Family of Israeli hostages speak out six months after Oct. 7 attack: ‘Inhumane conditions’

On the six-month anniversary of Hamas’s attack against Israel, many families of the hostages taken by Hamas on the Oct 7. attack are still waiting for their family members to come home.

More than 1,200 people were killed and 240 others taken hostage during the attack, with 133 hostages still being held by the terrorist organization. A former hostage and families of those currently held in captivity will march on Washington, D.C., on Sunday afternoon to demand the release of the remaining hostages.

The Washington Examiner spoke with the family members of Israeli hostages Romi Gonen and Or Levy, who shed light on their missing loved ones, the conditions hostages are living under, and the threat Hamas poses beyond Israel.

“It’s about the families, it’s about a two-and-a-half-year-old son who already lost his mother and is waiting for his father to be back. It’s about everyone in Israel who wants to see them back alive,” Michael Levy, Levy’s older brother, told the Washington Examiner.

Merav Leshem Gonen, 23-year-old Romi Gonen’s mother, warned that Hamas is not only a threat to Israel, but to Europe and the United States and said, “The way we learned, [with] my daughter’s life which is in danger now because she’s in the hands of Hamas, the whole world will learn itself by the same wave if they will not take action” against the terrorist organization.

She said, “The only thing that is relevant is how the world wants to look at itself, if it’s been on the right side of the story or not.”

Former hostage Aviva Seigel will join Merav Leshem Gonen and Michael Levy alongside other family members of hostages at the event which will begin with a march at the Washington Monument at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time and continue with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.

A mile in their shoes

“It’s impossible to be in our shoes, it’s impossible to understand what it means that the mother doesn’t know even [what] her daughter looks like. After half a year, I have no idea [what] she looks like,” Merav Leshem Gonen told the Washington Examiner.

“You can pick up your phone and take a photo of yourself and send it to your mom, and she can smile at it or see you’re really sad. I have no idea [what] my daughter looks like. I have no idea if she still has her hand,” she continued, explaining that Romi was shot in her right hand during the ambush.

“I have no idea if she eats, if somebody touched her. If she’s [one of] the girls that will come back pregnant. And this is the feeling that I wake up in the morning [and feel] each day,” Merav Leshem Gonen said. “But I’m focused on bringing back my daughter because this is justice. And I expect the world to act the same. Make justice and bring back all the hostages.”

Stopping Hamas’s ‘crimes against humanity’

Levy said that “no one is doing enough” to bring the hostages home. “The fact that they are not here now means that all of us are not doing enough. Not us, not the media, not the Israeli government, the U.S. government, and not all the governments in the world,” he said.

“Currently, 133 hostages are being held in inhumane conditions … Crimes against humanity, that’s what Hamas is committing now,” he said. “And people talk about a ceasefire without the release of hostages. That’s not something we should even discuss. We need to discuss the release of the hostages, and then we can discuss everything else.”

“This is the time for all the governments to join hands,” Merav Leshem Gonen said. “The free world, if it wants to stay free, should join hands instead of fighting each other to come together and fight against the real enemy, and make sure first that the hostages are coming back and then we can stop the war.”

“The families of the hostages are unified by the fundamental goal that Hamas must release the hostages immediately, which they will convey forcefully to the world at the rally to mark six months of captivity,” Bar Ben Yaakov, who organized the rally, told the Washington Examiner.

“They undoubtedly reflect a diverse spectrum of political opinions on both American and Israeli politics, and they have all actively campaigned for the relevant stakeholders to ‘Do the Deal’ immediately and to ensure that any ceasefire deal begins with the hostage release,” she said. “We are here to support all of the hostage families to ensure the release of all hostages however we can.”

Hostages under ‘inhumane conditions’

Explaining the importance of bringing home the hostages, Levy said they were living under “inhumane conditions” in captivity. He said, “We know that [the hostages] barely eat, they live in horrible conditions without air, without water, sleeping on the dirty, dirty floor, and they do not shower them. They barely have time to go to the bathroom, and if they do, it’s usually with one of the terrorists looking at them.”

