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Rabbi on Hunger Strike Has Message for the World: Stop Humanitarian Aid to Gaza Until Red Cross Visits Hostages

Canadian-Israeli Rabbi Avidan Freedman, left, on a hunger strike urging Israel’s government to refuse to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza until the hostages held by Hamas receive a humanitarian visit by the Red Cross. Photo: Courtesy of Avidan Freedman

In a dramatic act of protest, a Canadian-Israeli rabbi launched a hunger strike last Friday urging Israel’s government to refuse to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza until the 239 hostages held by Hamas receive a humanitarian visit by the Red Cross.

Rabbi Avidan Freedman, who immigrated to Israel 13 years ago from Montreal, said that while international “law and basic morality” call for the release of the hostages, the bare minimum is allowing a humanitarian visit.

About “240 people were abducted from their homes in the midst of their families being butchered before their eyes and the world has forgotten them, has forgotten that they still have human rights,” Freedman told The Algemeiner, referring to the Hamas terror group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

According to Freedman, the onus is on the government of Israel to stop a scenario of “selective humanitarian aid,” in which Gazan civilians receive aid while the civilians in captivity are denied those basic human rights.

“We’re not interested in revenge or in hurting any of the citizens in Gaza. But the fact that the world is happy with certain human beings getting their rights and is very happy for six weeks to completely ignore the rights of all of the human beings who were taken captive, that is something Israel as a sovereign state responsible for its citizens cannot allow,” Freedman said.

“Stopping humanitarian aid is a terrible thing and is something that Israel shouldn’t have to do. But as long as Hamas manipulates morality for its purposes, that’s not something that moral actors should allow,” he added.

The Algemeiner spoke to Freedman on the seventh day of his hunger strike. Initially, the rabbi and activist left his wife and five children in his hometown of Efrat and drew a circle around himself in a Tel Aviv plaza that has become known as Hostage Square. He vowed not to leave the circle until a Red Cross visit transpired — Hamas has thus far not permitted such a visit.

Canadian-Israeli Rabbi Avidan Freedman on a hunger strike. Photo: Courtesy of Avidan Freedman

Freedman drew inspiration for his idea from Honi Hameagel, a first-century Jewish sage who drew a circle around himself and called on God to provide rain, saying he would not leave the circle until his demand was met.

However, unlike the Mishnaic scholar whose act of protest worked, a humanitarian visit to the hostages has yet to take place, and in the meantime, Freedman has exited the circle.

Freedman’s comments came two days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office confirmed that one of the hostages gave birth while in the captivity of Hamas, which abducted over 240 people and brought them back to the Palestinian enclave of Gaza during its Oct. 7 invasion of the Jewish state. Hamas terrorists murdered more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, during its onslaught across southern Israeli communities.

The Red Cross in Jerusalem, through spokesperson Alyona Synenko, told Israeli media last week that diplomatic solutions were needed in order for the organization to gain access to the hostages. “We cannot force ourselves through the bullets and through the bombs unless this access is given to us,” Synenko told Ynet earlier this week.

Beyond his current protest, Rabbi Freedman has been a vocal figure in criticizing the judicial overhaul pushed by Netanyahu’s government. He is also the head of Yanshoof, an organization demanding an end to Israeli arms sales to countries violating human rights.

When there had been no change in the hostages’ situation by Thursday, Freedman made the decision to leave the circle and allow another activist to take his place. “At first I came in with the mindset of: I want this to be over as fast as possible and I don’t want to really even think about what happens if this carries on.”

But it did carry on, despite persistent rumors of an imminent release. “Almost every day somebody came up to the [protest] tent and said, ‘They’re coming tomorrow,’” he said.

Qatar, in coordination with the US, has been seeking to negotiate a deal between Hamas and Israel that includes the release of dozens of those being held captive. Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers have been fighting Hamas in Gaza, seeking to wipe out the Palestinian terror group. Israel has said it would not agree to a ceasefire unless all the hostages were released.

Freedman admitted to harboring a “savior complex” when he first launched the protest. “I wanted to do it all by myself,” he said, before recognizing the greater value in collaborating with others.

As long as a humanitarian visit remains elusive, Freedman’s circle in Hostage Square will never be empty, he said. His hope, he continued, is that other people around the world will be inspired to start circles of their own — at least 239 of them. “The idea is to create more and more circles with a constant presence. We’re going to lift this up together.”

Freedman, whose efforts are being supervised by a medical doctor who is also an expert on hunger strikes, said he was surprised by how well he was faring physically a week on, saying that he was feeling “a lot of strength.”

“The only way I have to explain it is that God has given me strength through the Jewish people that I’m meeting and speaking to every day all day,” Freedman said.

“I didn’t think I could hold on for more than three days with just water. And unfortunately I’ve held up for seven days of literally almost non-stop talking.”

