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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

For five months, we thought our son was alive. Release Hamas hostages and spare others our pain.

My son was considered among the living hostages in Gaza for months. Despite his murder, my family continues for fight for the families who still have hope.

Ruby Chen
Opinion contributor

Earlier this year, I wrote about the moment I learned my son was taken hostage. Last October – a few days after Hamas’ murderous rampage through Israel – a group of Israeli officials stood at my doorstep.

My 19-year-old son, Itay Chen, was taken captive while serving at the Gaza border. He was in the hands of terrorists who murdered,  hundreds of Israelis, but he was believed to be alive as there was no evidence to prove the alternative. So, there was reason for hope. 

For five months, we lived off that hope. The hostage families established a nonprofit organization to coordinate all the hostage family efforts for 241 families from , and I joined its executive steering committee. I have met presidents, chancellors and ambassadors; visited Qatar, Germany and, of course, Washington, D.C., to try to influence the decision-makers so that the next time an official showed up at my door, it would be cause for celebration. My son was coming home. 

Unfortunately, I was wrong. On March 11, the Israel Defense Forces and U.S. officials came back with new intelligence: My son was among the more than 40 American citizens murdered on Oct. 7, and Hamas savages took his remains, apparently to use as a future bargaining chip.

Hamas terrorists took American citizen Itay Chen, center, hostage on Oct. 7. His mother Hagit Chen and father Ruby Chen, who later found out their son was killed, are working with families of other hostages to secure their release.

My son is a hero. He deserves to return home.

Hamas seems to have taken a page out of the Islamic State terrorist organization's strategy to take dead hostages, while not notifying the Red Cross he was killed, to increase the psychological pain of his parents and the Israeli and U.S. people. 

I thought my wife and I would never suffer pain greater than learning our son was a hostage. That now feels like a passing twinge in comparison with the agony that consumes us today – and will for the rest of our lives. 

Read the column:Hamas still holds my American son hostage in Gaza. Every day has been a living nightmare.

But we refuse to let the pain paralyze us. According to the Jewish tradition, when a family is notified of a deceased family member it should hold a “shiva” – a week of mourning and prayer for the deceased and start a new chapter in life. Instinctively, upon notice, I told the Israeli and U.S. officials that we will not start the shiva until Itay’s remains are returned to Israel for burial as the hero that he is.

This is the same message I shared with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony  Blinken, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and numerous senators and congressmen who called to share their condolences. It is my daily reminder to them that my mission as a father is not done until Itay is back home. And I remind all elected officials to pressure Hamas in any way possible to get a deal done. 

Ruby Chen, father of Israeli hostage Itay, held in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack, lifts an hourglass as he delivers a statement to the media in Tel Aviv on Dec. 16, 2023.

It would have been humane to leave Itay’s body behind, but Hamas terrorists deprived my family of even the smallest mercy – the chance to bury Itay and mourn over his body. These terrorists are like ISIS and are the worst of humanity, and this requires all of us to unite to defeat this darkness.

The hostage crisis is not a political issue and should stay a bipartisan cause, despite the temptation of the election year. The hostage families felt the respect and unity during the State of the Union address when the president acknowledged the hostage families in the audience and we received the only bipartisan standing ovation of the evening. We urge both the U.S. Congress and the Israeli prime minister against turning our family members into a topic for political gain. 

Finally, we would also like to reach out to the U.S. Muslim community and wish them a Ramadan Kareem, which is the month of prayer and charity between one another. We hope that U.S.-based Muslim religious leaders will denounce the Hamas actions and remember that Islamic laws demand respect for the sacred bodies of the deceased of any religion.

We will continue to fight – harder than ever before – until Itay and all the hostages are released from captivity and reunited with their families.

Ruby Chen is the father of 19-year-old American Itay Chen, who was killed Oct. 7 while stationed at the Gaza Strip border.

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