The headquarters of Israel’s Ministry of Defense once stood in Tel Aviv as a symbol of power, but for the families of the hostages gathered in front of it, the building has become a source of grief. Relatives filled the square in front of the 17-story Matcal Tower on Saturday to demand that a state supposedly established to protect Jews respect the agreement by doing everything possible to save the captives of Gaza.
Israel’s escalating attacks on Gaza have fueled fears that loved ones will be targeted by tank shells and aerial bombs, or retaliation by Hamas captors, and raised vexing questions: Is the government’s only hope of negotiation? What is the army’s strategy to free the hostages? Is there a strategy?
“Is there a plan? We don’t know. That’s what we want to know,” explained Haim Rubinstein, spokesman for the Forum of Relatives of Hostages and Missing Persons, as families and sympathizers gathered and hugged under the scorching sun.
“We also want to know the meaning of what happened last night,” said Rubinstein, referring to the ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli troops and the bombing of 150 underground Hamas targets, including tunnels that will house some of the 229 hostages being held. believe they are in Gaza.
After three weeks of complaints that the government had not updated the relatives about the crisis or even met with them, the protest forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to meet with them on Saturday morning.
It is unclear what guarantees this would entail, as there are no plans to negotiate a prisoner exchange or halt the offensive, which Hamas says is a condition for any release.
“We attack above ground and underground; we attack terrorists of all ranks, everywhere,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a videotaped statement. “The instructions for the forces are clear: the operation will continue until further orders.”
For families standing near the Ministry of Defense holding photos of relatives or tying yellow ribbons around benches and trees, this is a terrifying statement. Last week, Hamas said about 50 hostages were killed in the bombing.
“Every day the hostages are not released, they are in danger,” said Zeev Scherman, whose nephew Ron Scherman, 19, was kidnapped in a Hamas attack on Oct. 7. That day, the government released the Israelis who live near Gaza and are now at risk of leaving the captured survivors, said Scherman.
“Why is this offensive? Not in a hurry. Hamas is not going anywhere. ” He favors the exchange of captives of thousands of Palestinians, including Hamas militants, in Israeli prisons. “All prisoners for all hostages.”
Shelly, 62, who carried a sign that read “life matters,” echoed that sentiment. “The government owes us money after failing to protect us. We must concentrate on the hostages; we will not eat or sleep until we bring them home. Hostages first. There is always time for war.”
Shirley, 56, pleaded with Netanyahu’s government to prioritize the hostages. “This is the second holocaust. “Who knows what happened to our children?” The more intense the bombardment of Gaza, the more worried relatives become, he said. “It’s been three weeks. “We can’t take it anymore.”
For Yarid Shabibi, the complexity of the conflict melts into a burning desire for the return of his 26-year-old cousin, Noa Argamani, whose motorcycle kidnapping was filmed and widely circulated on the Internet. “We just want him here, that’s all.”
The families and their supporters expressed a wide range of attitudes towards the Palestinians. “We want the Palestinians to have a state. We are afraid for the people of Gaza; we don’t want them to suffer,” said Dahlia, 62.
Ayelet Samerano, whose son Jonathan was kidnapped, trembled as she spoke. “My son, my little son. They took him. They kill children in front of their parents and parents in front of their children.” He had trouble sleeping, Samerano admitted. “And when I wake up, I go back to the dream.” He accused the government of leaving his relatives in an information vacuum but was confident in the decision to attack Gaza: “I am not worried about my army. “My army knows what to do.”
The Forum of Relatives of Hostages and Missing Persons is a name that covers groups of relatives organized through WhatsApp.
In a strongly worded statement released early Saturday, Netanyahu and his cabinet were criticized for leaving families in the dark as operations in Gaza intensified. “Tonight was the worst of all,” he said. “Families are worried about the fate of their loved ones and are waiting for an explanation. “Every minute that passes seems like an eternity.”
The forum did not call for a ceasefire or a prisoner exchange. “We are telling the military and the government to bring our people back,” said Rubinstein, the spokesman. “We don’t tell them how to do it. We just say, ‘tell us what the plan is.'”