Israeli politicians clashed with the families of hostages trapped in Gaza on Monday during a fierce debate over a proposal to extend the death penalty for perpetrators of the October 7 events.
Hen Avigdori, whose wife and daughter were among some 240 people kidnapped by Hamas last month, urged lawmakers at a National Security Committee meeting to “stop talking about killing Arabs and start talking about saving Jews” amid concerns that the death penalty could have consequences for their relatives still in Gaza.
The explosion sparked a sharp reaction from far-right politician Almog Cohen, who retorted: “You have no mandate to inflict pain – we also buried over 50 friends.”
Some relatives of the hostages have called on the Israeli parliament to stop discussing new death penalty laws for terrorists. Gil Dickmann, whose cousin is still imprisoned in Gaza, cried as he pleaded with the commission’s leaders to abandon the hearing altogether.
MK Tsvika Fogel, chairman of the Knesset’s National Security Committee, said anyone trying to delay the legislation “represents Hamas,” and pressed the meeting to prepare a bill that lacked bipartisan support.
This came after relatives met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening to discuss progress in the hostage talks, Hamas said. claims an agreement is close, but Israel is holding it up.
Families of relatives in Gaza clash with Israeli politicians during a Knesset committee meeting
Israeli politicians (Anmog Cohen pictured right) argue for or against the death penalty
Gil Dickmann (left) watches as Hen Avigdori (center) speaks out against the proposed legislation
During Monday’s Almog committee hearing, Cohen shoots relatives of hostages in Gaza
During Monday’s Knesset committee hearing, Speaker Tzvika Fogel called for expanding the death penalty for terrorists and spoke out against placing Hamas members in an Israeli prison.
“We don’t have to feed these animals,” he said.
He later argued that the death penalty “does not contradict the goal of bringing back hostages, and anyone who tried to present it as a contradiction is someone who is trying to represent Hamas more than the state of Israel.”
Others feared that the timing of the proposal could endanger Hamas family members still in Gaza.
Participants gesticulated loudly and in some cases left the room, presenting their views.
Gil Dickmann begged Fogel to “stop” and “not make fun of us and our suffering.”
“I’m here for Carmel and for her to stay alive,” he said, referring to his cousin. “Please choose life and make sure they come home safe and sound.”
Hen Avigdori, another relative of the captured Israelis, stood alongside Dickmann and urged lawmakers to reconsider the decision.
This sparked a sharp reaction from MP Almog Cohen of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, who said: “My friend is a hostage in Gaza, and by the way, I haven’t heard from you, my friend.
“Don’t say we want to kill Arabs. We didn’t go out to kill them this Sabbath [October 7]; they came to kill us.
Cohen declined to apologize during a later interview, although he added that he didn’t think it was the right time to work on the proposed legislation.
The death penalty is legal in Israel, but has only been imposed twice in the country’s 75-year history.
Meir Tobiański was executed in June 1948 for high treason and posthumously acquitted.
Adolf Eichmann, a key architect of the Holocaust, was hanged in May 1962.
Currently, punishment is reserved for cases of conscience, genocide, crimes against humanity and crimes against the Jewish people in times of war – in line with the legacy of emergency provisions inherited from the British Mandate.
However, the current Israeli coalition – the most right-wing in the 75-year history of the country – is trying to expand the existing regulations despite the controversy.
According to a leaflet published on November 21, an Israeli soldier takes a position in a location identified as Gaza during the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip
Israeli tanks operate in an area identified as Gaza in a news photo released on November 21
Soldiers during a military operation in the Zeitoun district in the southern Gaza Strip in a photo shared on November 20, 2023.
Elsewhere, relatives of hostages held in Gaza requested an audience with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss progress in talks to release them.
Hopes are growing that a deal could be finalized after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh issued a statement suggesting they were “close to an agreement” after talks in Qatar – although Israel has remained silent.
However, there were chaotic scenes, with some unable to enter because there was not enough space in the room designated for them in the Ministry of Defense building in Tel Aviv.
The families said they delivered a list of 107 people to the prime minister’s office ahead of the meeting, but when they arrived, some were forced to wait outside in the cold for more than an hour before all representatives were finally allowed inside.
Several frustrated members left the talks angry over what they felt were conflicting messages the government had given them about the war’s goals.
Udi Goren, whose cousin Tal Haimi is detained in Gaza, said: “A few days ago we met with the war cabinet and we heard from them in no uncertain terms that the primary goal of the war is the return of the hostages.
“But tonight we heard that the goal of destroying Hamas is equal to the goal of returning the hostages.
“This has angered those present, who believe that as a result, their loved ones were allowed to remain in Gaza for an extended period of time.
“It’s extremely disappointing because we know that the destruction of Hamas – we keep hearing from them that it will take months or years and it will take a long time.”
Goren also said the war cabinet had not provided any details about a possible agreement to release the hostages.
The mother of 30-year-old Avinatan Or said that a potential agreement under which only part of the hostages, i.e. women and children, would be released would not help her
Ditza Or said: “Inside I said that whoever agrees to a partial settlement now is murdering my son. It will never see the light of day. There will be no second time.
After the meeting, Netanyahu emphasized his commitment to securing the hostages’ release, calling it a “sacred and highest mission.”
In a statement, he added: “We will not let up until they are returned and that is my responsibility and that of the War Cabinet.
“I listened to the families’ pain. We talked from heart to heart. I told them as much as I could about the diplomatic, intelligence and operational efforts we were conducting around the clock.
“We will not stop fighting until we bring our hostages home, destroy Hamas and ensure that Gaza no longer poses a threat.”
Palestinians receive bags of flour at the distribution center of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on November 21
Smoke rises from an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, seen from the town of Sderot in southern Israel, November 21
Smoke rises over Gaza during retaliatory airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, November 21
Only a handful of hostages have been freed so far, and there is anger among families as the right-wing part of the Israeli government wants to introduce the death penalty for terrorists they believe are endangering the lives of loved ones.
2017 survey found 69.8 percent of Israelis still supported the death penalty for Palestinians who murdered Israelis – despite Israel’s long-standing opposition to its use.
In March 2023, the Knesset adopted a draft law introducing a mandatory death sentence for people considered terrorists and abolishing existing procedural guarantees in military courts.
There are broader questions among critics about whether the death penalty serves its purpose of deterrence.
The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a US nonprofit that provides data and analysis on the death penalty, states that the death penalty “has no proven deterrent to murder.”