Family members of those kidnapped by Hamas were joined by hundreds Sunday in taking to the streets outside the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland, to demand the release of the terror group's hostages and call for international action.
Organized by The Voice for Freedom Coalition, a global alliance of over 300 Christian organizations from 70 nations in Europe and the U.S., the gathering sought to draw attention to Hamas' actions, particularly its Oct. 7 attacks on civilians in southern Israel, in which 1,400 were killed. Israel says at least 222 people were kidnapped during the attack.
At the rally family members shared their heart-wrenching experiences.
Assaf Shem Tov, the uncle of Omer Shem Tov, a 21-year-old who was kidnapped at a music festival in Re'im, Israel, described the horrifying turn of events. Shem Tov had attended the all-night music gathering, but it turned into a nightmare as Hamas terrorists launched a brutal attack, leading to the kidnapping of many innocent festival-goers.
Shem Tov and many others have been held hostage for over two weeks.
“Omer is a loving man who would do anything for you. He was working as a waiter, saving money for his big trip — just doing what every 21-year-old wants to do: fulfilling his dreams. He went to the festival with thousands of other people from all over the world,” Asaf Shem Tov told the crowd.
“He was trying to get into a car with his friend. He managed to call my brother and tell him he’s trying to find a way out. He even shared his location with his family. But he went the wrong way and ended up entering Gaza. At first, you don’t believe it; you think it’s a mistake. ... Then we received a video of him in the back of a pickup truck with his friend, and we understood that he’s been kidnapped and held in Gaza. It’s a devastating moment for us as a family and for so many other people.”
Doris Liber, the mother of Guy Itzhak Iluz, 26, who was also kidnapped at the music festival, recounted the dreadful moment when she received a call from Guy, who was injured and in danger.
The emotional account of her desperate attempts to reach her son and the subsequent uncertainty about his fate highlighted the anguish faced by the families of the kidnapped.
“I’m a single mom, and Guy is my only son. Guy is a very sensitive kid. He’s a musician. We actually bought him an electric guitar when he was 9 years old, and he has been composing music since a very early age. He’s surrounded by his pack of friends, most of them neighbors, who practically lived at my house as well,” Liber said.
That awful morning began with a siren, a common occurrence in Israel, she added. She left her bed and went to the shelter room, which doubles as Guy’s room. She crawled into his bed and dozed off. A call from Guy came in. Hearing background noise but no answer, she hung up, thinking it was an accidental dial. Yet, the siren persisted. When she called back, Guy picked up, his voice tinged with urgency. He’d been evacuated from the music festival and was now driving.
“His best friend, who sat next to him, was killed. Guy called 911; he had been shot in his arm and couldn’t stop the bleeding," Liber said. "The 911 operator connected me to the call. Guy wanted to say his final words; he told us he loved us. But we heard gunshots in the background and Arabic language.”
Liber said she was sent an Al Jazeera report suggesting that Guy was killed in a bombing in Gaza.
“The army came over and told me it was probably mind games and that there is still hope that he is alive," she said. "So, I’m just living on that right now.”
“I came here today to move your hearts for action," she added. "We need to do something.”
A representative of the coalition remembered the lives lost in the tragic Oct. 7 attack. A candle was lit as a tribute to the victims, followed by a moment of silence.
Representatives from the International Christian Embassy brought together people from across the globe to stand in solidarity with Israel. They drew parallels between the present situation and the Holocaust, emphasizing the need for unity against evil. They urged governments and the Red Cross to secure the release of hostages without conditions.
Leon Meijer, the president of Christians for Israel International, called upon international institutions to act swiftly to save the lives of hostages. He reminded the UN Human Rights Council and the International Committee of the Red Cross of their responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect civilians and prevent the taking of hostages.
“We stand here today to make a choice, a choice of what kind of people we want to be, on which side of the line, on which side of history do we want to stand. Every human has to make that choice in their daily life and in the position one is placed. Choose between good and evil,” Meijer said.
Johnnie Moore, the president of the Congress of Christian Leaders and a former commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told the crowd that Geneva is a city where world leaders have come for generations to make promises about human rights.
"We are here today to demand that they fulfill those promises," Moore said. "We welcome the pronouncements of outrage. We welcome the statements of solidarity. We surely celebrate the resolution that was overwhelmingly passed by the European Parliament last week. But it is not enough. We need action that demonstrates in word and in deed that there remains in Europe and the entirety of the democratic world a moral compass that can still recognize evil when it sees it."
"It is outrageous that the activities of Hamas-linked NGOs still remain unsanctioned in the European Union," he continued. "It is outrageous that the media has engaged in a modern-blood libel, questioning everything Israel says and accepting everything Hamas says, knowing good and well that every single Hamas says is a lie."