A group of hostages’ families and protesters blocked off traffic outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private residence on Azza Street in Jerusalem on Sunday evening, demanding the government reach a deal to ensure the return of the remaining hostages in Hamas captivity.
Organized by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, the demonstration walked a fine line, attempting to hold the government accountable for the lives of the hostages while avoiding forthright condemnation.
In the middle of speeches by family members of the hostages, organizers had to quickly silence stray demonstrators who burst out into chants of “Shame!” against the government.
The demonstration took place on short notice, amid reports from the Wall Street Journal of a proposed plan by the US, Egypt and Qatar to bring the war to an extended halt, arrange the return of the hostages held in Hamas captivity and lead to full normalization for Israel with its neighbors and talks for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Israel believes 132 hostages remain in Gaza, following a deal in late November that freed 105 civilians from Hamas. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 28 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.
By the time the demonstration began Sunday, only a couple of dozen people had arrived at the intersection on Azza Street, but the crowd quickly grew. Protesters gathered around a lively drum circle, waved signs with the faces and names of those who remain in Hamas captivity, shouting: “The cabinet is responsible for the lives of the hostages!”
Orin Gantz, the mother of 28-year-old Eden Zacharia, who was kidnapped and murdered in Hamas captivity, urged the prime minister and the war cabinet to “give up on ego.”
“My daughter didn’t just die, she died on our watch,” she said.
“Bibi Netanyahu, we trust you. There is no other person who can [return the hostages],” she continued. “A hundred and seven days. They don’t have time. In captivity, there is no tomorrow. I know that because I received a body.”
Gilad Korngold, the father of Tal Shoham who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri and is still being held in Gaza, gave an impassioned speech to the crowd. The woman and children in Shoham’s family, who were also abducted, were released in late November as part of a temporary ceasefire deal brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the United States between Hamas and Israel.
“I live in the Gaza [border area]. I see exactly what’s going on,” he exclaimed. “I travel in an empty Gaza [border area], there are no planes in the sky… The war as it once was is not continuing, and they promised us that this war would free the hostages.”
Shay Binyamin, the daughter of 53-year-old Ron Binyamin, who was kidnapped to Gaza during a bike ride on October 7 near Kibbutz Be’eri, said she is fed up with begging the government for the hostages’ return, and is now demanding a deal.
“All the time we hear about more abductees who were murdered as if we are in Russian roulette. I can’t just wait every day to hear which of the hostages has been executed,” she said.
Jon Polin, the father of Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, taken by Hamas, gave a speech in English about the government and prime minister’s failure to protect their citizenry on October 7, when thousands of terrorists from Gaza went on a killing spree across southern Israel, overrunning military bases and communities and killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The terrorists also took 253 hostages to Gaza, according to an official government count.
“All of us as citizens have a contract with the country,” said Polin. “In exchange for our service and taxes, we expect the government to keep us safe, and this government and prime minister totally failed us.”
Goldberg-Polin was kidnapped on a camping trip with his friend in the Gaza border area. The two made a stop at the Supernova music festival near Re’im, and were attacked by Hamas along with the rest of the partygoers on the morning of October 7. Some 360 were massacred.
The last time Polin and his wife, Rachel Goldberg, saw their son was on video as Hamas terrorists loaded him onto a pickup truck. His arm had been blown off from the elbow down.
“We ask that they [the government] fix the failure of October 7… Bringing home 136 hostages in body bags can never be considered any part of a victory,” Polin concluded.
After speeches came to a close, the families pitched tents below Netanyahu’s home. They intend to stay in the tents until “the prime minister agrees to a deal to return the hostages,” according to Hostages and Missing Families spokesman Haim Rubinstein.
Alongside the tents hang signs and posters calling for the hostages’ release.
One in the center read: “We love our children more than we hate Hamas.”
In addition to the 132 hostages, Hamas has been holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.