As Israel prepares to invade the Gaza Strip, many families of hostages seized by Hamas are pleading with the government to rein in the war effort and instead negotiate the release of their loved ones.
Highlighting the appalling dilemma facing the whole country, other relatives warn mediation could take years and say their best hope lies with the military, hoping ground forces could find the missing men, women and children before it is too late. Hamas fighters grabbed an estimated 222 people aged from 9 months to 85 years during their Oct. 7 rampage, during which they also killed 1,400 people. Many of those taken hold dual nationality, including many with U.S. and European passports.
The hostages are believed to be hidden in the Gaza Strip, possibly in a warren of tunnels Hamas has built beneath the enclave, even as Israeli warplanes pound the territory ahead of a threatened invasion, killing more than 5,000 Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to eliminate Hamas and Israeli troops could enter Gaza at any moment, but many families are urging him to focus solely on the hostages.
“This should be the top priority, not to destroy Hamas, not to control Gaza and not anything else,” said Noam Alon, the boyfriend of Inbar Haiman, a 27-year-old artist who was one of dozens abducted from a music festival. Family support groups are holding daily protests outside Netanyahu’s office in Tel Aviv to keep the fate of the captives in the spotlight, and have set up a table with a place setting for each missing person in a city centre square as a symbol of the plight of those abducted.
On Sunday, President Isaac Herzog met scores of affected relatives at his Jerusalem residence, while outside, hundreds demonstrated calling for more to be done for the hostages.
“Revenge is not a plan,” read one banner held up by Carmel Gorni, a political activist whose cousin, Yiftah Gorni, was killed during the Hamas assault.
“We need to talk to Hamas. We can’t always resort to war. We have so many Palestinian prisoners we can swap for our people,” Gorni said. “If our soldiers go in, many people will die, including the hostages.”