Families of Gaza hostages reject talk of death penalty for Hamas detainees

Relatives of some of the captives taken by Hamas in the October attack have called on far-right Israeli lawmakers not to pursue a bill that would make it easier to use capital punishment against Palestinian detainees.

A number of suspected attackers were detained after members of the Palestinian armed group from Gaza killed more than 1,200 people in southern Israel and kidnapped about 240, Israel announced.

The proposal was advanced by the party of far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who posted on X on Monday: “The death penalty law for terrorists is no longer a matter of left and right. … [It’s] a moral and essential law for the State of Israel.”

Relatives of some of the people held by Hamas told a parliamentary panel that even discussing the death penalty could have catastrophic consequences for their loved ones held in Gaza.

“It would mean playing along with their mind games, and in return, we would get pictures of our loves ones murdered, ended, with the state of Israel and not them [Hamas] being blamed for it,” Yarden Gonen, whose sister Romi is among the hostages, told Ben-Gvir and his party colleagues.

“Don’t pursue this until after they are back here,” she continued, adding, “Don’t put my sister’s blood on your hands.”

The families of the hostages worry that even discussions of executions pose a danger to their relatives who have themselves already been threatened with execution at the hands of Hamas.

Gil Dilkma, a cousin to one of the captives, pleaded with Ben-Gvir to drop the legislation.

“Remove the law if you have a heart,” he stated.

Striking a similar note, the Missing Families Forum announced in a statement that such discussion “endangers the lives of our loved ones without promoting any public purpose”.

Another family member of one of the captives echoed this concern, shouting, “Stop talking about killing Arabs. Start talking about saving Jews!”

Some right-wing politicians responded to these objections with consternation. Almog Cohen, a member of the Israeli far-right Otzma Yehudit party shouted back, “You have no monopoly over pain”.

“You are silencing other families,” another far-right politician said.

Some Israeli politicians have argued in the past that more executions would serve to deter “terrorism”.

When a task force was established by Israel’s Ministry of Justice this month to find punishments “befitting the severity of the horrors committed” for those tried and convicted, the death penalty was refloated as an option.

Ben-Gvir called for capital punishment to be implemented, saying that doing this was “more critical now than ever … for the sake of those murdered and who fell in the line of duty and, no less, so that there will be no more people kidnapped”.

The conservative Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has shown little interest in advancing the bill during its long rule.

The only court-ordered death sentence in Israel took place in 1962 when convicted Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was executed by hanging. Israeli military courts, which often handle cases involving Palestinians, have the power to hand down the death penalty by a unanimous decision of three judges, but this has never been implemented.

Linor Dan-Calderon, three of whose relatives are being held captive, accused Ben-Gvir’s party of having “confused priorities”.

“You’ve gotten mixed up because we are a nation that pursues life not one that pursues revenge – even if in the past we did something to Eichmann,” she stated, adding, “I am simply asking you to drop this from the agenda.”

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