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The News Not Noise Letter: Hamas Releases First Hostage Video
A 21-year-old Israeli pleads to come home. Plus: President Biden’s high-stakes trip, and Gaza on the brink.
The war with Israel and Hamas is filled with horrors at every turn. It’s unfolding in a region divided by ancient rivalries, where outside powers compete for their own interests, basic facts are always contested, and every next decision could have existential consequences. Emotions are at a 10. Against this backdrop, if you’re looking for certainty, you’ll find yourself very frustrated. So I suggest we all release the desire for quick answers and accept that we won’t always know “why” “how” “when” or “what now.” At least not quickly.
Instead, remember that there are complex interests at play here. If you accept any one narrative as the full story, you’ll miss the bigger picture. I’ll help translate, and ask that you get comfortable with uncertainty.
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Here are the headlines:
Biden’s High-Stakes Trip: President Biden is making a bold wartime visit to Israel Wednesday. In a show of unwavering solidarity with Israel, he will emphasize his support for the war, his commitment to bringing American hostages home and the importance of protecting civilians in Gaza. In announcing the visit, Secretary of State Blinken said all parties have agreed to ensure humanitarian aid enters Gaza. And, he said, if Hamas tries to divert the aid from reaching civilians the US will “condemn it and work to prevent it from happening again.” He said there’s discussion of a plan to develop safe zones in Gaza, “areas to keep civilians out of harm's way.” With this trip, it is all but certain Israel will wait to launch a ground invasion until after the President departs. This will be the second time this year President Biden visits a war zone.
US Troops to the Region: The US is considering deploying 2000 US troops to provide a support role in Israel – generally supplying logistics, not fighting. In addition, the US has sent 2 aircraft carrier groups to the region close to Israel’s border with Lebanon. That is a meaningful show of force, meant to be a deterrent to Iran. It signals that an attack on Israel by the Islamic Republic of Iran could be read as an attack on the US and could draw the US directly into the fight.
Hostage Video: Hamas posted on Telegram a video of 21-year-old Maya Sham, a French-Israeli woman kidnapped from the SuperNova music festival. In the video, you see someone putting a bandage on her arm, and then it cuts to her saying in Hebrew that she has received medical care while in Hamas custody and wants to come home. This is all over the news in Israel.
Hamas Teases Hostage Release: Mixed messages from Hamas about foreign captives. A Hamas spokesperson said they’d release non-Israeli hostages “when circumstances allow.” Another Hamas official said, no release until “the continued Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip” stops. This is an empty offer, as Israel is not stopping its bombing campaign.
Who are the hostages? Hamas says there are 200-250 of hostages but, amazingly, the group doesn’t have a firm number. Israel says 199 prisoners are Israelis. According to the President of Israel the hostages are from 36 nations. They include pregnant women, infants, a 17-year old who needs a feeding tube, a young woman with cerebral palsy, seniors with dementia, others with autism and a wide range of medical conditions.
Israel’s families tell us they are in anguish — with many spending their days searching Hamas videos on Telegram for signs of their loved ones in captivity.
Crisis in Gaza: Gaza is “on the verge of the abyss,” according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres. After a weeklong siege, Gaza is out of fresh water, low on food, and the “entire health system has collapsed.” Half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 18, and there are no bomb shelters for civilians. 2,808 have been killed and 9,700 are wounded.
Rafah Crossing: The greatest hope for humanitarian relief, right now, is located on the wrong side of the Rafah Crossing. That is a land border between Gaza and Egypt – and hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid are piling up on the Egypt side, but the gate remains closed. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Sunday that the crossing would open Monday to allow humanitarian aid in and allow US citizens and other foreign nationals to exit. US Embassy Cairo is in touch with 253 Americans with papers to depart, but they are in limbo, stuck on the Gaza side of the border for days.
There are conflicting reports about why the crossing remains shut – Egypt blames Israeli airstrikes. Israel says no ceasefire is in the cards. And the White House says Hamas made threats that prevented the re-opening. The BBC reports an airstrike hit near the Rafah crossing Monday.
This is one of those instances in which we can only try to understand the competing claims, rather than looking for an instant explanation.
