Family Of American Hostage In Gaza Speaks On Grief, Efforts To Bring Son Home

More than four months since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, the family of an American hostage in Gaza told the Daily Caller News Foundation that securing his release – and the release of all the hostages – has become increasingly urgent as the days pass.

Hamas launched brutal terrorist attacks against Israel on Oct. 7, killing over 1,200 civilians and kidnapping many others, including American citizens. Omer Neutra, a 22-year-old American citizen, is suspected to be among the remaining American hostages in Gaza. Ronen and Orna Neutra, his parents and dual U.S.-Israeli citizens, told the DCNF they are in fear over the status of their son and are doing all they can to bring him home.

“We don’t have day and night… It all becomes very blurry to us,” Ronen Neutra, the father of Omer, told the DCNF. “We are very fearful; 130 days without a sign of life, without knowing his medical condition, without any medical crew – including the Red Cross – allowed to go and visit him and the rest of the hostages. Who knows what his condition is? We have no idea… So how should we feel? I don’t know. I mean, we are very fearful, very nervous.”

Hamas kidnapped over 240 civilians on Oct. 7, including Israeli citizens, foreign nationals and American citizens. Over 100 hostages have been freed since then – either through a temporary ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas or through IDF rescue operations – but approximately 13o remain, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Various agencies across the U.S. government, including the White House National Security Council and State Department, are working with Israel and international allies to secure the release of all the hostages, potentially through a temporary ceasefire deal with Hamas. A State Department spokesperson told the DCNF it is currently “tracking” six unaccounted-for American hostages in Gaza and is in “regular contact” with their families.

“We’re working intensely with Egypt, with Qatar, on a proposal to bring about their release. I’ve also met with their families multiple times,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a press conference on Tuesday. “The agony that they face – simply not knowing, not knowing the fate of their loved ones – is beyond our imaginations.”

‘How He’s Always Been’

Omer is a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen and a New York native. Throughout his life, Omer was always seen as a natural leader, taking captain positions on various sports teams and working as president for the United Synagogue Youth in the metro state area, according to Ronen and Orna.

“He’s always got a smile on his face,” Orna told the DCNF. “People naturally gravitate over to him, he breaks the ice wherever he goes. That’s how he’s always been.”

Omer deferred college for a year to travel to Israel to deepen his Jewish and Israeli roots, according to Ronen and Orna. He ultimately felt called to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Omer was serving as an IDF tank commander near the Gaza border when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. Terrorists fired rocket-propelled grenades at his tank and subsequently took him captive, according to The New York Times.

Ronen and Orna tried to contact Omer immediately after the Oct. 7 attacks but got no response. They were told the next day by the Israel consulate in New York that their son was among the hostages Hamas took back to Gaza, Politico reported.

Ronen and Orna spend every day trying to secure Omer’s release through various efforts, including meeting with federal officials and congressional members, holding rallies in support of the hostages and doing interviews to raise awareness about their son. For them, the release of Omer and the remaining hostages is the most urgent priority.

“We don’t have time to think about ourselves and feel pity about the situation, or anything else for the most part,” Ronen told the DCNF. “We are actively doing everything we can to try and come to some kind of agreement, help the different parties here.”

Ronan and Orna argued that the ongoing war in Gaza is entirely the fault of Hamas, who has stonewalled negotiations and continues to embed itself among civilians for protection. Gaza and the Palestinian people could thrive if not for Hamas’ brutal rule in the region, they said.

“Get rid of Hamas and give us back our hostages, [and] Israel will stop immediately,” Ronen told the DCNF. “Hamas is holding hostage not only our son, but also their own people.”

‘Fight For Their Survival’

The status of the remaining hostages is unclear; Israel determined that between 30 and 50 of the 130 hostages are likely dead, according to the WSJ. As of December, the U.S. believed there were eight Americans hostage in Gaza, but two were reported dead by the end of the year.

A new deal is currently being negotiated between Israel and Hamas through the U.S. and Qatari and Egyptian negotiators. Israel and Hamas are at odds with what terms should be included in the deal and an agreement has thus far stalled out; Hamas is demanding a full-scale ceasefire in exchange for the hostages, which was rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the proposal “delusional,” according to Bloomberg.

“It feels like Hamas is holding hostage the whole Western world,” Orna told the DCNF. “They’re holding on to our kid. We are definitely hostages. And everyone’s hands are tied… Hamas [has a] crazy sense of entitlement at this point, and crazy requests and demands.”

The family also expressed frustration with Netanyahu for refusing to send a delegation to Egypt earlier in the week for discussions with hostage negotiators. Netanyahu is holding off on further negotiations until Hamas compromises on some of their stricter terms for the deal, according to Bloomberg.

“How can you get a deal without negotiating? It’s so frustrating on our side,” Ronen told the DCNF. “I know the American administration is putting pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu to get involved. We’re not sure what his reasoning [is].”

Ronen and Orna, while expressing gratitude for the U.S.’ efforts, questioned whether the government’s strategy in freeing the hostages through an agreement between Israel and Hamas is going to be effective.

“We keep on asking whether this assumption is correct. Whether this should be challenged,” Ronen told the DCNF.

Ronen and Orna are in regular contact with the State Department regarding Omer’s status, as well as the FBI and White House National Security Council Advisor Jake Sullivan and his team, according to a spokesperson for the family.

“We have an open line of communication on a weekly basis with a team that was formed for each of the American hostage families,” Ronen told the DCNF. “We are meeting almost every two weeks with either the National Security adviser or his team and getting an update, getting engaged in discussions and running ideas by them.”

The two addressed the concerning rise in antisemitism since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, calling it “the easy route of hatred;” both Ronen and Orna are descendants of Holocaust survivors, according to The Washington Examiner. They encouraged those who stand against Israel to learn the country’s history, and to study the abuse of power by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.

“Israel has been fighting for its survival since [its founding]… They still need to fight for their survival,” Orna told the DCNF. “Take the time and look at the issues before you take a stance on them.”

Ronen and Orna continue to do everything in their power to bring Omer and the rest of the hostages home.

“It’s time. It’s so fricking urgent.” Ronen told the DCNF. “Every day that there is a delay in reaching a deal is putting a death sentence on some of them.”

Jake Smith on February 18, 2024


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