Chappaqua, NY — Former President Bill Clinton and Madame Secretary Hillary Clinton met on November 8th with a small group comprised of family members from Israel — who have multiple family members being held as hostages in Gaza after being torn from their homes and streets on October 7 – and with advocates on their behalf.* The group is traveling the country seeking help to refocus the spotlight back onto the plight of the 240+ hostages as a pressing humanitarian issue.
The Clintons expressed an unerring support of the group’s basic mission to prevent the world from forgetting about the hostages–who include babies, children, women, and the elderly–as conversation shifts to the pros and cons of a ceasefire. They brainstormed ideas in a roundtable discussion both to help define the group’s goals and how they might best succeed.
Meanwhile, the consensus in the room about the need to defeat Hamas was unequivocal. “We have to defeat Hamas and we have to have a process for doing so,” said Hillary Clinton, “and then the hostage situation can be heard more clearly. People can’t hear it because they don’t hear the other part of the commentary.”
A family member emphasized that any discussion of humanitarian aid absolutely must account for the needs of the hostages as well:
“People are talking about humanitarian aid going into Gaza. People forget that this is a different situation. Humanitarian aid should go to humans regardless of where they are from,” he said. “As of right now, any humanitarian aid going into Gaza–the hostages were not even on the table. So, in bringing that up, you can’t separate these two things from each other.”
He noted his own family’s work toward peace and humanity worldwide. “Our family who is being held hostage, are the first to support any humanitarian aid in any situation, everywhere. This is the first time they need it themselves, and time is pressing. If there is one message that can help right now, it’s that one.”
Hillary Clinton noted that a ceasefire in the first ten days with Hamas was not viable “because there was no basis for it and no recognition of how they would use it. But I think now, the administration is saying, yes, you could have a humanitarian pause in return for the hostages. We should be lifting that up as a humanitarian approach.”
Bill Clinton also explained the risks of a premature ceasefire and the historic sequence of events following one. “Ever since Hamas has been in power, they periodically act up, fire rockets, get innocent people killed, accept a ceasefire, and then get their money again to buy more rockets and build more tunnels. So where does it ever end?”
An advocate for the family shared that the majority of people in Israel who have been protesting for pro- democracy in Israel and against the current Netanyahu administration are the same people who are very focused on the hostage situation.
“The opportunity for the hostages to be released would be a transformative moment in Israel to also change the discourse about longer term goals, and about peace.”
Emotional moments were shared, as well as expressions of gratitude, as the family continued to inquire what would be the best plan of action in the continuation of their journey.
Stated another family member: “I haven’t said it yet… I’m sorry I am speaking in emotional language. The world is not safe in the moment, and for us to meet you, and feel your heart is in the right place, makes us feel safer.”
The first family member echoed her sentiment: “Meeting with you… and having this conversation… that there are human beings with their heart in the right place, and also the influence in the right places is meaningful, and also on the personal level, for all our family members as a whole. We really, really value you as people as leaders, as really smart people, and we really want your advice on how we can continue to fight for our families.”
A discussion ensued over how to pressure the Red Cross to be more effective.
“You have done very important work with the Red Cross… so I believe that you can make a difference pressuring them to get humanitarian aid to the hostages,” she said to Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton agreed that pressing the Red Cross is “an excellent idea” and that that for that to be effective, they would “need to identify who (in Geneva) can be part of this chorus saying that we have a duty, an obligation, we have a right to send in observers. We need to move on that.”
If there was any good news to glean from the meeting, and which could possibly harken a shorter war, it is that financial support to Hamas may be drying up, Hillary Clinton suggested.
“Hamas as the quote ‘governing authority of Gaza’ has gotten financial support in three ways. Overtly, because there’s a strange relationship between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and Hamas in Gaza–even though they hate each other, and Hamas massacred all of the PLO officials when they took over, but the money that is used to pay quote ‘public servants’ in Gaza–some of it still comes from Ramallah, and some of it comes from Israel,” said Hillary Clinton, explaining the crux of a back door deal.
The second source of funds has been “Qatar as a primary but not the only funder of Hamas.”
“It has given to Hamas as the ‘governing authority’ to do things allegedly like build schools & hospitals, and so on,” said Hillary Clinton, “but we know they siphoned off billions of dollars to build hundreds of miles of tunnels and the rest of it.”
Qatar’s direct support… while historically used as leverage will stop, she continued, “because Israel will reoccupy Gaza. Basically, that is what Netanyahu just announced. So, we are back to pre-2005… I’m not sure there’s any other choice.” She said that Israelis may need to “as long as it takes to find the hostages, find the Hamas leadership…and expel them.”
Finally, the third funding source has been covert money that has come primarily from Iran but not only from Iran, said Hillary Clinton, with Qatar playing all sides against the other. “That is its role in the region. They can be very helpful in that regard, for example as the only country with a good relationship with the Taliban. When I was trying to get women out of Afghanistan when the Taliban took power, they were the only country that could tell the Taliban to let this bust through.”
There needs to be pressure, she said, that they discontinue supporting Hamas. “We also need a much tougher net to prevent infiltration of weapons and money from the north, from Egypt and the Sea.”
There should be nothing controversial, Hillary Clinton said, “about trying to take back people who were literally ripped from their beds, forced into cars, and forced across the border… it’s a war crime.”
Bill Clinton said that it’s vital for the hostages’ safety that we raise the profile of this. “Given the dynamics of the global press and social media, it’s making us all more superficially well informed. But it’s all so oversimplified. Make people talk about something that is not in the binary framework and that could be the beginning to breaking the ice.”
Following the roundtable and photos, the Clintons continued to speak with family members in small circles.
*For transparency’s sake, this writer was graciously invited to join the meeting about midway through its session–as a local publisher and ardent advocate for the hostage release with the perspective of a child of Holocaust survivors. I agreed that the contents of the meeting would be off the record until reviewed. Comments presented here were approved for publication.