Separately, across the Arab world there is a firm resolve to ensure Palestinians remain in Gaza even through the fighting, to prevent what many would consider a second “Nakba.” Nakba means “catastrophe” in Arabic, and the Nakba refers to the mass exodus of Palestinians from their homes in 1948. Different groups will describe the events differently. We don’t have space to recount that history today.
Conflict with Hezbollah: Turning now to the north. The IDF is evacuating 27,000 Israeli civilians from 28 towns within 2 kilometers of the Lebanese border. This is out of fear that Hezbollah will launch a second front against Israel. Hezbollah is a terror group based in Lebanon but backed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. For days Hezbollah has been firing missiles into Israel, killing three people and knocking out many of Israel’s surveillance cameras.
Secretary of State Heads to a Bomb Shelter: The threat isn’t just in the north. Hamas continues to fire missiles into other parts of Israel. A meeting today between Sec. Blinken and PM Netanyahu was interrupted by air raid sirens – they had to break and go to a bomb shelter. Members of the Knesset, which is their Congress, evacuated twice today when air raid sirens warned of incoming rockets. Israel is protected from these incoming rockets by an anti-missile system called the Iron Dome.
Growing Discontent with Netanyahu: In Israel, as shock gives way to anger, the public’s rage is increasingly directed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A new poll finds that 80% of Jewish Israelis blame PM Netanyahu and his government for Hamas’ invasion and massacre. And a majority want Netanyahu to resign when the military operation in Gaza ends. Former Israeli PM Ehud Barak called Netanyahu’s inability to anticipate the attack “the greatest failure in Israel’s history.”
Headlines in the rest of the world:
Chicago Child Killed in Hate Crime: In the US, a 71-year-old Chicago-area landlord attacked his Palestinian American tenants Saturday, stabbing a 6-year-old boy to death and critically wounding his mother, who is expected to survive. The child’s funeral was held today. (We are not naming him because of his age.) The Will County Sheriff’s Office said the victims were targeted “due to them being Muslim and the on-going Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.” The suspect has been detained and charged with “First Degree Murder, Attempted First Degree Murder, Hate Crime (2 counts), and Aggravated Battery with a Deadly Weapon.” The DOJ also opened a federal hate crime investigation. Chicago Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement that “to take a six year old child’s life in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil,” and President Biden said he was “shocked and sickened” by the killing.
Poles at the Polls: Poland just held a major election that could shift the country’s political fate. Voters chose to oust the country’s far-right antidemocratic ruling party, Law and Justice, in favor of a coalition of centrist and left-wing parties that support abortion rights and a strong relationship with the European Union. This coalition is expected to create a government together, protecting Poland’s democratic institutions. With a record-breaking 73% voter turnout – Poland’s highest turnout since the fall of communism – Poles chose to reject Law and Justice’s anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-EU, and antidemocratic stances. This election’s results are a stark contrast to the recent global rise of antidemocratic politics.
Speaker Vote Tuesday: In the US, the House of Representatives will vote Tuesday for House Speaker. Right now the GOP nominee is Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who currently lacks the votes but picked up support Monday. Jordan is a founder of the far-right Freedom Caucus, and the Jan. 6th Committee called him a “significant player” in the attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
Trump Gagged, Again: Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan imposed a gag order on former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election interference criminal case. “His presidential candidacy does not give him carte blanche to vilify … public servants who are simply doing their job,” Chutkan said. Under the new order, Trump will not be allowed to publicly attack witnesses, prosecutors, or court staff.
Family Separation Settlement: Thousands of families separated by the Trump administration in 2017 and 2018 reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit against the US government. According to the deal, the families will be allowed to live and work legally in the US while waiting for their asylum applications to process. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the settlement will “facilitate the reunification of separated families and provide them with critical services to aid in their recovery.”
We know that’s a lot of news, and there’s more to come. We’ll keep covering the stories you need, and encourage you to pay attention to your limits and steward your mental health. The news can get overwhelming – trust us, we know. So when you need to, take breaks and do something relaxing or fun. The news will be here when you get back.
Additional reporting by Thalia Halloran.
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