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Israel/OPT: Hamas must release all civilian hostages

Israeli families of hostages held by Hamas and other armed groups tell Amnesty of ‘horrible helplessness’ of situation

‘I feel sadness and pain for my mother, all the hostages, our communities and the Palestinian people’ - Yonatan Zeigen

‘Instead of using distressed civilian hostages as tools to score political points, Hamas should release them immediately and unconditionally’ - Agnès Callamard 

Amnesty International has reiterated its call for the immediate and unconditional release of all civilian hostages - among them children - who’ve been held in Gaza 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 criticising the Israeli government’s response and demanding that their loved ones be brought home.

Last week, a video released by the Al Qassam Brigades - the military wing of Hamas - showed three civilian hostages 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.

The Israeli authorities have said that at least 240 civilian hostages and military captives remain held in Gaza, but have not provided a breakdown of civilians and members of the military. The hostages include 33 children, older people and foreign nationals and dual citizens, as well as Israeli soldiers. Four civilian hostages, all women, have so far been released by Hamas - two (both US citizens) on 20 October, and two on 24 October. 

As Israel’s brutal blockade and relentless bombardment of Gaza continues and the devastating civilian death toll continues to rise, Amnesty is also reiterating its call for an immediate ceasefire, for civilians to be protected, and for vital aid to be brought into Gaza. 

Ella Ben Ami, whose parents Raz and Ohad were abducted from Be’eri in the 7 October attack, is among those who’ve joined recent protests inside Israel. She told Amnesty 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 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’s mother, Vivian Silver, 74, is a peace activist and former board member of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem who was abducted from Be’eri Kibbutz on 7 October. Yonatan Zeigen told Amnesty:

“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: 

“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 organisations - 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. 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 with medical care. Hamas and other armed groups must also ensure hostages and other captives are kept in locations away from military objectives and always minimise the risk they will be hit by Israeli strikes. Under no circumstances are they to be used to shield military objectives from attack.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“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.

“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.”

“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 prioritise the wellbeing of hostages during their operations.”

War crimes by all parties

Amnesty has documented evidence of violations of international law, including war crimes, by all parties to the conflict. Since the horrific attacks 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 more than 6,800 people, access to family visits. Detainees have also been denied access to their lawyers. Even the Red Cross has been denied access to Palestinian detainees classified as “security prisoners.” During the past month, four Palestinian prisoners have died in Israeli detention in circumstances that have not been impartially investigated. 


Amnesty’s research has found evidence of war crimes 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 has 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 have also continued to come under attack from indiscriminate rocket fire from Hamas and other armed groups. 

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