The International Committee of the Red Cross’s failure to visit and assess the Israelis being held in Gaza was the focus of an event in Toronto on Dec. 19, as people dropped off packages and letters for the hostages.
Four vans—two at Promenade Mall in Thornhill Ont., and two at Lawrence Plaza—were filled with care packages for the hostages, then delivered to an office of the Canadian Red Cross in Mississauga, Ont.
The vans also carried a petition addressed to Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) “demanding that they visit our hostages, demanding that they finally fulfil their mandate that they’ve neglected shamefully, shamefully, for all these long days,” said Daphna Pollak, one of the organizers of the event.
The international aid agency has not visited the over 100 Israeli hostages still in Gaza, since they were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.
Spoljaric was in Israel Dec. 14, where she met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog and hostage families.
“You have every avenue, every right and every expectation to place public pressure on Hamas,” Netanyahu told Spoljaric during a portion of their meeting that was filmed and issued to the press, The Times of Israel reported.
“It is not going to work because the more public pressure we seemingly would do, the more they will shut the door,” Spoljaric responded.
Hostages’ families have delivered personal medications that their family members had been taking, but the Red Cross has refused to accept it.
“We are, however, not able to take them (medications) as we don’t have access to the hostages and thus won’t be able to deliver the medicines to them. This is why we asked the families to keep those medicines,” a post on the ICRC website states.
“We continue calling for access to the hostages, as we have done from day one, and are ready to visit them. However, it is not within our power to decide whether we have access to the hostages or not, nor can we create the conditions for our access to the hostages to materialize.”
Eva Waldmann was one of the 30 or so people who came to Lawrence Plaza to drop off a care package that contained stuffed animals, aspirin, antibiotic cream, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
She also included a bottle of nail polish, to acknowledge that the hostages “need to be recognized as a normal person.”
Waldman says she hopes the packages would be delivered by the Red Cross “if they’re fulfilling the demands they have in their mission statement to assist in a humanitarian, neutral way, regardless of ethnicity, culture or religion.”
Pollak said she included soap for hostages, thinking specifically of Naama Levy, a young woman who was seen in a video taken in Gaza on Oct. 7 with blood on the backside of her sweatpants.
“I brought soap for her and for the other women that are still being held captive in Gaza who we know are being sexually abused on an ongoing basis. And I would like that soap to be symbolic of the fact that hopefully they will be freed, hopefully they will have a chance to cleanse themselves and hopefully their souls will find a way to recover from the atrocities that they’ve been subject to.”
Canadian Red Cross employees watched from behind a closed door when the group left the packages and letters for the hostages at their Mississauga office later that day, Pollack said.
“Everyone in the project understands that these packages are not going to actually get shipped over to our hostages, nevertheless the amount of care and love and concern that went into making those… it was very humbling.
“I hope even the Red Cross people when they go out there and they open those packages and they see what’s in there, I hope they understand how much our hearts are breaking and what the people who are held hostage in Gaza are going through.”
Meanwhile, a letter-writing campaign, addressed to the hostages is also underway. UJA Federation of Greater Toronto estimates about 900 letters, addressed to the Red Cross and intended for the hostages have been written.
Ainsley Davidson and Halyn Freeman, both 12, have been writing to the hostages as part of a bat mitzvah project.
The letters are heartfelt and encouraging.
“I’m writing to tell you that you are a strong, brave, beautiful and talented person,” read one letter Ainsley wrote to a 19-year-old hostage. “Soon you will be with your loved ones and everything will get better. Keep fighting!”
The girls are aware that the letters are not likely to reach the hostages. “We know. But at least someone knows that these people are getting these letters and that we care,” said Ainsley.
They started by writing letters to children and teenagers, and have seen some of the hostages on their list released.
Halyn and her sister wrote to two little girls who were kidnapped along with their mother. “It felt like the right thing to do because we’re sisters and they’re sisters,” she said. “You put your time into writing these letters and it doesn’t make a big impact, but it’s an impact in the heart.”
A spokesperson for the Canadian Red Cross said in an email to The CJN that the agency can confirm it has received the letters.
“We are working with our Movement colleagues to determine next steps with the goal of delivering the messages as soon as possible. The Red Cross empathizes with friends and families who want to provide some comfort to their loved ones who are detained.”