He went on to say: “Every moment that passes that they haven’t received this visit is a travesty.”

“We cannot continue to allow Hamas to manipulate morality for the purposes of evil,” he concluded.

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Kyiv Rejects Putin’s ‘Absurd Ultimatum’ to End War

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

i24 NewsRussia’s strongman President Vladimir Putin said he would end the war in Ukraine only if Kyiv agreed to drop its NATO ambitions and hand over the entirety of four provinces claimed by Moscow. Kyiv swiftly rejected the demands as tantamount to surrender.

Putin demands that Ukraine transfers to Russia four regions, including a 300,000 city of Kherson and 700,000 Zaporizhzhya as a “precondition” to “peace talks”. This man is delusional, and those in the West who speak of “negotiations” or “cease fire” are enemies of the free world.

— Sergej Sumlenny, LL.M (@sumlenny) June 14, 2024

“The conditions are very simple,” Putin said, listing them as the full withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the entire territory of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Putin’s maximalist conditions apparently reflect Moscow’s growing confidence that its forces have the upper hand in the war.

He restated his demand for Ukraine’s demilitarization and said an end to Western sanctions must also be part of a peace deal. He also repeated his call for Ukraine’s “denazification.”

“He is offering for Ukraine to admit defeat. He is offering for Ukraine to legally give up its territories to Russia. He is offering for Ukraine to sign away its geopolitical sovereignty,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, rejecting the demands as “absurd.”

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Deadly Explosion Kills 8 IDF Soldiers in Rafah

Illustrative. Some rises after an Israeli strike as Israeli forces launch a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 7, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Hatem Khaled

i24 NewsEarly this morning, tragedy struck in the southern Gaza city of Rafah as eight Israeli soldiers lost their lives in a devastating explosion, marking the deadliest incident for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the region since January.

The IDF has confirmed the casualties, with one soldier identified as Captain Wassem Mahmoud, 23, a deputy company commander from Beit Jann in the Combat Engineering Corps’ 601st Battalion.

The names of the other seven soldiers will be released after their families have been notified.

According to initial reports from the IDF, the soldiers were traveling in a Namer armored combat engineering vehicle (CEV) as part of a convoy around 5 a.m., following a successful overnight operation targeting Hamas militants in the Tel Sultan neighborhood of Rafah. During the operation, troops under the 401st Armored Brigade reportedly neutralized approximately 50 gunmen.

The convoy was en route to buildings captured by the army for the soldiers to rest, when the Namer CEV, which was the fifth or sixth vehicle in the convoy, was struck by a powerful explosion. The nature of the explosion remains under investigation, with possibilities ranging from a pre-planted bomb to an improvised device placed on the vehicle by Hamas operatives.

Initial findings suggest that explosives stored on the exterior of the Namer CEV may have contributed to the severity of the blast. Normally, such explosives are designed to minimize harm to troops inside if detonated.

The IDF probe indicates there was no gunfire preceding the explosion, and the vehicle was not stationary at the time of the incident. The circumstances surrounding the tragedy have prompted intensified scrutiny into the safety protocols and operational procedures during military movements in hostile territories.

The deaths of these eight soldiers bring the total number of IDF casualties in recent ground operations against Hamas to 307. This figure includes a police officer killed during a recent hostage rescue operation and a civilian Defense Ministry contractor also slain in the conflict.

This is a developing story 

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U.S. Officials Fear Escalating Conflict Between Israel and Hezbollah

Israeli firefighters work following rocket attacks from Lebanon, amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, near the border on its Israeli side, June 13, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Avi Ohayon

i24 NewsRecent actions by both Israel and Hezbollah have sparked growing concerns among U.S. officials, who fear that the situation could escalate into a full-scale war, according to reports from CBS News.

The tension has intensified following a series of Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese territory, which some American authorities believe are laying the groundwork for a larger military operation.

Sources within the US government have expressed worries that such a move could trigger a conflict that might strain Israel’s alliance with Washington.

Hezbollah, in response to recent events including the assassination of senior commander Taleb Sami Abdullah, has escalated its own actions. The group has begun launching daily rocket attacks targeting northern Israeli communities since October 8, citing solidarity with Hamas amidst the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

US officials cited by CBS News have highlighted concerns over the potential unintended consequences of Hezbollah’s increased attacks. They fear that these actions could provoke Israel into launching a significant military assault, further exacerbating the volatile situation in the region.

The developments come amid ongoing international efforts to de-escalate tensions and prevent a wider conflict. Diplomatic channels remain active, with calls for restraint and dialogue from various quarters.

The United States, a key ally of Israel, has historically played a crucial role in mediating and influencing regional conflicts. Officials are closely monitoring the situation, emphasizing the importance of avoiding actions that could escalate tensions further.

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