, the organization also reiterates its call for an immediate ceasefire, its call to protect all civilians, and its call to ensure vital aid access amidst a manmade humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

“Israel’s relentless bombardment of Gaza, including through unlawful, indiscriminate attacks, has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians including 4,200 children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. It also endangers civilians who are being held hostage in Gaza and ignores appeals from Israeli families to prioritize the wellbeing of hostages during their operations,” said Agnès Callamard.

Ella Ben Ami, whose parents Raz and Ohad Ben Ami were abducted from Be'eri in the 7 October attack, is among those who have joined recent protests inside Israel. She told Amnesty International that her mother is ill and suffers from lesions in her brain and spine.

“It's been 30 days, a month since my parents were taken from their home. We were left with horrible helplessness and huge uncertainty… I have no information about their situation, which makes my daily functioning very difficult. We are protesting to raise the awareness on the hostages and to demand they are taken care of, and to also put pressure to release them. I ask my government and all world leaders to help us. We want to see our parents again, alive. As long as my mother doesn't get the medicine which she needs for her illness, we are afraid she will not survive, we don't have time.”

Yonatan Zeigen, whose 74-year-old mother, Vivian Silver, a peace activist and former board member of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, was abducted from Be’eri Kibbutz in southern Israel on 7 October, told Amnesty International:

“I feel sadness and pain for my mother, all the hostages, our communities and the Palestinian people. I believe this is a wake-up call over the failure of both sides to achieve peace for so long. I call for a ceasefire and the release of all the hostages, as a first step in the road to a holistic solution for the region, with prolonged international involvement. Safety can only be achieved with peace.”

Moshi Lotem, whose daughter, Hagar, is being held hostage in Gaza along with her three young children, the youngest of them aged just four, told Amnesty International:

“What Hamas and other armed groups did has not only harmed their neighbours, who cared about the Palestinian people and its rights the most in Israel, but has also harmed their own people. As a father and a grandfather, it is very hard for me that they took my family from me in this way and have not provided me with any information about them. I miss them so much. Every day that passes becomes more difficult. They are in a very vulnerable situation and the attacks [in Gaza] scare me a lot. I call on the international organizations whether it is the UN or the Red Cross to bring hostages back home.”

The Geneva Conventions, their additional protocols, and customary international humanitarian law prohibit the taking of hostages, which is considered a war crime. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines this crime as the seizure or detention of a person (the hostage), combined with threatening to kill, to injure or to continue to detain the hostage in order to compel a third party to act or refrain from acting as an explicit or implicit condition for the safety or the release of the hostage.

Amnesty urges Hamas and other armed groups to treat all those held captive, including Israeli soldiers, humanely and in accordance with international humanitarian law. All hostages should be given access to the International Committee of the Red Cross and allowed to communicate with their families. Those who are injured or ill must be provided medical care.

Hamas and other armed groups must also ensure the hostages and other captives are kept in locations away from military objectives and that minimize the risk that they will be hit by Israeli strikes. Under no circumstances are they to be used to shield military objectives from attack.

Background

Amnesty International has documented evidence of violations of international law, including war crimes, by all parties to the conflict.

Since the by Hamas and other armed groups on 7 October, in addition to its devastating bombing campaign, Israel has intensified its illegal 16-year-long blockade on Gaza by cutting off water, fuel and other vital supplies, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis.

Israeli forces have also arrested more than 2,000 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and have ramped up their use of torture and other ill-treatment against Palestinian prisoners. They have also denied all Palestinian detainees, currently counting over 6,800 people, access to family visits; sentenced detainees have also been denied access to their lawyers. Even the International Committee for the Red Cross have been denied access to the Palestinian detainees classified by Israel as “security prisoners.” During the past month, four Palestinian prisoners have died in Israeli detention in conditions that have not been impartially investigated.

The organization’s research has found committed by Israeli forces, including of indiscriminate attacks during the bombardment of Gaza that have reduced residential buildings to rubble, levelled entire neighbourhoods and wiped-out entire families.

Amnesty International also documented how on 7 October Hamas and other armed groups launched indiscriminate rockets into Israel and their fighters summarily killed and abducted civilians. At least 1,400 people, most of them civilians, were killed according to the Israeli authorities. Civilians in Israel also continue to come under attack from indiscriminate rocket fire from Hamas and other armed groups.

*Update: On 14 November it was that Vivian Silver had been killed in the 7 October attack by Hamas and armed groups on her home in Be’eri Kibbutz. Her family initially believed she had been abducted by armed groups and was being held hostage in Gaza.*