Opinion: Why have the mothers and fathers of the world forgotten about the child hostages?

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Editor’s Note: Ofri Bibas Levy is the sister of Israeli hostage Yarden Bibas, who was taken from Kibbutz Nir Or on October 7, along with his wife Shiri Bibas and their two sons Ariel, 4, and Kfir, 1. The Bibas boys are the youngest hostages held in Gaza. The view expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more CNN Opinion. 

We were naive.

When countless people around the world watched the footage of armed terrorists abducting two little redheaded boys and their mother on October 7th, we were naive enough to believe it would be just a matter of days until the world’s outrage would be so great, the pressure so severe, that Hamas would surely release my nephews.

Kfir and Ariel were just 9 months and 4 years old when they were kidnapped from their home. And as far as we know, four-and-a-half months later, Kfir and Ariel are still held captive in Gaza. Kfir turned one in captivity, where he has spent a third of his life.

We, their family members, do not know if the boys are dead or alive, if they are being properly fed, if they are being held with or apart from their mother. My brother Yarden was separated from his wife Shiri and their children on October 7th. He was forced by Hamas to be filmed in a psychological terror video alleging that they were killed by Israel.

As the months go by, I wonder: Have the mothers and fathers of the world forgotten them? What if Ariel and Kfir were your children, your nephews?

Ofri Bibas Levy with her nephew Ariel (left), now a hostage in Gaza, and her daughter (right). - Ofri Bibas LevyOfri Bibas Levy with her nephew Ariel (left), now a hostage in Gaza, and her daughter (right). - Ofri Bibas Levy

Ofri Bibas Levy with her nephew Ariel (left), now a hostage in Gaza, and her daughter (right). – Ofri Bibas Levy

Has this become the world’s new normal? Is it no longer barbaric to take children as hostages? This cannot be acceptable. We demand that, in any hostage deal, the children must be released first.

The truth is, we should not need to wait for a deal for Hamas to release Kfir and Ariel. Why should prisoners be released in order for innocent children to be set free? Why should a terrorist organization be permitted by the world to receive its demands? It should never be acceptable to hold children hostage — no matter the context.

Terrorists abducted nearly 40 babies, children and teenagers on October 7th. Ariel and Kfir were supposed to be released, along with their mother, Shiri, as part of the November ceasefire deal, in which Israel released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, many of them detained on violent charges. But Hamas reneged on the agreement to release the children and kept the boys and their mother, along with more than a dozen other women. The question is, why keep our babies?

Every day during that harrowing ceasefire deal in November, we waited — hearts pounding, stomachs turning, barely breathing — for the anticipated return of Kfir, Ariel and Shiri. We had already spent 55 hellish days in this living nightmare. The daily uncertainty over who would be released and the delays in delivering the hostages were another part of the psychological torture Hamas chose to inflict upon us.

From one day to the next, it’s harder to remain optimistic. Every morning, I wake up worried that I will hear more horrifying news. My four-year-old daughter asks me constantly when her best friend Ariel will come home. “Why can’t anybody find him?”, she asks me. I don’t know how to respond because I don’t know the answer myself.

I go to bed every night with the same question on my mind. Why are world leaders signaling to terrorists everywhere that it is okay to take children hostage? How do they not see that they are doing Hamas’s work by insisting that Israel agree to a ceasefire when 134 hostages remain in captivity? Releasing the hostages should have been the cry heard around the world since October 7th. Instead, the cry heard around the world is for a ceasefire, as if the lives of the hostages are an afterthought.

Before October 7th, I thought there was an agreed-upon red line that it was never acceptable to take civilians hostage. Sadly, that red line has been violently erased. Now, at the very least, can we agree to draw a red line around abducting innocent children? Terror groups around the world are watching how you all respond or don’t respond. They hear your silence, and they are taking notes.

The Bibas family: parents Yarden and Shiri, with their sons Kfir and Ariel. - Maurice ShnaiderThe Bibas family: parents Yarden and Shiri, with their sons Kfir and Ariel. - Maurice Shnaider

The Bibas family: parents Yarden and Shiri, with their sons Kfir and Ariel. – Maurice Shnaider

A few days ago, a video of Kfir, Ariel and Shiri was revealed, showing surveillance footage from October 7th in Gaza. This was the first documentation we saw of Shiri and the boys since the widely seen October 7th footage. My heart was torn apart yet again, watching as terrorists forced Shiri and her babies deep into Gaza. Shiri was barefoot in her pajamas, clinging to her baby boys.

We decided to share that painful surveillance video publicly so that the world cannot look away, cannot forget and cannot make this the new normal. Any ceasefire agreement should be conditioned upon the release of all the remaining 134 hostages, and the children should be released first.

Hamas is the impediment to bringing them home. And we need the help of the international community to pressure Hamas to release them, just as we imagined would be the case immediately after the children were snatched from their homes.

Hamas, whose political leaders are living in luxury in Qatar and whose military leaders are believed to be hiding in tunnels beneath Gaza, are not being punished for this crime against humanity. Terrorist organizations all over the world are noting the world’s powerlessness.

I’m pregnant, and I fear that my unborn son will never meet his uncle, aunt, and redheaded cousins. I fear that he will be born into a world where taking children hostage is accepted. But I still have hope. Our family chooses to believe in humanity. Please, as you go about your daily business — when dropping your children off at school or nursery, when you kiss them goodnight — please think of Kfir and Ariel Bibas. Think of their mother and father. They are an entire family in the hands of murderers.

And more importantly, take action. Call your congressional representative, urge them to keep the hostages top of mind. Share the hostages’ plight on your social network.

We desperately need your help. It shouldn’t need to be said that this is not the world our children should grow up in.

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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