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Times Of Israel
Times Of Israel
6 Jan 2024

NextImg:As hostages near 100 days in captivity, urgent pleas on their behalf at weekly rally

Families and friends of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza, along with soldiers who fought to find them, gathered at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square on Saturday night along with thousands of activists, 92 days after the October 7 attacks, and with no prospect of an impending return for the 132 who remain in the Strip.

With the 100-day mark fast approaching, and the news on Friday that Tamir Adar, held by Hamas, had been murdered on October 7, there was a sense of intensified urgency and tension at the gathering, organized weekly by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

Saturday night’s speakers included alumni of a high-school class whose friends were murdered and kidnapped, a 19-year-old whose twin brother is in Gaza, JNF CEO Russell Robinson, several reservists and the father of a reservist killed in Gaza, there to remind the audience that the IDF was focused on finding and bringing home hostages.

The event also featured accounts from two released teenage hostages on their time in captivity.

Omri Shifroni and Nofer Gilot went to a regional school near the Gaza border with Kibbutz Nir Oz’s Tamir Adar, along with released hostage Adi Shoham. Still held hostage are Shoham’s husband, Tal Shoham, and Itai Svirsky.

Shifroni said that Tamir Adar, a member of the kibbutz emergency squad, was injured on October 7 and didn’t get proper treatment, and could have been saved.  “Itai and Tal can still be saved,” he said, surrounded by fellow members of their class holding pictures of their friends.

Nofer Gilot (left) and Omri Shifroni speak at the January 6, 2023 rally at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square (Courtesy Yael Gadot)

Recorded testimonies were aired of two released teenage hostages, Agam Goldstein-Almog, 17, and Ofir Engel, 18, both freed in late November under a release deal that some 105 hostages brought out safely.

Goldstein-Almog briefly related the details of how her father and older sister were killed on October 7, and how she didn’t get to say goodbye to them as she, her mother and two younger brothers were taken away by the terrorists.

She told of being held captive for a period with several female hostages, some of whom had been sexually assaulted and had injuries that weren’t being treated. She and her mother helped them while they were there, but they could only change bandages every five days because they didn’t have enough bandages, she said.

“I assume that now it has been more than a few days because the materials and supplies are running out and both the physical and mental damage is increasing,” said Goldstein-Almog. “I can’t even imagine what their situation is, what hope they are still holding on to. I want to do everything to get them out.”

Engel, who was taken hostage from Kibbutz Be’eri with his girlfriend’s father and a neighbor, said the most difficult part about being held hostage was being told by their captors that their families didn’t care about them.

“Every day, you break down a little more,” he said.

In Gaza, Engel believed his girlfriend and family had also been taken captive. It was only when he was released that he found out they had survived and were safe, and began crying in the minibus transporting him back to Israel.

His girlfriend’s father and brother, Yossi and Eli Sharabi, are still held hostage. “I want them to come back alive, and not in coffins,” he said.

Several injured reservists spoke at the rally, emphasizing the focus and sense of mission that IDF soldiers in Gaza have on finding and rescuing hostages.

Yadin Gelman spoke at the January 6, 2023 rally at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square (Courtesy Hostages and Missing Families Forum)

Yadin Gelman, a fighter in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando force who was in Kibbutz Kfar Aza and Be’eri on October 7 and was injured that day, described saving two women who were about to be taken captive and the responsibility that soldiers have to save everyone.

“[The goal of] bringing people home has to be clear to our leaders. That’s why we are in Gaza,” said Gelman.

The same message was reiterated by Imad Habaka, father of Lieutenant Colonel Salman Habaka, who fought in Be’eri on October 7 and fell in battle in the Gaza Strip in November.

“What’s been done isn’t enough. We have to do anything possible to bring them home,” said Habaka.

Finding the hostages gives purpose and strength to the soldiers, said Hagay Lober, whose son, Elisha Lober, was killed in Gaza just 12 days ago.

Lober described his son as one “who had long sidelocks and a beard and was more of a dreamer than a fighter.” He added, “He went with your courage, to get the hostages out, and that’s what gave him strength.”

Hagay Lober speaks at the January 6, 2023 rally at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square (Courtesy Hostages and Missing Families Forum)

The hostages, said Lober, a father of nine who is an actor and playwright and wears a knitted yarmulke, “are entire worlds and I wish I could hug each one and get to know each one of them.”

Another Lober son, Itamar Lober, is also a reservist who has been fighting in Gaza, and joined his tank unit three days after the birth of a new baby son. He spoke about finding the bodies of two hostages, a moment that brought “huge happiness and pain,” if only for the ability to bring the two bodies home to their families.

He also spoke about the differences of opinion that he and his brother had, and said this mirrored the differences among reservists who all have different political viewpoints but who are now experiencing great unity “that will reach every corner of the country.”

Said Lober: “We’ll keep fighting but with the understanding that we’re brothers, we’re part of the same team.”

Injured reservist Ofer Becher spoke about fighting in Gaza after cutting short his vacation in Thailand, with the intent to “make sure that something like this would never happen again.

“They are looking in every tunnel and house to bring back your loved ones and to wipe out the terror that is Hamas. In the name of all the army, and all of Israel, we love you and embrace you and won’t rest until all our loved ones come home.”

In response, the crowd shouted, “Thanks, thanks!”

At the January 6, 2023 rally at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square (Courtesy Yael Gadot)

There was a message from the US as well, as Russell Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund organization, said that Jews will not remain silent, and that American Jews will shout their support for Israel.

“I have walked the burnt land of Be’eri and Kfar Aza but I have felt the soul of our Jewish people in that soil and we will work with everyone to build it again,” said Robinson.

Romy Cohen spoke about her twin, 19-year-old Nimrod Cohen, held in Gaza.

“He’s still a kid, he needs to be home with his parents and his siblings,” she said. “All I want is my brother as close to me as he can be.”

Some families finally received confirmation this week that their loved ones were officially held captive, including Idan Shtivi, who was taken from the Supernova desert rave.

“Who is taking care of my son who was badly hurt?” said father Eli Shtivi. “Israel shouldn’t be dealing with anything else, only the hostages.”

At the end of the rally, performer Yardena Arazi sang her song “Homeward,” about the longing for a missing loved one. She also spoke about twins Gali and Ziv Berman, Kibbutz Kfar Aza hostages who worked for sound company Syncope, a firm Arazi often works with at performances.

There was also an announcement about next week’s events, ahead of the 100th day since October 7, which will be marked with a march from the Supernova rave site to Jerusalem and then to Tel Aviv, and will end with a 24-hour protest event.

“I hope we won’t need the rally or the march,” said Rami Beja, one of the emcees for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.