Israeli-American Judith Weinstein, who was believed to have been kidnapped by Hamas on October 7th along with her partner Gadi Haggai, has been confirmed murdered by the terrorist organization, according to statements from her kibbutz and the White House. Weinstein’s body continues to be held in Gaza.
On October 7th, 2022, Hamas launched a major assault on southern Israel, firing over 100 rockets. During this attack, Haggai and Weinstein went missing from their kibbutz Nir Oz. In the following days, it was determined they had likely been abducted by Hamas militants who infiltrated Israel through underground tunnels during the chaos of the rocket barrage.
Weinstein, a 71-year old Israeli-American originally from New York’s Hudson Valley, had been living with Haggai, a 60-year old Israeli, in Nir Oz for over 20 years. She split her time between Israel and New York, where she has family. Weinstein was a poet and social activist in both communities.
On December 22nd, Nir Oz announced Haggai had been executed in Hamas custody. However, Weinstein’s status remained uncertain, with Hamas neither confirming nor denying she was being held hostage. The White House and State Department repeatedly demanded her release and return to her family.
Weinstein Confirmed Murdered on October 7
On December 28th, Nir Oz released a new statement saying that Weinstein had also died in Hamas captivity. The kibbutz was informed by Israeli security officials that Weinstein was in fact murdered by Hamas on October 7 itself – the very day she was kidnapped. Hamas has continued to hold her remains for the past nearly 3 months.
President Biden said he was “heartbroken” by the news. He stated “My prayers are with the Weinstein family, and with the community of Nir Oz, which has endured so much tragedy…We remain committed to bringing all American hostages held overseas home.”
Other officials also expressed condolences – New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she was “Absolutely heartbroken,” while NYC Mayor Adams called Weinstein’s death “A horrific tragedy.” Members of Congress from Weinstein’s home district in New York, like Rep. Schneider, promised to continue pressing for the return of her body.
The confirmation of Weinstein’s killing sparked further outrage and condemnation from the international community:
White House – Expressed “outrage” over the “barbaric” murder of Weinstein, as well as blasting the UN Security Council’s “unconscionable” failure to condemn Hamas’ actions.
State Department – “Appalled” by the killing of a second American, said Hamas’ hostage taking and inhumane treatment violates international law.
UK & France – Joined the US in strongly criticizing Hamas’s violence and use of human shields, calling for Weinstein’s remains to be returned to her family.
Canada – Decried the “brutal and unjustified” killing of Weinstein, who was a joint American-Canadian citizen. Demanded the immediate release of her body.
UN – Secretary-General expressed sadness and noted both sides have obligations under international law regarding protection of civilians. (Disappointing US by not singling out Hamas).
Hamas – Continues holding Weinstein’s body but denies responsibility for her death. Says the onus for returning remains is on Israel agreeing to a prisoner exchange.
Israel Weighs Next Moves
In Israel, Prime Minister Lapid convened an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss potential responses. With elections 3 months away, Lapid is under immense pressure to react firmly. At the same time, the government wants to avoid a major escalation. Israel is believed to be weighing more limited options:
Surgical strikes – Potential air strikes on Hamas tunnels and infrastructure inside Gaza, away from civilian areas. Risk is it prompts Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli cities.
Border clashes – Could seal Gaza border tighter and authorize troops to use greater force against violent demonstrations. Danger is events spiral out of control.
Cyber attacks – Utilizing Unit 8200 to hack Hamas communications networks and weapons systems. Challenge is finding high-impact targets.
Lapid has so far encouraged patience and faith in security officials to formulate an appropriate response. However, the opposition Likud party led by Netanyahu is seizing on the hostage deaths to accuse him of being soft on terror. Likud holds a lead in polls, with elections set for March 28th, 2023. Lapid will now be under immense pressure to be seen acting firmly against Hamas within that timeframe.
Tragically, Judith Weinstein appears destined to remain one of numerous civilian victims in the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While her killing has triggered renewed cries around the world for her body’s return to her family, Hamas seems unlikely to comply unless Israel agrees to a prisoner swap – something the Lapid government has ruled out for now.
Absent a shift in positions on either side, Weinstein seems fated – like other Israelis held in Gaza – to have her remains used as a macabre bargaining chip by Hamas. With Israel heading into contentious elections in March, PM Lapid will be compelled to respond in some military or diplomatic capacity to satiate public anger over Weinstein’s brutal murder. However, major escalation with Hamas brings heavy risks as well.
For the Weinstein family, their hopes for reuniting with their long-lost relative after her abduction have been cruelly extinguished forever. Now their desperate wish is simply to be able to lay Judith Weinstein to rest, 3 months after she was so viciously killed just miles from her home. Tragically, even that modest comfort seems unlikely anytime soon.
|October 7, 2022
|Weinstein and partner Haggai abducted from Nir Oz kibbutz during Hamas rocket attack
|December 22, 2022
|Nir Oz announces Haggai executed by Hamas after being held hostage
|December 28, 2022
|Nir Oz informed Weinstein murdered by Hamas on October 7 itself
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