‘Bring home the dead and the living’: Hostages’ families rally ahead of Memorial Day

Families of captives declared dead in Gaza speak in Tel Aviv, alongside French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy; anti-government protests urging elections to be held nationwide

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Ahead of Israel’s Memorial Day, the families of hostages held in Gaza rallied to demand a deal on Saturday night in Tel Aviv, with a focus on the 38 captives who have been declared dead.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, the organizers of the rally, said the demonstration would mourn the memory of the hostages who have been killed and their bodies are being held by Hamas.

Israel is readying to mark Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and those killed in terror attacks, starting Sunday evening.

According to figures released by authorities on Thursday, 1594 soldiers and civilians have been killed in combat or by terror since Israel’s last Memorial Day, marking the deadliest year for the country’s security forces and civilians in five decades.

“Time has run out for the murdered hostages. We need a deal now that will allow us to bring home the murdered for burial and the living for rehabilitation,” the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said in a statement.

Speakers included: Hagit and Ruby Chen, the parents of Itay Chen, whose body is held in Gaza after he was killed during Hamas’s October 7 onslaught; Richelle Tzarfati, the mother of Ofir Tzarfati, whose body was recovered from Gaza in December; Maya Ahimas, sister of hostage Tomer Ahimas, who was killed fighting terrorists on October 7 and his body taken to Gaza; and French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy takes part in the 11th national convention of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) in Paris, on November 14, 2021. (Thomas Samson/AFP)

The rally got underway at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square at 8 p.m.

Ahead of the rally, a ceremony was held to inaugurate artist Michal Rovner’s Cypress Avenue installation in honor of the hostages who were killed, with the participation of Yael Adar, the mother of Tamir Adar, who was killed on October 7 and whose body was taken to Gaza; Nirit Aloni, the mother of Noam, whose partner was murdered hostage Inbar Haiman; and Tami Baruch, the mother of hostage Sahar Baruch, who was killed during failed rescue attempt by the Israel Defense Forces.

The rallies come as hopes fade for a hostage and truce deal between Israel and Hamas.

On Monday, the terror group claimed to have accepted an agreement with Israel, though it later emerged that the proposal it said had come from Egyptian and Qatari mediators included several elements fundamentally different from those Israel had agreed to.

Demonstrators call for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, May 9, 2024. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

Jerusalem swiftly rejected the proposal for falling short of its “vital demands,” but okayed dispatching a working-level delegation to the indirect talks in Cairo. After gaps could not be closed, the Israeli and Hamas teams departed Egypt on Friday.

Talks have continued for months without a decisive breakthrough. Israel has said it is determined to eliminate Hamas, while Hamas says it wants a permanent ceasefire and a full Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The Biden administration has said Hamas is the only party standing in the way of a deal.

Anti-government protests

Amid an increasing convergence between the protests of the hostages’ families and the mass anti-government demonstrations that were a weekly event in the months before October 7, with some of the families accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of blocking a deal for political reasons, a separate demonstration calling for early elections was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv.

Organizers called on participants to join with the hostages’ families to rally at the nearby entrance to the Defense Ministry at the conclusion of the anti-government protest.

A poster of Noa Argamani is taped to one of the empty chairs for hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip as relatives and their supporters gather together to mark the start of Shabbat, outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

A protest calling for elections will also be held outside the President’s House in Jerusalem.

Participants were set to gather at 8:45 p.m. in Paris Square, before marching to the President’s House at 9:45 p.m.

In a nod to the traditional ceremony honoring outstanding citizens at the start of Independence Day, set to begin with the conclusion of Memorial Day on Monday evening, the Jerusalem rally will “honor the citizens who were revealed in all their glory during the war, in the face of the lack of the country’s leadership,” organizers said.

Speakers were to include government critic Noam Tibon, a retired IDF general who mounted a mission to rescue his son, his wife and their two young children from their home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

Thousands were expected to call for elections in rallies at other locations across the country, organizers said.

Anti-government protesters calling for elections and a deal to release hostages held by Hamas hold placards and wave national flags in Tel Aviv on April 27, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Some families of hostages, frustrated that after nearly seven months of war their loved ones are still in captivity, have turned against the government, speaking out publicly against the country’s leaders.

The government’s popularity has plummeted since the beginning of the war, leading to growing calls for elections. It has faced blame over its failure to prevent the October 7 massacre, while some have charged it has fumbled when dealing with key matters relating to the conflict.

Polls consistently show that were elections to be held, anti-Netanyahu parties would win a clear majority, with war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity, the largest party.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz at a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Oct. 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

A Channel 12 survey last week showed that 58 percent of voters asked think Netanyahu should resign.

The war began when Palestinian terror group Hamas led a devastating cross-border attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people. The thousands of attackers who burst through the border with the Gaza Strip also abducted 252 people who were taken as hostages into the Palestinian enclave.

Israel responded with a military offensive to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza, destroy the terror group and free the hostages.

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