Relatives rally

Hostage families urge lawmakers to honor captives at State of the Union

Families said they’d distributed yellow ribbon pins and dog tags to every member of Congress, calling on the lawmakers to wear them to Thursday’s speech

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) with constituents Adi and Yael Alexander, parents of American hostage Edan Alexander

Some of the nearly 20 family members of hostages being held in Gaza, who will be guests at tonight’s State of the Union address, urged lawmakers on Wednesday to honor those still being held captive by Hamas at President Joe Biden’s address to Congress.

The families, and some of the lawmakers who invited them to the speech, spoke to reporters on Wednesday at the Capitol. They said they’d distributed yellow ribbon pins and dog tags — symbols of support for the hostages — to every congressional office, and urged the lawmakers to wear them, and/or a patch with the number 153, symbolizing the number of days the hostages have been in Gaza.

“Now, as the country gathers together on Thursday, we have a duty to honor [the hostages],” Orna Neutra, mother of Omer Neutra, said. The pins and dog tags “remind the world that until each hostage has returned home, our work is not over.”

“We’re not asking members to take a political stance,” she continued. “This is a bipartisan issue. It’s not about supporting one side or the other. It’s about supporting the release of our son, Omer Neutra, an American citizen who has been held against his will for five months in the darkness of Hamas captivity without water. And we don’t know, even, if enough oxygen. We don’t know whether he’s alive.”

A parade of lawmakers, as well as the families, emphasized their dedication to returning the captives and to keeping the pressure on Hamas, the U.S. government, the Israeli government, the Qatari government, the Egyptian government and any other body that has the power to help free the hostages. Lawmakers urged Hamas to accept the cease-fire deal that has been offered.

Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY), who was in Israel with his children on Oct. 7 and had to take shelter from rocket attacks, said his children are still suffering from trauma on that day — ”and that is, of course, nothing compared to these families, children and loved ones who have been in horrific captivity for five months.”

Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) argued that it’s “long past time” for the administration to deploy U.S. special operations forces into Gaza to rescue the remaining American hostages — a potentially risky proposition.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), called on her colleagues to wear blue and speak on the House floor in honor of the hostages every Wednesday until they are all released. She noted that she’d employed a similar strategy to push for the release of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram — and sustained that effort for seven years.

Separately, Reps. French Hill (R-AR) and Haley Stevens (D-MI), who lead the House’s hostage task force, held a press conference to discuss the first national Hostage and Wrongful Detainee Day, which will be observed on Saturday. That event included remarks from family members of hostages being held in Gaza as well as a man who has been wrongfully detained for years in the United Arab Emirates, among others.

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