Family members of U.S. citizens believed to be taken hostage during Hamas‘ Israel incursion this past weekend are wondering what the Biden administration is doing.
Speaking at a Tuesday press conference in Tel Aviv, Ruby Chen expressed frustration that he had not heard from government officials about efforts to find his 19-year-old son, Itay, who went missing while on active duty for the Israeli military. “We heard from a person from here in the Tel Aviv embassy, but beyond taking note that we filled out forms and defined him as missing, there’s been no formal communication to me as an individual or to us as a group communicating what do they know, what do they plan to do,” he told NBC News. He said he had “no formal communication with the U.S. government.”
Chen and relatives of three other missing persons with dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship begged the Biden administration and Israeli government to do more to negotiate the releases of their loved ones. “I don’t think it is my place to tell the policymakers and decision-makers how to go about this process,” Nahar Neta, whose 66-year-old mother, Adrienne, is missing, said at the press conference. “I care about the result, and the result that I care about is for my mom to come home and for me to be able to hug her. I trust these people to do what they need to do in order for that to happen.”
Speaking with CNN, Jonathan Dekel-Chen, whose son Sagui is missing, asked for more information. “The United States administration and its various services have relationships in the world with countries that Israel does not and it could be helpful for the United States and its various parts to engage with those friends, those acquaintances, to help negotiate in some way [to] secure the release or at least get solid information,” he said. Dekel-Chen said that his children and grandchildren who were on a kibbutz raided by Hamas “experienced a living hell for the better part of 20 hours.”
Abbey Onn, who has five family members who lived north of Tel Aviv who have gone missing following the incursion, told CBS News she thought this Israeli government should be prepared to find her relatives. “This is not the first time this country has been up against this kind of challenge,” she said. “And they have an army and a government that knows how to solve this. And they just need to do that. … These are civilians who are being terrorized, and we want them brought home.”
Jonathan Polin and his wife, Rachel Goldberg, are searching for their 23-year-old son Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who disappeared after attending the music festival near Gaza that Hamas attacked, on their own. “It’s a war, so we realize that there are a number of things that are important on a national level,” Polin told the Los Angeles Times. “But this is the most important thing for us, so we need to do it.”
Family and friends have aided them in searching through videos, calling hospitals and police, and contacting festivalgoers they know made it out safely to try to find Hersh. The couple, who like Hersh are American citizens, said they’d reached out to current and previous U.S. ambassadors to Israel, the White House, the U.N., and diplomats from around the region. They told the Times that they don’t know if there will be hostage negotiations.
Yael Abramov, aunt to Laor Abramov — a 20-year-old aspiring DJ who was at a rave when Hamas attacked and was reportedly pulled away into a truck by Hamas soldiers — expressed despair over his whereabouts in a New York Post interview. Her mother-in-law, Rachel Meijer, echoed the other family members’ grief. “The feeling of safeness is gone totally,” she said. “Where is Biden? Why aren’t the Americans taking care of their own citizens? This is the child of an American.”
Reps for the U.S. State Department and Israeli government did not respond to Rolling Stone’s requests for comment.
“We are dealing with a brutal terrorist group whose depravity was on display on Saturday … we know very clearly who we’re dealing with,” Matt Miller, a spokesperson for the State Department, told MSNBC. “But at the same time we do want to get messages through to them that we are serious that you do need to release these hostages, that you do need to do so immediately, and that’s what you need to do.”
Biden, at a Tuesday press conference, said that rescuing American hostages was paramount. His administration was sharing intelligence with the Israeli government in their efforts, NBC News reports.
The president believes that more than 1,000 civilians had lost their lives during the attacks, according to The New York Times, and that 14 of those casualties were Americans. Jack Sullivan, the administration’s national security adviser, said that at least 20 U.S. citizens were missing and that it was unclear how many are now hostages. “This is terrorism,” the president said at a press conference.
The Israeli government reported that it had recovered the bodies of 1,500 Hamas attackers since Sunday. The Times reports that health officials in Gaza claim 900 Palestinians have been killed in the airstrikes, including 260 children. Thousands of others have been wounded.
Israel has asked the United States for more weapons. Miller told MSNBC the U.S. government would give Israel whatever it needs to defend itself, including weapons and munitions.