At press conference in Tel Aviv, relatives of US citizens plea for government’s help

A press conference featuring relatives of missing U.S. citizens in Tel Aviv on Oct. 10, 2023. (Eliyahu Friedman)

TEL AVIV (JTA) — In the middle of telling a roomful of about 50 reporters about the plight of his son Itay, who was missing in action, Rivli Chen paused to ask if any representatives of the U.S. government had shown up to the press conference. 

No one raised their hands. Cries of “Shame!” in Hebrew began to echo around the room. 

“We’ve been in contact with the State Department and the US Embassy,” said Chen. “But there has been no formal or concentrated attempt to talk to us as the group and update us about what they are doing in this matter.”

At the press conference on Tuesday, four families of U.S. citizens who went missing during Hamas’ invasion of Israel spoke about their loved ones and what the Israeli and U.S. governments are doing — and have not done — to secure their release. Chen said that “about 10 other [American] families” with missing family members have been identified by the group, of the more than 100 Israelis taken into captivity on Saturday.

The U.S. government has announced that at least 11 of its citizens were killed in the attack, which killed more than 900 people in total. The government has not released the number of Americans it estimates are held captive.

In addition to Rivli Chen, the speakers at the press conferenceincluded Nahar Neta, son of 66-year old Adrienne Neta; Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin; and Jonathan Dekel-Chen, father of Sagui Dekel-Chen. They sat at a table in front of a row of posters with enlarged photos of their missing relatives.

Neta said there had been “zero communication from the Israeli government” on the situation and that none of the families has received an official notification that their loved ones are being held as hostages. His 66-year-old mother was kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri on Saturday, a border town that was also the site of a massacre in which more than 100 people were killed

“I can appreciate the total mayhem and mess that the combat environment is creating, but I think that after three days… now is more than a reasonable request to have somebody from the Israeli government or the US administration [approach] us with any kind of information that they may have,” he said. 

Goldberg-Polin and Itay Chen were both at the large outdoor festival near Kibbutz Re’im where 260 people were killed. 

“I want to speak about the responsibility that the U.S. administration of President Dr. Biden and the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have for the lives of every US citizen that is out there,” Chen said. “They’re responsible to bring the U.S. citizens back home safe and sound.”

Representatives of each of the four families took turns sharing their horrifying experiences, describing their group as a “new family.” Rachel Goldberg said that they were able to learn from eyewitnesses that her son was last seen leaving a bomb shelter with his “arm severed” but was “put on a pickup truck” with others after Hamas terrorists instructed “anyone who can walk” to leave the room. She added that survivors of the tragedy recounted acts of heroism in which her son helped save lives by tossing back back grenades thrown into the shelter by Hamas attackers. She also heard that he comforted those around him. 

Diana, the youngest of Adrienne Neta’s children, contrasted her mother’s dedication as a nurse in Beersheva’s Soroka hospital to the actions of the Hamas terrorists. 

“When she walked into a delivery [room] she saw a human being in front of her,” she said. “Not a religion, not a race, not a hijab, not an Orthodox Jew.”

She added, “When Hamas walked into my mother’s room in Be’eri… they did not see a human being.”

Itay, who has not been seen since Saturday morning, chose to serve on his military base last weekend in order to attend his younger brother’s bar mitzvah this coming week, his father said. 

He added, “I invite all the people who want to celebrate with us to join the bar mitzvah… and pray for all the hostages who are missing,” and also pleaded to Hamas to “treat him as a prisoner of war according to international law.”

Jonathan Dekel-Chen, who moved to Kibbutz Nir Oz in 1990, described scenes of horror from the “barbaric attack” at the kibbutz in which there are only “160 survivors out of 400 residents.” 

His son Sagui, 35, grew up on the kibbutz and is a father of two daughters. His wife is pregnant with a third child. He is missing, his father said, “after having tried to repulse the attack by evidently hundreds of Hamas terrorists and looters.” 

“I’m what is called a peacenik in Israel,” Jonathan Dekel-Chen added. “But what we’ve witnessed, this kind of savagery, this kind of inhumanity, must be stopped.”

He added that the family members at the conference “appeal to the United States government and Congress to do what they can on the side of good here. We’re waiting for Sagui to come home.”

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