It’s our responsibility to rescue the hostages

by Uri Pilichowski

Israel did not give in to kidnappers in the past and it should not do so now.

(JNS) President Ronald Reagan hosted Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at a White House state dinner on Sept. 9, 1981. The custom at state dinners is for both the host and the honored guest to offer a toast.

In his toast, Begin spoke about Zionism’s goal of taking responsibility for our own security: “For us, security is not a word, it’s not even a concept. It is life itself. With our experience, surrounded on the northern, on the eastern front, still, after the peace, after the sacrifices we gave, we must be so careful. We bear so grave a responsibility, not only a great one in our generation in the wake of the Holocaust, to make sure that our children and our children’s children will first of all live and then live freely.”

The Israeli people have suffered immense pain since the Palestinian attacks of Oct. 7. Besides the massive security failure and the horrific loss of life, the taking and refusal to return the hostages has been torturous.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made rescuing the hostages one of Israel’s main priorities. He said, “We will continue the war until we achieve all of our war aims: To eliminate Hamas, return all of our hostages and our missing, and ensure that there is no element in Gaza that threatens Israel.”

“I told the dear [hostages’] families: ‘Returning our hostages is a sacred and supreme task and I am obligated to it together with my colleagues,” the prime minister said. “As Maimonides says: There is no greater precept than redeeming captives. We will not relent in our efforts until we redeem them all, until we return them all, the boys and girls, the mothers and fathers, the young men and women, the elderly men and women, the male and female soldiers—all of them.”

President Joe Biden has stated: “All of these hostages have been through a terrible ordeal and this is the beginning of a long journey of healing for them. Jill and I are keeping them all in our prayers today. From the moment Hamas kidnapped these people, I, along with my team, have worked around the clock to secure their release.”

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg wrote about the need to place the situation in Israel and the hostages at the top of our concerns: “If you don’t have a close family member in Israel, it is time to start acting like you do. If a member of your immediate family—a parent, sibling, spouse or child—were God forbid in crisis, in the ICU, or missing, or fighting for his or her life, could you be distracted?  Would you look for or welcome distraction? Would you not be drawn to any news, any update on their well-being? As one person online posted, when asked by a co-worker, ‘Do you have any family in Israel,’ he responded, ‘Only a few million.’”

“Our genuine pain, anguish, grief and worry should not just be expressions of sympathy and empathy for what another is going through,” Goldberg asserted. “This is our pain, our anguish, our fear, and our lives, our priorities, our focus and our time must reflect it.”

Every day that Palestinians hold the hostages is a war crime and a stain on the global community. Their Palestinians’ evil is intensified by their refusal to allow the Red Cross to visit and treat the hostages.

Jon Polin, the father of hostage Hersh Polin, explained the pain of the world’s decision to ignore his son and the other hostages’ pain.

“The lack of response seemingly from the world is so immensely frustrating,” he said. “We speak to politicians, we speak to diplomats, we speak to religious leaders, we speak to anybody who quote-unquote falls into the bucket of this mysterious group of world leaders who run the world and nobody seems equipped to do anything about it. We get sympathy, we get hugs, but the frustration of inaction, inactivity on a massive scale is just immensely frustrating. … This is the epitome of a global humanitarian issue that does not seem to be seen through that lens.”

An argument can be made that the slogan for the campaign to free the hostages should be “Let our people go,” which puts the pressure and responsibility where it belongs: on Hamas. Moses used that phrase before Pharaoh to make the point that it was Pharoah’s responsibility to emancipate the Jews in Egypt. Why is the bring-the-hostages-home campaign’s slogan “bring them home,” which suggests the burden to free the hostages is on Israel and the IDF rather than Hamas?

Echoing Begin’s remarks at the state dinner in 1981, Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke about the Zionist value of taking responsibility for Israelis’ security. It was the perfect setting to make the point: The gala event celebrating the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress in Basel at the Stadtcasino Basel concert hall.

“From the moment of its establishment, Zionism was a movement that championed shared responsibility for our destiny,” Herzog said. “And today, now that the mission rests on our shoulders, we must bear it together. Only together. Together shall we follow the path of the visionary of our state and Zionism’s founding generation; together shall we believe in Zionism and be proud of it; together shall we choose responsibility every day and keep our country and our people safe.”

The blame for the hostages’ pain falls squarely on Hamas, but as Begin, Herzog and so many other Zionist leaders explained, Zionism is a movement built on the fundamental principle that Jews take responsibility for the well-being of other Jews.

Israel didn’t demand that Argentina extradite Adolf Eichmann, that Palestinian terrorists release the passengers of Sabena flight 571 or that Idi Amin send the Israeli hostages in Entebbe back to Israel. The Israeli security forces took responsibility for the Israeli people’s security and took action.

Hamas is paying and will continue to pay for its evil acts. It is Israel’s and the IDF’s responsibility to bring the hostages home.

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