Tens of thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere on Saturday night to demand a return of at least 239 hostages held by Hamas, as they marked 36 days since they were taken during Hamas’s harrowing assault on southern Israel.
In Tel Aviv, activists also marked the birthday of Sasha Trupanov, who was kidnapped with his entire family and girlfriend. His friends from university, where Trupanov finished studying electrical engineering a year ago, stood on stage for a tearful rendition of “Happy Birthday” along with singer Shai Gabso.
“With each day the distress grows heavier, knowing of the nights our loved ones are spending in an unknown place and condition,” former president Reuven Rivlin told the crowd, which packed into the square in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and spilled out into adjacent streets.
“I speak to all world leaders, telling them: Get us information, act in all arenas to free our hostages.”
He also condemned the International Red Cross for facilitating humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza without demanding access to the hostages.
Alongside family representatives and Rivlin, former education minister Shai Piron and singer Shlomo Artzi came to support the hostages’ families in Tel Aviv. Artzi performed his song “We Don’t Need” about longing and loss, singing along with thousands of attendees.
ותן שיחזור שוב לביתו, יותר מזה אנחנו לא צריכים.
שלמה ארצי, בעצרת תמיכה במשפחות החטופים והנעדרים pic.twitter.com/Y2RwBMH8Ry
— Haim Rubinstein (@haim_ru) November 11, 2023
“It really strengthens us, to see the support of all these people, because we’re so worried they’ll forget them,” said Mayaan Sherman, the mother of kidnapped soldier Ron Sherman, while wearing a shirt with her son’s photo. “This is just a nightmare for us, we’re not living, we’re on automatic.”
Sherman said she was trying to keep some semblance of routine for her other two children, Dan, 17, and Eden, 15, whose teacher was among some 260 people murdered at the Supernova festival near Re’im, but said she was struggling to get through the day.
“We come to the square here three to four times a week. It doesn’t help us, but it does help make sure people won’t forget them. I am worried this is going to turn into a chronic event, that you’ll just get used to. We cannot let it come to that,” she said.
Saturday night was the largest protest in Tel Aviv since regular rallies against the government’s judicial overhaul legislation stopped abruptly — alongside the overhaul’s freezing — on October 7, when thousands of Hamas terrorists launched an unprecedented assault on the communities of southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians massacred amid brutal atrocities, and kidnapping at least 244 people, of whom one has since been rescued by Israeli forces and four have been set free by Hamas.
Channel 12 news reported Saturday evening, without citing sources, that Israeli officials have estimated since the beginning of the war that most of the captives are being held in the southern part of the Strip — not the north, where Israel’s ground operation is focused — since most were abducted from areas adjacent to the southern part and were likely taken via the shortest possible route.
Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square, as the space in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is now known, was filled with more than a dozen independent art exhibits — a giant, working sand clock, tiny birdhouses for each of the hostages, and an empty Shabbat table filled with homemade treats and crocheted stuffed animals.
“This isn’t the Hostages Square, this is the Square of the Returnees,” Yehudit Ohel, whose 22-year-old son Alon was kidnapped, told the crowd. “We can’t let them stay there another minute. We won’t be able to move on, not as a society and not as a nation, until they come home.”
Volunteers with an emotional first aid pop-up helped passersby create stencils for a communal graffiti wall. Many parents came with their older children.
“These are our brothers and sisters, after all, and we need to come support them, because it could have been our friends in Gaza,” said Daniel Friedlich, 13, from Tel Aviv.
Hundreds of Jerusalemites also gathered Saturday evening at the city’s Paris Square for a short, moving rally to mourn and hear from relatives of those who were killed and taken captive on October 7.
The gathering was organized by Jerusalem’s Safeguarding Our Common Home (Shomrim al HaBayit HaMeshutaf), a group that had previously organized weekly anti-overhaul protests, usually outside the nearby President’s Residence.
It was the group’s first time coming together on a Saturday evening since the events of October 7.
The Jerusalem speakers included Moshe Shapira, father of Aner Shapira, a 22-year-old killed by Hamas terrorists at the Supernova desert rave. Shapira spoke about his son, who always fought against what he saw as unfairness in society, and ultimately believed in unity.
The crowd was silent as Moshe Shapira told the story of the last 30 minutes of Aner’s life, when he and his best friend, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, took cover in a field shelter along with 24 other people, all strangers to the two friends.
Aner had told the others that he was a combat soldier, and as they lay down on the floor, covering their heads with their hands, he stood at the front of the shelter, catching five or six grenades thrown by the terrorists and throwing them back out again. The last one blew up in his hand, killing him.
“Good can fight evil,” said Shapira. “Aner was a person without ammunition, without a uniform, without orders, and he understood that he had to offer a response and he put himself up as this response.”
Seven people survived in the shelter, and between three and five others were taken captive, said Shapira.
After a prayer for the soldiers was recited, Mai Albini spoke about his grandfather, Chaim Peri, who was taken captive on October 7 from Kibbutz Nir Oz. Albini’s uncle, Danny Darlington, who was visiting at the time from Germany with a friend, Carolin Bohl, was killed that morning, along with Bohl.
The Hamas terrorists destroyed Peri’s house but at first didn’t find Peri and his wife, Osnat, who were hiding in the home’s safe room. When one terrorist later returned, Peri physically pushed him away, said Albini, knowing the gunman would return with additional forces. In the interim, Peri hid his wife behind the couch in the safe room.
When the terrorists returned, they told Peri to come with them. Peri hesitated, then realized he could save his wife’s life, and he was taken captive, said Albini.
“Almost 80 people from Nir Oz are captives in Gaza,” said Albini. “Nothing is working here. I don’t believe the government will bring them back. I believe in our society, in our people, in our community, in my friends, in the soldiers. We will win, despite our leadership.”
After reciting a prayer for the captives, Professor Michal Mushkat-Barkan of Safeguarding Our Home said some lessons learned during the many weeks of protests against the judicial overhaul were relevant now as well — such as the importance of the public taking responsibility and banding together.
“We’ll get up in the morning and won’t give up,” Mushkat-Barkan said. “We can build a better world in Israel after the war, we can choose a leadership that can create a different kind of government.”