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Reuters (2023-10-20):

Judith Tai Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie, 17, were handed over to Israeli forces at the Gaza Strip border on Friday, becoming the first captives whose release by Hamas has been confirmed by both sides ...

Hamas said the two women, who Israel's Kan public broadcaster reported were dual Israeli-American nationals, were freed "for humanitarian reasons" in response to Qatari mediation.

I believe Hamas still holds many hostages from the US, Israel, France, Portugal, the UK, the Netherlands, Thailand, and Nepal.

Why did Hamas release these two women (but not others)? (What was special about these two women? What were the "humanitarian reasons"? Did Hamas get anything in return?)

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  • Please don't use comments to answer the question - instead write up an answer in the answer section below.
    – CDJB
    Oct 21, 2023 at 7:17
  • 4
    Voting not to close - This is a good question that can be reasonably (and given time) factually answered. Due to the international politics involved here, and the very public nature of the political event, it can't be easily dismissed as claiming that answers will only be speculative because "Hamas' political motivation cannot be determined". (There are already some good answers).
    – sfxedit
    Oct 22, 2023 at 14:50
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    The answers here are pure speculation and I think that this question cannot be answered because we do not know what happened behind the scenes. On the other hand I think there should be another question paired to this one. Why the release was publicised?
    – FluidCode
    Oct 23, 2023 at 20:21

6 Answers 6

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I have found no sources corroborating this, but usually "humanitarian reasons" means "this person is sick and might die while in captivity and that would cause us more trouble." In this case, being mother and daughter, maybe only one of them is sick and the other was released jointly.

Of course, given that health information is highly private in many countries, it would be hard to get confirmation.

Other angles:

  • Releasing other countries' citizens gives those countries less of an internal politics reason to be against Hamas. Not that they will support them, but they might be less willing to unconditionally support Israel's actions.

  • Releasing some hostages proves that there is a way for the rest of the hostages to be voluntarily released. If the international community came to the conclusion that the only way to release them was by Israeli military intervention, they would be more keen supporting it no matter the costs. If there is a peaceful way (or at the very least the promise of it), they might be less supportive. Or even against it due to the collateral risk to the hostages.

And why not to release all the foreign hostages? Because they are still bargaining chips (that is why they were kidnapped in the first place), so Hamas might get something in exchange for them. But hostages dying in captivity would be bad news for Hamas, and to get negotiations going the other side must have expectations that a negotiated liberation is possible.

To be clear, it might very well that the actual reasons are the political angle, and the "humanitarian" explanation is just a pretext to start the process with a "good faith gesture"(*) of releasing a few hostages while keeping the rest.

(*) Before you start in the comments, notice the quotes.

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    One factor to consider is that the hostages may have been released precisely because they were in good health. That way, Hamas can point to them as an example of good treatment, whether true or not. As you point out, it is difficult to get a confirmation either way.
    – Qwokker
    Oct 22, 2023 at 12:18
  • @Qwokker It is to be expected that, absent from previous conditions they could have, most of the hostages are still in good health. Unless Hamas has actively mistreated them (e.g. torture), it is too early for them to suffer health effects from their captivity.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 22, 2023 at 14:02
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According to Al-Jazeera:

Hamas had said earlier in the day that it was releasing the two captives in response to diplomatic efforts by Qatar. The Israeli military said earlier on Friday that it believed that the majority of the captives were still alive.

But the Al-Qassam's official spokesperson wrote this in his Telegram channel:

In response to Qatari efforts, Al-Qassam Brigades released two American citizens (a mother and her daughter) for humanitarian reasons, and to prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by Biden and his fascist administration are false and baseless.

Update:

Q: What was special about these two women?

According to NBC news, likely these two are related to Martin Fletcher as the report caption states:

Former Israel-based NBC correspondent Martin Fletcher is related to the two hostages released by Hamas. NBC News’ Tom Llamas speaks with Fletcher about the latest updates on his family.

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9

Within a few hours of the hostages being released it was announced that a small amount of food and water would be allowed into Gaza. It's likely that the two events were connected.

This is pretty much textbook when it comes to negotiating with hostage-holding criminals;

Where the hostages are strangers to the [hostage-takers], as in the case of robberies, and where the HT has specific, utilitarian demands (food, escape), many HTs will relinquish hostages that they perceive as being “too much trouble” to keep around, such as sick or injured victims, children, or overly hysterical hostages, while holding on to the more healthy and manageable ones. As in any bargaining maneuver, let the HT make the first offer, that is, how many hostages he’s willing to release. If only a few, you can try upping the ante, but only to a point – remember, better to get one or two people out safely now, rather than risk having the HT change his mind because he feels you’re “pushing” him.

