Stop talk of executing Hamas combatants, say relatives of hostages in Gaza
Far-right national security minister wants the death penalty for militants captured by Israel
Jerusalem — Relatives of some of the 240 people held by Hamas in Gaza urged far-right Israeli legislators on Monday not to pursue proposed capital punishment for captured Palestinian militants, saying that even talk of doing so might endanger the hostages.
A number of suspected gunmen were detained after members of the armed Islamist faction breached the Gaza Strip border on October 7 and went on the rampage, killing more than 1,200 people and kidnapping others, Israel said.
Israel’s justice ministry said on November 7 that a task force was discussing how to try the Palestinians who had been detained and secure “punishments befitting the severity of the horrors committed” for those convicted.
Far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has called for the death penalty, which is dormant on Israel’s law books.
Some of the relatives of the people held captive by Hamas in Gaza worry the publicity about the capital punishment debate could invite reprisals even as hopes of a deal to free some are growing.
The hostages have already been threatened with execution by Hamas and are at risk of being hurt or killed in the military offensive launched by Israel in response to the October 7 attack.
“It would mean playing along with their mind games. And in return we would get pictures of our loves ones murdered, ended, with the State of Israel and not them [Hamas] being blamed for it,” Yarden Gonen, whose sister Romi is among the hostages, told Ben-Gvir and his party colleagues during a parliamentary panel.
“Don’t pursue this until after they are back here,” she said. “Don’t put my sister’s blood on your hands.”
The only court-ordered execution in Israel ever has been of convicted Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1962. Israeli military courts, which often handle cases involving Palestinians, have the power to hand down the death penalty by a unanimous decision of three judges, though this has never been implemented.
Hawkish politicians over the years have proposed easing terms for such sentencing, saying executions deter terrorism. Doing this is “more critical now than ever”, Ben-Gvir said, “first of all, for the sake of those murdered and who fell in the line of duty and, no less, so that there will be no more people kidnapped”.
His proposal has moved slowly in parliament. The conservative Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown little interest in advancing it during its long rule.
Linor Dan-Calderon, three of whose relatives are hostages, accused Ben-Gvir’s party of having “confused priorities”.
“You’ve gotten mixed up, because we are a nation that pursues life, not one that pursues revenge — even if, in the past, we did something to Eichmann,” she said. “I am simply asking you to drop this from the agenda.”