Time is running out for mother desperate to hug Chinese-Israeli hostage in Gaza

Argamani’s mother Liora was born Chong Hong Lee in Wuhan, Hebei province in central China. She met her husband Yaakov in Israel, while attending a professional training programme in 1994 and no longer holds Chinese citizenship.

Rallying the Chinese-Israeli community to gather regularly has not been easy, according to Taili He-Brenners, a 27-year-old Chinese-Israeli who answered a call to action on a group chat to demonstrate in support of Argamani and her family.

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He-Brenners, who has regularly turned up to the demonstrations, said she felt an immediate connection to Argamani, whose case revived memories of the pandemic when she sometimes felt “cast out” as an Asian in Israeli society.

“We both share this dual identity, as Chinese and Jewish, [both] enemies of the world. Maybe it’s too dramatic to say. It is how I feel. That also helped me relate to Noa’s cause,” He-Brenners said.

Argamani’s kidnapping was filmed and shared across the world, bringing her story international attention. She has remained in the spotlight largely through the public pleadings of her mother, who is battling terminal brain cancer.

Argamani’s plight also struck a chord with people in Israel who have connections to China – from Chinese Jews to researchers and businesspeople – and they have been appealing for Beijing, Tel Aviv and Washington to press for her release.

So far, their attempts have been unsuccessful. Argamani was absent from the 105 hostages, mainly women and children, returned to Israel during November’s temporary ceasefire and hostage swap.

Despite the release by Hamas of a video showing Argamani shortly after she was taken, her absence from the group as well as recent media reports have raised speculation that she may have been taken by a civilian mob, rather than the militants.


Terrifying moments as Israeli woman taken hostage by Hamas militants

Terrifying moments as Israeli woman taken hostage by Hamas militants

Several of the freed hostages also reported that they saw Argamani during their captivity.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that he had spoken to the Chinese ambassador Cai Run to personally request Beijing’s intervention to secure Argamani’s release.

In a speech to the Knesset on his efforts to free the hostages, Netanyahu said Cai “assured me” that his message had been delivered to China’s President Xi Jinping.

Netanyahu said he also asked President Vladimir Putin to use Russia’s ties with Iran to help with the effort to free the hostages. “The next day Russia’s deputy foreign minister called for the immediate and unconditional release of all the captives.”

Israel appeals to Chinese president to help free hostage Noa Argamani

The Netanyahu administration is facing an intense backlash from the hostages’ families, who say their government’s military campaign is endangering those still in captivity and want negotiations with Hamas to be a priority.

As well as outlining his appeals to the international community, Netanyahu said Israel is making “every effort” to bring the hostages home, but that “military pressure” was required to succeed.

His remarks were drowned out by shouts of “no time, now!” from relatives of the hostages in the public gallery. They also booed Netanyahu when he said the war would not stop “because we have no other land and no other path”.

Speaking to CBS News on October 10, Argamani’s father said the Israeli government should only use “peaceful measures” to get his daughter back.


Four-year old American girl freed as Hamas and Israel release hostages under a 4-day truce

Four-year old American girl freed as Hamas and Israel release hostages under a 4-day truce

Galia Lavi, deputy director of the Diane and Guilford Glazer Israel-China Policy Centre at the Institute for National Security Studies, said Netanyahu’s message to Argamani’s supporters was likely to be “political posturing” and unlikely to bring her home.

“I think Netanyahu spoke mainly to his own base, the Israeli base, telling them, ‘I’m doing whatever I can for the hostages.’ I don’t think he actually meant that China will help rescue this poor girl because we are already 80-plus days after the [start of the] war.”

Lavi was one of a group of Israeli scholars and think tankers who began appealing to the Chinese embassy in Israel immediately after hearing the news of Argamani’s disappearance.

According to Lavi, a “very high-level diplomatic official” told her that there is little China can do about Argamani’s case, since she has Israeli citizenship, not Chinese.

China’s positioning of itself as the antithesis of US military power in the Middle East also makes it unlikely Beijing will get involved in hostage negotiations, she said.

Hongda Fan, a professor of Middle East studies at the Shanghai International Studies University, said Netanyahu’s statements were also an effort to put pressure on China.

“I believe that China will do its best to do this, but the influence of China on Iran, and Iran on Hamas, cannot be exaggerated. Ultimately, the release of the hostages depends on effective communication between Hamas and Israel,” he said.

China – which for decades has expressed interest in facilitating a peace process in the region – has called for a two-state solution and a ceasefire to the conflict which began on October 7, a stance consistent with its long-term support of the Palestinians.

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Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Tuesday that China “is in communication with all parties on relevant issues”. She added that Beijing stands ready to work with all sides for an early release of the hostages and a ceasefire.

As Israel’s war in Gaza continues – latest estimates put the Palestinian death toll at more than 21,000, while 165 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the conflict – time is running out for Argamani’s mother.

“All that comes to mind before saying goodbye to my family forever is the wish to hug my daughter, my only child, one last time,” Liora Argamani said this week, in a letter to US President Joe Biden, seeking his help to secure her daughter’s release.

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An attempt to drum up support for Argamani on Chinese social media was poorly received by China’s online community, with some criticising the young woman and her mother for being citizens of Israel and not China.

The negative comments were attached to a video of Argamani’s mother – speaking in Mandarin – that was shared by the Israeli embassy in China on the social media platform Weibo.

“China is our home. [Noa] really loves China’s culture. She loves China. She loves the Forbidden City. She loves Chinese food. I am Chinese. My fellow countrymen, help us,” Liora Argamani pleaded in the video.

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