On Thursday, March 7, President Joe Biden delivered the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. This speech fulfilled a mandate in the Constitution that the president updates Congress on the state of the nation. It will likely be the last such address to Congress before the presidential election later this year. 

In the speech, the president highlighted key accomplishments during his first term in office and made the case for his re-election. While many domestic issues took center stage, the ongoing Israel-Hamas war was also addressed by the president.

In the audience were families of Americans held captive or murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. Biden gave them a special acknowledgment.

"Here in the chamber tonight are American families whose loved ones are still being held by Hamas. I pledge to all the families that we will not rest until we bring their loved ones home," the president said.

Here is what to know about the hostage situation, the families of the hostages, and President Biden’s stance.  

Which hostages were represented at the State of the Union?

There are eight American hostages believed to be still held in Gaza, and they were all represented at the State of the Union by their family members. 

The five hostages presumed alive include Edan Alexander, whose mother Yael recently joined AJC's People of the Pod, Sagui Dekel-Chen, Omer Neutra, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, and Keith Siegel. 

Listen to AJC's heartfelt conversation with Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg, the parents of Hersh Goldberg-Polin.

The two murdered hostages whose bodies remain captive in Gaza include Judy Weinstein and Gad Haggai. Just days following the State of the Union, the Israel Defense Forces announced that Itay Chen was killed on October 7, and his body is still held in Gaza. Additionally, two released American hostages, Liat Beinin Atzili and Abigail Idan, will be represented by their relatives.

Listen as Liz Hirsh Naftali, Abigail’s great-aunt, joins AJC to recount her family’s harrowing story.

Former hostage Mia Schem, a French-Israeli citizen, was also invited by Speaker of the House Mike Johnson as a special guest. 

In a letter to members of Congress, the families urged legislators and their staff to show solidarity and a firm commitment to securing the swift and total release of the hostages by wearing yellow ribbons and dog tags. The families also thanked Congress and the Biden administration for continuing to do everything possible to end the hostage crisis and bring their loved ones home.

Which members of Congress were involved? 

The family members were guests of bipartisan members of Congress, including Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). 

Other lawmakers involved include Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Budd (R-NC), and Tom Tillis (R-NC), from the Senate, and from the House of Representatives, Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Mike Lawler (R-NY), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Greg Steube (R-FL), Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Jason Smith (R-MO), and Jodey Arrington (R-TX). 

Since October, AJC has facilitated press conferences and numerous meetings for the families of hostages alongside elected officials on Capitol Hill and other U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield

What has President Biden said about the hostages? 

In December, Biden met with the families of the remaining American hostages in Gaza. 

“We felt before, and we were only reinforced in seeing and believing, that we could have no better friend in Washington or in the White House than President Biden himself,” said Jonathan Dekel-Chen, the father of 35-year-old Sagui Dekel-Chen.

In a statement marking 100 days since October 7, Biden said, “For 100 days, they have existed in fear for their lives, not knowing what tomorrow will bring. For 100 days, their families have lived in agony, praying for the safe return of their loved ones. And for each of those 100 days, the hostages and their families have been at the forefront of my mind as my national security team, and I have worked non-stop to try to secure their freedom.”

The Biden administration has been working towards a six-week ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that would see the release of the remaining hostages held by the Iran-backed terror group. 

In a statement on March 5, Biden said, “The hostage deal is in the hands of Hamas right now… there’s been a rational offer. The Israelis have agreed to it… We’ll know in a couple of days if it’s going to happen.” 

AJC applauded both President Biden and a bipartisan group of members of Congress for reaffirming the United States’ commitment to bringing all the hostages home from Gaza and sharing the stories of those still being held in captivity by Hamas. 

Click here to read the full statement by AJC. 

What is the latest on the hostages held by Hamas? 

On October 7, Hamas launched its terror assault on Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and abducting more than 250. A ceasefire in November 2023 saw 105 civilians released from Hamas captivity. 

With the end of the ceasefire in November 2023 and the resumption of hostilities in Gaza, Israel believes that over 134 hostages remain, including two children. Israeli officials estimate that Hamas has murdered at least 32 of the remaining 134 hostages.

On March 4, the United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, released a 23-page report that found, among other findings, that there is “clear and convincing information” that some of the women and children taken hostage by Hamas were subjected to “rape and sexualized torture and sexualized cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”