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Arab Muslims from a Bedouin community want a deal to end Israel-Hamas war

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

When Hamas took hostages from Israel on October 7, among the kidnapped were several Arab Muslims. They're from a Bedouin community whose roots in the region long predate Israel's founding in 1948. Last week, Ali Ziyadne traveled to Capitol Hill to plead for a deal that would stop the war between Israel and Hamas and bring home his loved ones. His 53-year-old brother Yousef and 22-year-old nephew Hamza are still being held in Gaza. When my colleague Leila Fadel spoke with Ziyadne during his visit to Washington, he said he'd met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several times and had asked for a full cease-fire to get all hostages home in exchange for the release of Palestinians held by Israel. That has not happened. Ziyadne spoke with NPR through an interpreter.

ALI ZIYADNE: (Through interpreter) Before Israel went into Gaza, after everything that happened, we met with Bibi Netanyahu and some army people. In my opinion, and I said it, that I am for full exchange. Everybody for everybody - everybody in Israel for all of our hostages. And nothing came of that. And the war started. I had three other meetings with Netanyahu. In all of them, I always said that they should cease-fire and bring back the kidnapped people.

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LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: I asked Ziyadne, did that disappoint you?

ZIYADNE: (Through interpreter) It's a matter of their life that we're afraid for, and we want them back now. Every second that passes away is fatal.

FADEL: Hamas also took Ziyadne's niece and nephew, Bilal and Aisha, on October 7 when they attacked. The teenagers were held hostage for nearly eight weeks with their father Yousef and their brother Hamza. During the seven-day pause in fighting, they were released in a hostage exchange deal between Israel and Hamas.

ZIYADNE: (Through interpreter) All four of them were together in a very small space. They were given very little food and salty water to drink. Yousef got a Quran to read, and they didn't bother them when they were there.

FADEL: Ziyadne says Hamas didn't physically hurt them.

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ZIYADNE: (Through interpreter) That day they were at work in Holit on the kibbutz, working in milking the cows. They went to work and Hamas showed up at 7:38. They were at that time in the bomb shelter because there were rockets falling in the area, and that's where they caught them.

FADEL: He shows me a photo.

ZIYADNE: (Through interpreter) This is a picture that shows Bilal and Hamza on the floor with a Hamas over them. That's how we knew that they were kidnapped.

FADEL: Bilal is 18 years old. Hamza, who's still being held in Gaza, is 22. And Ziyadne shows me a photo of their sister Aisha. She's 17, baby-faced, her hair covered with a blue scarf. I ask if he was surprised that Hamas kidnapped and killed Arabs and Muslims during their attack.

ZIYADNE: (Through interpreter) Nobody believed us something like this happened. And if by mistake they were kidnapped and were taken, I don't understand why they didn't bring them back with Bilal and Aisha. They didn't take into consideration at all that they are Muslim.

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FADEL: In the days after the October 7 attack by Hamas, I traveled to Rahat, where Ziyadne's from. I met people mourning their loved ones killed by Hamas. Some 20 people were killed from the Bedouin community and eight were kidnapped. But they were also scared for the lives of their family living in Gaza under Israeli bombardment. Ziyadne knows that pain. He says his nephew Hamza is a hostage in Gaza, where Hamza's aunt and cousin lived before they were killed in Israeli attacks.

ZIYADNE: (Through interpreter) Hamza's mother is from the West Bank and his cousin and aunt live in Gaza. And in the attack that was in Gaza, in Khan Yunis, his aunt was killed, plus a few of her kids. And that made a situation where Hamza is kidnapped in Gaza, and his mother, at the same time, is in mourning for her sister, who is in Gaza as well.

There is a very, very deep pain here because of the people who are kidnapped. Nobody likes war. And I hope that the war will stop so the people who are kidnapped can come home.

FADEL: When we spoke to Ziyadne, he had just wrapped up a packed day in Washington, D.C., speaking with lawmakers about what he wants to happen now.

ZIYADNE: (Through interpreter) What we want is that the United States, together with Qatar and Egypt, will force or put a lot of pressure into Israel and Hamas in order to get to an agreement. There is an agreement that is on the table right now. We want them to get to an agreement.

FADEL: And he's worried about the Israeli intelligence estimate that a fifth of the hostages still in Gaza have been killed. He has no idea if that includes his brother and his nephew.

ZIYADNE: (Through interpreter) That estimate got me very, very concerned. Through the media and through the news, I saw that there are 32 to 36 people killed. I'm very worried. But I do know that if something, God forbid, should have gone wrong, they would have told me - the Israeli government comes and tells people. I haven't heard anything for 70 days, and we don't know anything.

FADEL: On the day we spoke with Ali Ziyadne, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected demands from Hamas on a cease-fire proposal, calling them, quote, "delusional." But Secretary of State Antony Blinken later struck a more hopeful tone, saying a deal is still possible, and negotiators will continue to work relentlessly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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