Does Netanyahu really care about the hostages?
Relatives and friends of those kidnapped during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel hold photos of their loved ones during a protest calling for their return outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. On Oct. 7, about 240 were taken hostage and 1,400 were killed by Hamas militants. | Leo Correa / AP

For a month now, the Israeli military has been bombing the people of Gaza non-stop, creating one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades. Over 10,000 people have been killed; homes, hospitals, and schools all lay in ruins; ambulances and caravans of refugees have been targeted. The U.N., along with many governments in the global south and progressive and freedom-loving people the world over, are calling for a humanitarian ceasefire.

In response, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that it will only enact a ceasefire if all the captives currently being held in Gaza are released. Netanyahu has the unquestioning support of the Biden administration and the governments of other imperialist countries, all of whom claim Israel is only acting to defend itself and free its captured citizens.

While it might appear that the Israeli government cares about the safety and freedom of those taken by Hamas forces on Oct. 7th, that is not actually the case. If it were, Israel would not be bombing Gaza indiscriminately, as doing so endangers the captives. So, what is actually happening?

Firstly, the Netanyahu government is using the national trauma of having so many citizens held prisoner at once to fuel support for its genocidal actions in Gaza. The Israeli national psyche doesn’t handle captives well. Families of captives often have direct access to the government, and they are brought before the media to pressure the powers that be to do everything possible to ensure the release of their relatives.

Gilad Shalit salutes Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after being released after five-and-a-half years of Hamas captivity, Oct. 18, 2011. He was exchanged for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. | Photo: IDF

In the past, even one soldier being held prisoner was seen as a national emergency. This aspect of the Israeli national psyche has been used by Palestinian resistance fighters to their advantage in the past, and they’ve often been able to exchange a single captured Israeli for hundreds of Palestinian counterparts. Take the case of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006 and held prisoner for over five years. Shalit, for example, was exchanged for 1,027 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails.

Second, while the current Israeli government is happy to use its citizens’ anger and fear in such situations to fuel its war machine, it does not actually want to deal with the pressure from the families of the captives. No Israeli government does.

In fact, for decades, the Israeli military had a standing order called the “Hannibal Directive,” according to which Israeli troops were ordered to kill any fellow soldier they witnessed being taken captive. The Israeli government would rather deal with dead soldiers than captured ones, to avoid the pressure to free them.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz also recently reported on a case in which the Prime Minister’s Office planted supporters among the bereaved families of captives at a meeting with Netanyahu. Their job was to offer praise for his handling of the crisis and make it appear that the Israeli government had the support of these families. It was all intended to shore up Netanyahu’s domestic political standing (which is tanking) and deflect any criticism of the Israeli government’s policy of indiscriminate bombing.

While the Israeli government tells the world it is at war with terrorists and trying to free hostages, in reality, we are witnessing the Hannibal Directive on a mass scale. While Netanyahu would of course like to see the captives freed and take credit for their rescue, it would also like to continue its genocidal war against the Palestinians—the lives of the captives in Gaza are secondary to that objective.

It is clear by now, if it wasn’t already, that the only mission Israel has in Gaza is to “empty it,” as many Israeli leaders have clearly stated again and again.

As with all op-eds and news-analytical articles published by People’s World, the views reflected here are those of the author.


J.E. Rosenberg
J.E. Rosenberg

J.E. Rosenberg grew up in an extremist, religious Zionist household in the U.S. After moving to Israel as a young adult, he changed his world views. He left Israel and is now a member of the Communist Party.