Release The Hostages Now

Israel pulled all but one of their brigades out of the southern Rafah portion of Gaza in the early hours of Sunday, April 7, 2024. This is a very significant […]

Israel pulled all but one of their brigades out of the southern Rafah portion of Gaza in the early hours of Sunday, April 7, 2024. This is a very significant development, and gives rise to many questions. What it means for the release of the hostages should be the first question asked. The fact that approximately 100 hostages are being held in atrocious conditions has almost been forgotten, as ceasefire motions are earnestly across the globe

Canada’s fractious March 19th Israel/Palestine ceasefire motion was only one of the many that have been debated in legislatures, city councils, and even student councils. Universities have been particularly loud in criticizing Israel in angry protests, while almost completely ignoring the plight of the hostages. Even the NorthWest Territories felt the need to criticize Israel, instead of demanding the hostages’ immediate release.

It seems that every elected body – from the United Nations General Assembly to the tiniest town – thinks that they have some wisdom to share that the rest of the world really must hear. Virtually all of these debates criticize Israel, and tell Israel how it should or should not respond to the horrific Oct 7, 2023 terrorist invasion by Hamas that brutally took at least 1200 Israeli lives.

But these people condemning Israel and demanding an immediate ceasefire are fundamentally misguided. Because that terrorist attack also involved the taking of at least 230 hostages by Hamas. 105 of the hostages were subsequently released, but that still leaves Hamas with 125 hostages, some of whom have died in captivity. The best guess is that about 100 hostages remain alive – probably held in the elaborate underground tunnel system Hamas took years and many millions of dollars of foreign aid building.

Some of these hostages are American. Those of a certain age will remember the famous Iran hostage incident of 1979 when militants took 66 people hostage. Americans were riveted to the nightly news for 444 days while Walter Cronkite provided daily updates on the progress of the talks to free the hostages. The American government forcefully demanded the return of their compatriots. This finally happened when Ronald Reagan became president. The point is that the return of the hostages was rightly considered to be of paramount importance. President Reagan gave voice to the justifiable outrage of the American people. He demanded that the hostages be returned, and promised the ayatollah that he would be punished for his crime.

Not today. President Biden hardly mentions the hostages in his daily criticisms of Israel, and neither do most other world leaders. Clearly, “Release the hostages now “should be the universal demand. But instead, world leaders equivocate while earnest councils at all levels pass useless motions that all but ignore the fact that a terrorist group is refusing to release innocent men, women and children who are being held in intolerable conditions. What’s going on?

After all, the longstanding policy of the United States, and virtually all western governments, is that they will not negotiate with terrorists. This is also simple common sense. If a terrorist group can achieve its goals by using murder and the taking of hostages this will only embolden other such groups to copycat that behaviour. Even nations that have difficult relations with one another exchange information about terrorist threats, and work together to have hostages released. 9/11 brutally taught us that lesson.

We saw this in action recently with the Moscow terror incident, where in spite of the virtual state of war that exists between the United States and Russia the former warned the latter that exactly the type of ISIS attack that occurred would indeed happen.

Hamas’s Oct 7 attack on Israel was not fundamentally different from the Moscow terrorist attack, or any of the hundreds of other Islamist inspired terrorist attacks that have occurred in the last half century in which innocent people were killed, and innocent hostages taken. In every case, as in the Moscow attack, the terrorists have grievances about alleged historical injustices. And in every case their Islamist philosophy provides them with what they consider justification for their attacks. Hostages are often taken to be used as bargaining chips. The Oct 7 attack by Hamas fits that description perfectly.

It is only common sense that no nation can allow this brutal version of “Let’s Make a Deal” to succeed. Rewarding terrorists only guarantees more terrorism. Hamas is no different than ISIS. They are designated terrorist organizations, and should be treated as such

It is not a healthy sign that so many people – particularly the university crowd – no longer recognize the fundamental importance of refusing to cave in to terrorist demands. It is even more alarming that so many young people consider a terrorist organization that murders and takes hostages the “good guy” in this war.  Hamas is only one of many terrorist groups that will benefit from this profoundly misguided worldview. It was thought that 9/11 taught the world the lesson that appeasing terrorists only brings more terrorism. But young people apparently skipped that class, or didn’t get the memo. Apparently that knowledge gap now applies to leaders who should know better, such as Biden and Trudeau.

The fact that an American president has dumped America’s longstanding ally, Israel – apparently for his own electoral purposes – is frightening enough. But the fact that so many – particularly our young people – appear to want to reward terrorists is deeply disturbing.

It is too early to say what Israel’s partial withdrawal from Rafah means. Will it be permanent? Is it a sign that Israel has abandoned its stated goal of eliminating Hamas as a threat? Or is it just temporary – has Israel been coerced by Biden into waiting until after the American election next November before finishing the job it set out to do? Does it mean that Netanyahu will step down, and an election will take place in Israel? Or perhaps it is a sign that some larger deal has been reached with the other leaders in the area that will lead to some version of a “two state solution”?

Or perhaps Netanyahu has simply decided to wait until Biden and this current pro-Hamas version of the Democratic Party is gone. Perhaps Bibi has already told Biden some version of what former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin told then Senator Joe Biden in 1982, when Biden threatened to cut off funding to Israel in a futile attempt to force Israel to do Biden’s bidding. This is what Begin told Biden:

“Don’t threaten us with cutting off your aid. It will not work. I am not a Jew with trembling knees. I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history. Nobody came to our aid when we were dying in the gas chambers and ovens. Nobody came to our aid when we were striving to create our country. We paid for it. We fought for it. We died for it. We will stand by our principles. We will defend them. And, when necessary, we will die for them again, with or without your aid.”

Biden then banged his fists on his desk in anger, but Begin was not impressed. Netanyahu is well aware of that bit of history, and is probably just as unimpressed by threats and fist banging.

It is too early to know why the brigades were withdrawn from Rafah, or what is likely to happen now. The only moral certainty is that innocent hostages do not deserve to be held captive in terrible conditions, and in fear for their lives. Nor do their families deserve to be treated this way. Some of the hostages were forced to watch as their beloved family members were raped and butchered by Hamas terrorists. They will never be the same. It is a scandal that so many have turned their backs on these innocent men, women and children.

The hostages must be released now.  Discussions can follow.


Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

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