‘Bring Them Home Now’: DC March to Free the Hostages Draws Large Crowd

More than 1,000 people took part in the March to Free the Hostages in Washington, D.C., on April 7. Photo credit: Suzanne Pollak

More than 1,000 people waving Israeli and American flags marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial on April 7 chanting “Bring Them Home Now,” and “We Demand a Deal Now.”

The “March to Free the Hostages” was held six months after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages.

Relatives of family members still being held in Gaza read the names of the remaining 133 hostages. The crowd then joined in counting to 184 – the exact number of days their loved ones have been held against their will in Gaza.

The sun shone brightly as thoughts drifted to those individuals being held captive inside tunnels who probably haven’t seen the sun in half a year.

While several security personnel kept a close watch during the event, no one was asked to open their bags or walk through metal detectors. No counter-protestors came to heckle.

Aviva Siegel was held by Hamas for 51 days. “I went through hell. I was starved while the terrorists ate in front of me. I was tortured,” she said. “I had no human rights. I had nothing, but I came back. I am living proof that we can bring them home,” she told a cheering crowd.

Her husband, 62-year-old Keith Siegel, is still being held. He is begging for air, water, food, the ability to speak and move around at will, to go home, she said. “The terrorists won’t let him say a word.”

Many of the speakers and people gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial favored bringing the hostages home immediately, regardless of the terms of any agreement. They freely criticized Israel’s government for taking so long.

Yair Lapid, an Israeli politician who leads the opposition party, declared, “Each and every one of us is responsible for their fate.” He stressed, “Every person, every leader, every government, including the Israeli government, needs to be part of the effort to bring them back home.”

Lapid declared, “There are no two sides to the story, because this is not a story. These are real people.” The hostages are not occupiers, as Hamas believes. “They are not oppressors. They are just victims. They are just innocent victims.”

Gil Preuss, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, told members of the hostages’ families, “We are all here today to let you know you must not carry this pain on your own. We are here, every person, to make sure that we will continue to push for their release, for their freedom, at every moment.”

Spouses, parents, sisters and brothers of seven hostages sat on the podium. They spoke of their loved ones and listened as others offered support. Many could not hold back their tears and often grasped the hands of fellow hostage family members.

Jonathan Dekel-Chen, whose 35-year-old son Sagui was taken from his kibbutz and is still being held hostage, strongly criticized the Israeli government. “We’re abandoned, I’m sorry to say, by our own government.” The hostages “must not be sacrificed.”

Daniel Neutra, brother of hostage Omer Neutra, asked the crowd to imagine what it would be like to live for six months not knowing if your loved one was alive or not. “Can you imagine dreaming, every night, every night, that he will come back and waking up to realize that he’s still gone?” he asked a sympathetic crowd.

“Can you imagine being told by your prime minister to your face that his ambitions take priority over a deal that will save your brother’s life?” he asked.

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) called for all hostages to be freed “as part of a comprehensive deal” that would bring security and safety to both Israelis and Palestinians.

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, told the families, “We will continue to move heaven and earth, do everything in our power, to get your loved ones home. This is our mission. We are one Jewish family.”

He added, “This is not about politics or negotiation. This is about humanity.”

As the March to Free the Hostages ended, Halber explained to WJW that his organization “is not focusing on the politics of Israel.” Rather, he said, all countries need to work together to make it their “number one strategic priority to bring the hostages home. This is no place for politics.”

Gesher Jewish Day School Principal of Teaching and Learning Melanie Eisen called the rally comforting. “It’s always good to gather as a community so you see you are not alone,” she said, adding, “Israel lives in our hearts.”

Yeshiva of Greater Washington 10th grader David Walls said he attended the rally to help support the hostages and bring them home. He said he hopes that the United States will convince the United Nations to support Israel.

His mother, Mira Schick, added, “We need the world powers to pressure Hamas and its compatriots to stop the ridiculous expectation that we should be expected to give up thousands of people for 100 hostages.”

B’nai Israel Congregation Senior Rabbi Michael Safra said, “We pray for a just end soon. This can’t go on forever.”

Beth Vander Stoep attended the rally with several members of Baltimore Area Jewish Feminists.

“I thought this was one of the most important protests I have been to,” she said. The war is dragging out, the hostages are not coming home yet and too many innocent lives are being lost, she said. “This current situation is not working. People are not coming home.”

She added, “It’s really powerful to hear from hostage families. They just want their family members home. They just want the war to end. It’s enough, and it’s terrible … It’s been six months, and they are still not home.”

Suzanne Pollak is a freelance writer.

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