Hostage Negotiation: Psychological Principles and Practices

Presumably these two women possessed some quality that made them suitable to release; proximity to the release-point, medical ailments that made caring for them difficult, persistent hysterical attitude, etc. It's also possible that Hamas liked that they were a 'mother/daughter combination' and felt that would be a heartwarming story for the American newspapers, demonstrating their humanitarian attitude.

7

The reasons for releasing kidnapped American hostages are most likely entirely practical, and have little to no humanitarian basis.

  • Having fewer (or no) American hostages held captive by Hamas is likely to reduce sympathy for Israel and/or reduce hostility towards Hamas by the American public
  • Such reduced sympathy for Israel and/or reduced hostility towards Hamas is likely to lead to:
    • less incentive to provide financial support from the USA (government and/or NGOs) to Israel
    • less incentive to cut financial support (government and/or NGOs) to Hamas
    • greater diplomatic pressure on Israel by the USA government to hold off on or entirely cease military action against Hamas in Gaza

The "diplomatic efforts by Qatar" which lead to the release of these hostages are most likely Qatar pointing these facts out to Hamas.
Just follow the money to find the answers.

This answer is based entirely on speculation grounded in a healthy dose of realism.

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    Many US politicians, including President Biden, have already publicly stated the US will "stand by Israel". Will releasing two hostages make the US change its attitude towards Israel or Hamas? Maybe.
    – qwr
    Oct 23, 2023 at 18:09
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    @qwr At the same time, the US has seen anti-Israel / pro-Palestinian protests, some by Jewish participants themselves. Biden, being the leader of a democratic country cannot ignore that completely.
    – sfxedit
    Oct 23, 2023 at 23:27
1

FWTW, Hamas has now released other hostages. According to Reuters' explanation, the reasons were more clearly spelled as "health grounds" this time.

Yocheved Lifshitz, an Israeli grandmother released by Hamas militants on Monday, is a peace activist who together with her husband helped sick Palestinians in Gaza get to hospital for years, her grandson told Reuters.

The Palestinian militants said they released Lifshitz, 85, and a second woman Nurit Cooper, 79, on health grounds, after taking them and more than 200 others hostage during an Oct. 7 gun rampage in Israel in which the militants killed 1,400 people.

The Guardian further details that their release was made at the Egyptian border, so the fact that that border is now somewhat open (to some aid etc.) is probably not a coincidence. Additionally, since Lifshitz was a peace activist, she was probably more inclined to partake in the handshake that happened at the border, perhaps giving Hamas some PR points, in the eyes of some observers.

As for the rest of the hostages, the exact demands of Hamas seem to vary depending on the source. E.g. Sky News headlines: "Senior Hamas leader says hostages will be freed if Israel reduces Gaza bombing". OTOH CNN says:

As part of the negotiations, Hamas wants more fuel allowed into the coastal enclave, according to a person familiar with the group’s demands, but Israeli officials have made clear publicly that that isn’t negotiable.

The fact that Hamas released two pairs of hostages in two batches and also Gaza received two convoys of aid (on different days) may or may not be a coincidence. Time will tell if the pattern will repeat. Back on Oct 12,

Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz said there would be no halt to the siege without freedom for Israeli hostages.

But, of course, hostage negotiations can be complex and it's also unclear how authoritative Katz' statement was with respect to the rest of the cabinet.

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-4

The background here is the Israeli prison system's treatment of Palestinian prisoners. Many are held on Administrative Detention which means that they can be imprisoned indefinitely without being charged with any crime. Many have gone on hunger strikes to protest their incarceration and/or subpar living conditions in Israeli prisons. On example is the Islamic Jihad-affiliated Khader Adnan who was held on administrative detention and died after a lengthy hunger strike.

Hamas's position is thus that since Israel detains Palestinians for no cause so can they and use Israelis in prisoner exchanges. The strategy has previously worked and there have been several high-profile prisoner-exchanges in the past. In 2011 one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was exchanged for 1027 Palestinian prisoner. In 1985 three Israeli soldiers were exchanged for 1150 Palestinians in the so called "Jibril Agreement". One of the prisoners released was Sheikh Ahmed Yassin who went on to co-found Hamas.

So Hamas hopes to strike a deal with the Israeli government even if its official policy is "We don't negotiate with terrorists." The Israeli public puts the blame squarely on it's government so it has to act somehow.

So the release of two prisoners may be Hamas opening bid. To show that it is willing to negotiate. Or it may be part of ongoing top secret negotiations between Israel and Hamas via third parties. One of the conditions of these negotiations could be that Hamas must not reveal that negotiations are ongoing. Israeli media generally refrains from reporting on ongoing negotiations on prisoner exchanges (and is not allowed to either). Details may just not leak in the same way as we expected they would if, say, Russia and Ukraine were to enter negotiations. As I recall it, they didn't when Gilad Shalit were exchanged.

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  • It's importnat to note that prisoners on Administrative Detention can appeal to the court, if they think that they are not a danger to the public.
    – Jacob3
    Nov 9, 2023 at 22:57

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