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Protesters rally outside UN Secretary-General’s residence to demand action on hostages

New York: Demonstrators gatheredoutsidethe officialresidenceof United NationsSecretary-GeneralAntónio Guterres in ManhattanonFriday morningtocriticise him for not doing enoughtofree the 239hostagesIsrael says were abducted during Hamas’ Oct 7 terrorist attack.

They strung masses of paper butterflies — one for eachhostage—ona tree in front of Guterres’residence, near theUN headquarters, and took turns reading out thehostages’ names. Someprotestersheld up flyers showing the faces and names ofhostagesand labeled “kidnapped” in capital letters.

Omer Lubaton-Granot, who helped organize the event, is the head of theHostagesand Missing Families Forum in New York, an advocacy group formed after Oct 7. Four of his family members arehostages. He directed some of his remarkstothe crowd at Guterres.

“You have the power and the abilitytoinfluence and bring them back home, and we’re here, and we’ll come back here each and every weektoremind you,” Lubaton-Granot said.

Israel’s ambassadortothe United Nations, Gilad Erdan, has calledonGuterrestoresign over remarks he has made criticizing Israel for its military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which has caused widespread destruction and, accordingtothe Hamas-run health authorities there, left more than 11,000 people in Gaza dead. Guterres has in recent days reiterated his condemnation of the Oct. 7 attacks, during which Israel says some 1,200 victims were killed, and has called “for the immediate, unconditional and safe release ofhostagesheld in Gaza.”

TheprotestersFriday said he had not done enough.

“I want himtoknow that we hold him responsible” for helping bring thehostageshome, said Susan Lax, 65, whose friend, Vivian Silver, a peace activist, is among those who were abducted.

Rostic Gorbatov, 36, stressed the innocence of thehostagesand that their release neededtobe an immediate priority for Guterres and the world. He said peace dependedontheir safe return.

“We’re heretostand strong, because this is not a timetotremble, this is not a timetobe quiet — this is a timetoscream and yell and call for peace and that involves removing Hamas from Gaza,” he said. “That involves bringing back all the people that we can.”

Someprotestersasked how Guterres would feel and act if his own children were among thehostages. And Avital Shimshowitz, 54, asked why organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders had not been abletovisit thehostages, and accused the United Nations of “impotence.”

She said that she believed Hamas was also holding the entire population of Gazahostage. “I feel for the people,” Shimshowitz said.

Some of the attendees said that the butterflies were a referencetodecorations used at the Nova music festival, where the Hamas attackers killed hundreds of partygoers.

Yaala Ballin, 40, said, “They had a huge tree with many, many butterfliestorepresent freedom, beauty, love.”

She said that the demonstration was meant “tobring hope andtodo something hopefultoshow that we’re waiting for them and we believe that they’ll all be returnedtous soon.”

(Published 11 November 2023, 06:47 IST)

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