Merav Leshem Gonen highlighted the rampant sexual violence and rape that has been inflicted on the hostages, and numerous victims of the Oct. 7 attack. 

She shared a report by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel which detailed the gruesome ways Hamas used sexual violence to torture and kill Israelis on Oct. 7, and to abuse hostages in the six months since. The United Nations additionally found “clear and convincing” evidence that hostages have been raped and sexually abused in Hamas captivity.

Romi Gonen ‘a sunlight’ and Or Levy ‘annoyingly genius’

Merav Leshem Gonen described Romi Gonen as “a sunlight” who is brave, authentic, strong, and “knows how to find the good in people.” She said Romi Gonen is “very smiley and funny and she doesn’t care a lot about what people think about her because she’s okay with her being clumsy and a little bit funny for her friends.”

“She’s young, she’s beautiful from the inside, and outside, she’s the kind of girl you want to have as a close friend,” Merav Leshem Gonen said. “She’s the one that organizes all the birthday parties for her friends to make them happy, she’s the one to come to people to see when they are having a bad day and need a little support or someone to listen to them or need a hug.”

Merav Leshem Gonen told the Washington Examiner that Romi Gonen would dance every week with her elder sister and that she had just moved to Tel Aviv working as a waitress, and is loved by her customers.

Michael Levy described his brother as “annoyingly genius,” saying he is “the kind of guy that everything went smoothly and easily for him when the rest of us had to fight for things … ever since I remember him, he used to tear things apart and put them back together. He taught himself to program and he’s now a very successful computer engineer at a big startup.”

“He met his soulmate [Eynav] 15 years ago,” Levy said. He shared that Or Levy was “always smiling, always positive,” that he loves music festivals, traveling, and that he “loves his family more than anything.”

Eynav was killed in the Oct. 7 terrorist attack.

“That’s the most difficult thing for me, knowing that he lost Eynav. And the fact that he’s there and thinks about Eynav, and what she’s been through. That’s the toughest thing for me,” he said.

Hamas sympathizers on U.S. campuses ‘lack empathy’

Michael Levy and Gonen additionally responded to Hamas sympathizers on U.S. campuses, especially those who call the Oct. 7 ambush an act of “resistance.”

“Honestly, I think those people … lack empathy, but more than everything, they are ignorant,” Michael Levy said. “They don’t understand what they’re cheering for. Those same terrorists will kill them in a second. Hamas didn’t just kill Jewish or Israeli people, they killed Arabs, and Christians, and Hindus and everyone that they saw. The innocent kids, elderly people, women, babies.”

“I just want to tell them that if they won’t take a stand now, it will come back and haunt them as well. It will happen again everywhere if they won’t take a stand against Hamas now,” Michael Levy warned.

“I think they lack the [ability] to understand what happened,” Merav Leshem Gonen said. She explained that the issue is “even more difficult than ignorance” because people see the affected families and notice “we look very much like them; like the professor, like the student.”

She said “they cannot grasp” that this can happen to a strong country like Israel, and that western values and ways of thinking are not shared by Hamas. “Hamas is not western, Hamas is Islamic” and “wants to demolish everything and turn it into an Islamic world,” she added.

Merav Leshem Gonen said that Israelis and Palestinians “have the same enemy” in Hamas. “It’s not just that Israel suffers from Hamas, it’s also the Palestinians themselves,” she told the Washington Examiner, and said that anyone sympathizing with Hamas is “supporting the continuous suffering of the Palestinian people.”

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum will co-host Sunday’s event alongside leading Jewish organizations, where participants will march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool for a rally demanding the immediate release of all hostages.

“I want people to think about Merav, to think about Almog, [Or’s] two-and-a-half-year-old son who starts to forget his father,” Michael Levy said. “Think about the two-and-a-half-year-old boy who hasn’t been hugged by his parents for six months. That’s something that I cannot even start to describe how difficult it is.”

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