Ofri Brodutch was about to celebrate her 10th birthday on Oct. 7, when her home on Kibbutz Kfar Aza was overrun by terrorists—and she, her mother and two younger brothers were abducted to Gaza.
“The soldiers who cleared the house talked to my brother and told him when they opened the fridge, they saw the birthday cake and they all started crying,” her uncle Aharon Brodutch told an hour-long press conference in Ottawa on Oct. 30.
Brodutch, and representatives of four other families—whose loved ones were either killed or kidnapped by Hamas—were in Ottawa to speak with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other government officials about the plight of the hostages.
“This should have ended, in terms of the hostages 23 days ago. There’s a complicated war going on, but this is a very simple piece, in that there’s a crime against humanity happening every single day,” Brodutch said.
“We hope the Canadian government and the Canadian people can help and bring the hostages back.”
Ofri, who had spent a month last summer at Camp Gesher in Ontario, had made many Canadian friends, Brodutch said.
“Ofri wants to get her birthday gifts, which are still wrapped. My brother sits and plays the guitar he bought her and wishes he was able to teach her how to play.”
The five families came with a simple message: Canada must use whatever international influence and pressure it has, to bring about the release of the hostages.
Two Canadians are missing while six Canadians—plus one with Canadian ties—have been killed, according to Global Affairs Canada.
Israel has said that 1,400 Israeli residents were killed in the Oct. 7 attacks and 239 people have been kidnapped, including children and the elderly.
The families who spoke at the press conference said they travelled to ensure that politicians did not see the hostages as simply statistics in a war.
Chen Zeigen, whose 74-year-old mother Vivian Silver is believed to have been kidnapped from her home in Kibbutz Be’eri, described the Winnipeg native as someone whose professional and personal life was dedicated to trying to bring about peace and cooperation in the region.
“Hamas is trying to frame the hostages as prisoners of war. But these are babies and toddlers and elderly people who were taken from their homes. They have not had any access to any international committee like the Red Cross… To this day, I’m not sure if my mother is alive or dead,” he said.
Canada must use whatever influence it has with nations that are friendly with Hamas to secure the release of the hostages, said Harel Lapidot, whose niece Tiferet was killed at the Supernova music festival.
“We’re hearing the horrifying things that happened to girls and to people that were at the hands of Hamas. Those things are the exact things that we have heard from my grandmother in the Holocaust.”
Lapidot, who was born in Regina, said Canada must join a coalition of nations to oppose Hamas, the same way it once fought ISIS and the Nazis.
“Holding hostages, holding babies is out of the question. They have to be released immediately that’s the message the Canadian government, the Canadian people has to send, otherwise we’ll see the same thing happening in the States, in Canada… in every other civilized country in the world.”
Zeigen agreed that Canada must do more in the international arena
“As long as there’s a message of business as usual, Canada and other prominent countries have diplomatic relation and financial ties. As long as there is no immediate action, this is a message of legitimation.”
Trudeau, and politicians from all parties gave the families a warm welcome and understand the Israelis’ message, the families said.
“We’ve been hearing warm words and words of empathy. Prime Minister Trudeau understands and knows better than us that the only way to fight terror is by fighting it,” Lapidot said.
Brodutch also thanked Trudeau for his time.
“Just to put this in context, the Prime Minister has met with as many families as the Israeli prime minister,” he said.
(Benjamin Netanyahu has faced criticism for his reluctance to meet the hostages’ families.)
The meeting in Ottawa comes as Israel has said it is launching the second phase of the war, with more bombing and ground fighting, while at the same time the international community is pressing for a humanitarian pause, to get essential supplies into Gaza.
“It is scary, but it’s not the main thing,” Itay Raviv said about the intensified fighting in Gaza. His wife’s elderly uncle, cousin and nine-year-old nephew were kidnapped and another family member was killed in the attacks.
“Whether Hamas wants to keep our family members alive or not, it’s up to Hamas, it’s not up to anything Israel does. We’ve seen how Hamas can keep whoever they want safe, in their tunnels whether it’s their leaders or captives,” Raviv said.
In addition to Canada’s efforts to release the hostages, Brodutch, who lives in Toronto, said he would like to see Canada’s Muslim population publicly oppose Hamas.
“I’m a new Canadian and one of the reasons I decided to live in Canada is the huge diversity. We have big Muslim communities in Canada who are seeing this and I’m sure many of them are horrified by what has happened,” he said.
“I would like to see the Canadian Muslim community, which I’m sure can indirectly impact Hamas, fight for Muslim values, and those values are 100 percent not holding women and children hostage.”
Canada has sent a team of hostage negotiating experts to Israel, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly.
Irwin Cotler, former Liberal justice minister and head of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, has also taken up the cause of the Israeli hostages and is meeting with government leaders in the United States and Canada to help secure their release.
- Hear the hostages’ families, in their own words, on The CJN Daily podcast