As It Happens·Q&A

Israeli father 'thrilled' 50 hostages may soon be free. But his son won't be among them

Jonathan Dekel-Chen welcomes the news that Hamas has agreed to release 50 hostages, but vows not to stop fighting until every single of them is home safe — including his son.

'I couldn't be happier for them,' Jonathan Dekel-Chen says of the families of those who are coming home 

A bald man with glasses pictured in profile sitting at a table and holding a microphone.
Jonathan Dekel-Chen, father of Sagui Dekel-Chen, speaks at a news conference by U.S. citizens whose relatives have been missing since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. (Maya Alleruzzo/The Associated Press)

Jonathan Dekel-Chen welcomes the news that Hamas has agreed to release 50 hostages, but vows not to stop fighting until every single of them is home safe — including his son.

Sagui Dekel-Chen, 35, is among the approximately 240 people held captive by Hamas since the militant group launched a deadly series of attacks on Israeli communities on Oct. 7.

He hasn't been heard from since militants invaded the Nir Oz kibbutz, where he lived with his two daughters, ages two and six, and pregnant wife. His father, a U.S.-born Hebrew University professor who also lived in Nir Oz, was away on business during the attack. 

Hamas killed 1,200 people that day, according to Israel. Since then, Israel has launched a relentless siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip, a walled off enclave ruled by Hamas, killing 14,000 people, according to medical officials in the Hamas-ruled territory, figures deemed reliable by the United Nations.

The violence showed no sign of abating until Wednesday, when Israel and Hamas agreed on a temporary ceasefire, to come into effect Thursday, to let in aid and release at least 50 hostages in exchange for at least 150 Palestinians detained in Israel. 

All the prisoners and hostages included in the exchange are women and children. That means Sagui will not be among those released. 

His father spoke to As It Happens host Nil Köksal from Sarasota, Fla. Here is part of their conversation. 

Some of the hostages will soon be free — how did that news hit you? 

Upon hearing about the deal late last night, overall, I was absolutely thrilled. 

There are going to be 50 or so families in Israel and perhaps elsewhere that are absolutely thrilled with this news. So I couldn't be happier for them. 

That will not, however, stop us from continuing to campaign for the release of all 240 hostages, and not just this one first batch. 

When did you learn that Sagui is not on that list? 

Honestly, I don't think anybody was expecting that he would be on the list. Through press reports over the last couple of days, it was clear that it was going to be women and children. 

Of the names that I've seen thus far from the list that was released a short while ago, there are multiple mothers and their children that are my neighbours, my friends, my kids' friends, my grandchildren's friends, whom I hope by tomorrow at this time will be back amongst their loved ones and and safe. 

Closeup of a smiling man in the sun.
Sagui Dekel-Chen, a 35-year-old father of two with one more on the way, is believed to be among the hostages being held by Hamas. (Jonathan Dekel-Chen/The Associated Press)

Your son has two daughters, just two and six.... They must be asking so many questions. 

There are so many questions that they ask that we simply don't have answers for, of course, about their dad, where he is, what's happened to him, and how is he feeling. 

And there are also questions that they ask about when they can go home. And it's just impossible to tell them that they can actually never go home because our home, as we knew it, was completely destroyed.  

How are they coping? They're so small. 

Children in general can be very resilient, if they're surrounded by love. And we tell them what we can and what we know, which isn't all that much. 

They're doing, as all of us are doing, the best we can under these horrific circumstances. 

LISTEN: How long will it take to bring all the hostages home?  
Israel and Hamas have agreed on a ceasefire in Gaza for at least four days to let in aid and release 50 hostages in exchange for for 150 Palestinians detained in Israel. Robin Wright — a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center — says this is a huge milestone in the path to peace. But she warns that freeing all 240 hostages could be a ‘long and drawn out process that may play out longer than the hostilities themselves.” She spoke to As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

I'm so sorry you're all going through this, Jonathan. Can you tell us more about your son? What's he like? 

A very dedicated dad, and a son that any father would love to have. 

Since he was a little boy, he and I have kind of been playmates, and then workmates, actually, on some projects together — social justice projects and then some entrepreneurial things that he's been pursuing over the last few years. 

Sagui, if I had to describe him in just a couple of words, is a builder and a creator of things, of projects that serve other people. 

One of the things he's been involved with sort of as a moonlighting business is creating, out of old buses — municipal buses, airport buses — he repurposes them for other marvellous things. 

His first project was to create grocery stores for food deserts in the south of our country. There are all sorts of communities that don't have grocery stores or anything like them in the south. So he's created mobile markets to offer them food. 

Actually, the morning that he was kidnapped, he was working on a new project converting old airport buses to mobile technological classrooms for Bedouin communities and Jewish communities in the south of Israel. 

He was one of the first on our kibbutz to spot a group of terrorists who had infiltrated the kibbutz. And he put out the alarm to all of our community to let people know that there were heavily armed terrorists in the kibbutz. 

WATCH | Hostages families fighting for lost loved ones:

Families spent 45 days fighting for release of Israeli hostages

3 months ago
Duration 2:14
A timeline of the 45 days Israelis spent pushing, lobbying their government to make sure the hostages were released.

When you list his achievements, you're proud. I can hear that. 

I'm very proud. And I'm really sorry right now that, you know, for now at least, him being in captivity with another 239 people, of course, is keeping him from doing, you know, the wonderful things that he does for communities — the work that he's done, both as an entrepreneur, but also at his day job. 

He works for a philanthropic organization that provides funding and logistics for social action, social justice programs in Israel, both to the Jewish and to the Bedouin community down in the south of the country where we live. 

Everyone would be so much better served for him to continue that.

The release and the pause in fighting for now, does it give you hope that Sagui will be back home soon? 

If we were considering, you know, a hostage release deal in any other scenario, it might. But the reality is we're dealing here not with a government, not with a rogue government; we're dealing with a savage terrorist organization. 

So it's very difficult to know right now. First of all, Hamas has to actually deliver on these 50 people. And once we see that, even then, it's going to be difficult to really be optimistic about what the possibilities are. 

With files from Reuters. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A edited for length and clarity

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