A Call to Release the Kidnapped Children

Senior figures from the Israeli and international academia call upon the UN Secretary-General to demand the immediate release of the kidnapped Israeli children.

To the Honorable António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations


Urgent Call for the Immediate Release of the Kidnapped Israeli Infants and Children

We, the undersigned child advocates, experts in child welfare, rights, trauma, and psychology, together with the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, call upon the UN, World Leaders, and the international community to demand the immediate release of the kidnapped Israeli children in the Hamas attack on Israeli communities on October 7, 2023.

In this attack, a confirmed number of 222 people were kidnapped, among them about 30 children. Six of these children are babies, some of them still nursing. Some of the abductees are in need of medication, special nutrition, or treatment.

The abductions were part of a larger, widespread, and cruel assault, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 1,300 lives and leaving thousands more with enduring physical and emotional wounds. Children and infants were subjected to unspeakable brutality and forced to witness the harrowing abuse and murder of their parents, grandparents, and siblings. These young souls endured prolonged hours of terror, often confined within the homes that had once been their sanctuaries. The agonizing experiences etched indelible scars upon their hearts and minds, shaping their lives in ways we can scarcely imagine. The infants and children who were brutally abducted from their families, deprived of the comforting presence of a supportive companion, were thrust into a world already fraught with the profound grief and trauma stemming from the events they had witnessed. Their pain will linger and they will carry the ordeal with them throughout their lives.

Time is swiftly slipping away, each passing day posing an imminent, existential peril to the lives and well-being of these vulnerable infants and children. Clinical testimonies worldwide point to the devastating effects of abduction and captivity on children. The very basic foundation of security and protectiveness was savagely torn away from those infants and children. These children are now exposed to post-traumatic disorders (anxiety, intrusive thoughts, nightmares), emotional problems (fears, difficulties with trusting and bonding, impaired emotional development), harsh behavioral problems (social aversion, developmental delay), and cognitive damage ( memory loss, learning difficulties). These non-reversible outcomes will affect their entire lives. Every day, every hour, every minute spent in captivity leaves its lifelong mark on the souls and bodies of the children and deepens their injury into continued and irreparable damage. The longer these children are being imprisoned, the harsher the outcomes that will adversely impact their lives.

Any injury to children in warfare is terrible and intolerable. Children must be protected from violent struggles involving states, groups, and nations. This applies to children in Israel and in Gaza, who have all suffered from the conflict for years. But this brutal heinous attack targeting children, including their torture and abduction, marks an entirely new level of violence because the children were the intended target of the attack. It is the worst imaginable crime against humanity and the grimmest violation of basic principles of morality.

International Law also imposes a special obligation on nations and organizations to act immediately. Holding civilians hostage is a gross violation of the law of armed conflict [Common Article 3] and constitutes a war crime. The widespread, intentional, and systematic attack on civilians constitutes a crime against humanity. Abduction and arbitrary, incommunicado detention constitute a violation of every relevant international standard set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose core also applies to non-state actors like Hamas, as well as in other relevant international instruments accepted by Palestine. The latter include, but are not limited to the Convention on the Rights of the Child articles 6 (right to life and development), 9 (non-separation from parents), 19 (protection from violence of all kinds), as well as relevant provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

We entreat you to take the strongest action within your means right now and use all available levers to secure the release of the kidnapped infants and children. Among them are Kfir, a 9-month-old baby still breastfeeding, and Avigail, a 3-year-old who witnessed the savage murder of her parents.

Each passing minute that a child remains in captivity is a moment when our collective humanity hangs in the balance. We beseech leaders worldwide to unite in the common cause of releasing these kidnapped children, as a small initial step towards restoring our shared humanity. The fragile and vulnerable lives of these infants and children are inextricably intertwined with our actions and yours. Will we forsake them to endure torment, fear, and harm beyond repair or will we rise to the occasion and rescue them from this dire predicament?

Approximately 400 Israeli and international senior academics, and some 700 more experts in various disciplines and from various academic institutions call upon the international community and the Secretary-General of the United Nations to demand the immediate release of the kidnapped Israeli children. In their letter, sent today, the experts speak of the devastating consequences of trauma on children’s development and their future lives. The longer these children are being imprisoned, the harsher the outcomes that will adversely impact their lives.

Leading experts in a variety of disciplines – social work, psychology, criminology, law, medicine, and public policy – signed the letter, which calls on the global community to take the strongest action within your means to secure release of the Israeli children held in Gaza.

The letter, calling for the release of the 30 Israeli children held by Hamas since the savage attack of October 7th, was a joint initiative of the Headquarters of the Families of the Kidnapped and Missing Persons and experts from the leading Israeli academic institutions – the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, the Technion, Bar Ilan University, and Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Signatories of the letter include leading scholars from New Zealand, Brazil, Europe, and the US, among them researchers from Yale University, Harvard, Duke University and UCLA. Some of the notable names include:

Prof. Judith Lewis Herman, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, a global expert in complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prof. Edward Tronick, University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, expert on communication with children, developer of the “Still Face” paradigm.

Prof. Alicia F. Lieberman, Irving B. Harris Endowed Chair in Infant Mental Health, UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, Director, Child Trauma Research Program.

Prof. Charles H. Zeanah, Tulane University School of Medicine, child psychiatrist and expert on the psychology of toddlers, children, and teenagers.

Prof. Avshalom Caspi, Duke University, known for his groundbreaking research of the effect on development of violence experienced during childhood.

Dr. Eli Lebowitz, Yale Child Study Center, expert on anxiety in children