Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Patriarch of Jerusalem and the papal representative to the Holy Land, on Monday offered to exchange himself for the Israeli children taken hostage during the savage Hamas attack last weekend.
The exact number of people kidnapped from Israeli border villages by Hamas is not known to the public, but various authorities estimate the number at 150 to 200, including at least a dozen children. Another Palestinian terror gang, Islamic Jihad, claims it has taken 30 hostages of its own. Hamas has threatened to murder its hostages if Israel does not halt its retaliatory action in Gaza.
“I am ready for an exchange, anything, if this can lead to freedom, to bring the children home. No problem. There is total willingness on my part,” Cardinal Pizzaballa said on Monday.
“The first thing to do is to try to win the release of the hostages, otherwise there will be no way of stopping (an escalation). We are willing to help, even me personally,” he said.
The cardinal said he has not been able to contact Hamas directly to make his offer, because talking to them is “very difficult.”
Turkey and Qatar have asked Hamas to release the women, children, and elderly people it kidnapped, to no avail. Egypt suggested Hamas swap the women and children it holds for female Palestinian prisoners, but when Hamas did not embrace the proposal, the Egyptian government reportedly backed away.
“They ditched their mobile phones and it was impossible to reach any of them. Every country with contacts to Hamas has tried,” an Egyptian official told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Sunday, echoing what Cardinal Pizzaballa said about the difficulty of talking to Hamas leaders.
Pizzaballa, 58, has been stationed in Jerusalem since 1990. He served as Vicar General to the patriarch for many years before assuming the position himself in May 2020. He was elevated to cardinal by Pope Francis in September 2023, an honor he welcomed because he said it would raise the “voice of Jerusalem” within the Church.
“Jerusalem is the heart of the life of the world. So, from this heart, we should receive life from all over the world. But also this heart, Jerusalem, wants to bring the perspective and desire of life from Jerusalem to all over the world,” he said in September.
On Monday, Cardinal Pizzaballa said he was worried about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the potential loss of innocent life.
“My concerns are essentially twofold: the first is, following the ground operation, I don’t know what it’s called, the much more severe humanitarian crisis that will be created. This is the first fear, as there will undoubtedly be many victims,” he said.
His second fear was that the war between Israel and Hamas could become “a regional conflict, involving not only Gaza or possibly the West Bank but also Lebanon.”
“Then the Islamic world could ignite, all the Arab countries: I don’t know, it’s very difficult to predict the developments, but the fear of regional expansion is real, and I’m not the only one saying it,” he warned.