Hundreds of “kidnapped” posters with the names and faces of those taken hostage by Hamas circulated through the crowd of pro-Israel demonstrators who descended on D.C. on Tuesday, with dozens more pinned to the surrounding guardrails.
As rally organizers played a video showing the faces of the hostages, chants of “bring them home” echoed across the National Mall. And when Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) took the stage, he had a succinct message for Hamas.
“Let them go. Bring them home,” Schumer said, prompting further calls from the audience.
The March for Israel drew tens of thousands of pro-Israel demonstrators — and small pockets of counter protestors — to downtown D.C., the biggest crowd since a pro-Palestinian protest in the capital earlier this month, which featured calls for a cease-fire in the war.
As global pressure rises on Israel to halt it’s retaliatory attacks on Gaza, which have killed some 10,000 civilians, Tuesday’s event sought to focus attention on the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that terrorized Israel, and the more than 200 hostages still being held by the militant group.
Several protestors argued calls for a cease-fire should be conditional upon the release of the hostages. Eileen Terzi, a protestor from New York, called the talks of cease-fire “ridiculous.”
“The U.S. should be saying ‘free the hostages.’ No talk of cease-fire. Why is there even talk of cease-fire?” she told The Hill.
“Why is the onus on Israel to do anything?” she continued. “We didn’t kidnap anyone, we didn’t murder anyone.”
Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, is believed to have taken about 240 individuals during the group’s brutal incursion into Israel that killed more than 1,200 people, including women and children. Only four hostages have been released since the beginning of the conflict last month.
Israeli forces have bombarded Gaza with attacks both by air and land on a campaign to destroy Hamas. The rising death toll, coupled with sieges on basic necessities, have prompted calls for a cease-fire to allow civilians to leave or aid to be delivered.
Brian Tranter, who is from Florida, told The Hill the U.S must let Israel “do its job,” while holding a sign showing an American and Israeli flag with the words “We stand with Israel.”
“I don’t think it’s time for a cease-fire. I think if the hostages were released, I would support a cease-fire. But until the hostages are released, no cease-fire,” Tranter said. “Obviously we try to minimize any civilian casualties, but the job has to be finished.”
Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson (La.) argued the calls for a cease-fire are “outrageous.”
“These Israeli hostages were kidnapped in their homes by barbaric Hamas terrorists for simply being Jewish and living in Israel,” Johnson told the crowd. “As Prime Minster [Benjamin Netanyahu] says so well, this is a fight between good and evil, between light and darkness, between civilization and barbarism.”
The rally heard from Alana Zeitchik, who claims six of her relatives were captured by Hamas. She told the crowd the calls for peace and the return of hostages doesn’t need to be political.
“But for too many in the West, the suffering of hostage families like mine has become a footnote,” Zeitchik said. “Collateral damage in service of some perceived higher universal truth.”
“You can call for peace and the immediate return of the innocent men, women and children who were violently taken from us,” Zeitchik said. “It doesn’t need to be political to share in my grief or in the anguish that the Israeli people are feeling. To demand the release of the hostages is not an act of politics, nor is it a cry for war.”
Not all demonstrators, however, said a cease-fire should be contingent on the release of hostages. One demonstrator was holding a sign that read: “Free hostages now. Stop killing civilians on both sides. This Jewish woman is pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. I both love Israel and critical justice.”
President Biden on Tuesday struck an optimistic tone when asked about the hostages.
“I’ve been talking with the people involved every single day. I believe it’s going to happen. But I don’t want to get into detail,” he told reporters at the White House.
The White House has also called for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting in Gaza to allow for more aid into the enclave, and for civilians to leave embattled areas. But it has resisted calls for a cease-fire and backed Israel’s aim of eliminating Hamas.
Asked what he would say to families of those being held by Hamas, Biden said, “Hang in there, we’re coming.”
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