Hundreds join vigil of man whose wife, kids abducted to Gaza; many rage at government

Avihai Brodutch sets up camp outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, plans to stay there until abductees return

Avihai Brodutch, whose wife and three children were abducted by terrorists to Gaza, protests outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, October 14, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)
Avihai Brodutch, whose wife and three children were abducted by terrorists to Gaza, protests outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, October 14, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

Hundreds of people on Saturday joined a vigil outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv started by a man whose wife and three children are being held hostage by terrorists in Gaza, with many at the scene assailing the government they hold responsible for the catastrophe.

Hamas-led attackers who invaded southern communities last Saturday killed more than 1,300 people and snatched some 150-200 into Gaza as hostages, including babies, young children, women and the elderly.

Many of those in attendance at the protest held signs with the names and pictures of those missing or held captive following the massive assault.

Others waved Israeli flags while some sported placards saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bore responsibility for the devastating failures that led to the attack and called on him to resign.

Avihai Brodutch, who survived the massacre at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, but whose wife Hagar and his three children — Ofri, Yuval and Oriya — were kidnapped by terrorists, began the vigil outside the military headquarters in the early hours of Saturday morning, and vowed to stay there until the abductees are returned to Israel.

“I joined the army and served in the reserves, I love my country,” Brodutch told reporters. “I’m not angry with anyone, but simply want a change in policy — the first thing that should be done is to free the women and children… I think there is no dispute either on our side or on their side that this is the first thing that should be done.”

Relatives of Israelis abducted by Hamas at a demonstration outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, October 14, 2023. (Dana Reany / Protest orgainzers)

According to the Ynet news site, Brodutch said that he was amazed by the support he’d received since arriving at the Defense Ministry.

“I started with my dog and my brother who drove me here. If I could cry, I would cry now, but I haven’t digested everything that has happened,” he said.

“We are one nation. I always knew we were one nation, but what is happening here is beyond what I could have ever dreamed of,” he said. “The love that exists in this country is contrary to what is happening in the government, at least partly, and I want to correct this distortion between the leadership and the people, unite us and end the differences between us.

“I have never been political and I don’t want to be,” he said. “I hope everyone will come back, and you will never see me again.”

Protesters taped posters depicting the faces of those who’d been taken to a wall outside the ministry, an awareness-raising tactic that has also been used by Israeli groups abroad.

Posters of those held hostage by terrorists in Gaza are glued to the wall outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, October 14, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

Monica Levy, whose cousin Mapal Adam, 25, was one of the some 260 people killed at the Supernova music festival at Re’im, said Netanyahu and his government were more interested in their own survival than in governance.

“I want Benjamin Netanyahu and all his people to go home because they’ve abandoned residents of the south and they’re not interested in the lives of residents there and instead, they’re obsessed with small politics,” Levy, 62, from Tel Aviv, said.

“He just wants to save himself and he’s willing to sacrifice all of us,” said Levy, herself a survivor of a deadly 1994 bus bombing in Tel Aviv.

Monica Levy holds a sign reading ‘resign’ at a rally in solidarity with hostages taken by Hamas in Tel Aviv on October 14, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)

As the protest grew throughout the day, there were some minor skirmishes between demonstrators and police.

Some protesters chanted “Go to jail, Bibi!” and “Leave!” Among the crowd, placards read: “Bibi, you have blood on your hands,” “We’ve been abandoned,” “Return the hostages immediately,” and “There’s no trust, resign.”

At times there were chants of “Shame,” the popular refrain in the months-long protests against the government’s judicial overhaul plan.

Lighting candles in memory of the victims of the Hamas onslaught, outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on October 14, 2023. (Oded Engel / Protest orgainzers)

The Defense Ministry and IDF headquarters in central Tel Aviv, also known as the Kirya, are adjacent to Kaplan Street, which became famous for weekly mass demonstrations against the government that were held there since the start of the year, but which have now been halted as the country finds itself at war with Hamas in Gaza.

A lone pro-Netanyahu protester shouted support for the government at the crowd, and was quickly pulled away from other demonstrators by the police.

Michal and Avner Caspi said their kidnapped family member, Alon Ohel, 22, protected others at the Re’im music festival before being taken into captivity by Hamas.

“Alon was at the party and hid in a shelter, and was among the ones who threw back grenades” that Hamas tossed into the shelters to kill partygoers, Michal said of her cousin’s son. “One of his friends woke up at Rambam [Hospital in Haifa] and said that he saw Alon taken alive by terrorists,” she added.

Avner asked that the government do “everything that’s possible” to bring Ohel back.

Michal was concerned that the IDF’s stated policy of bombing Gaza targets despite the unknown status of hostages in the area, and asked “that they don’t bomb the areas that have the kidnapped in them.” There is no indication that the army knows where the hostages are being held, but it is assumed that many are tucked away in Hamas’s vast underground tunnel network.

Holding a sign calling for Netanyahu’s resignation, chemistry professor Amiram Goldblum said the premier had failed to maintain national unity and to effectively respond to intelligence, contributing to the devastating Hamas attack.

“Netanyahu was warned by security officials in Israel that what he was doing with his [judicial] revolution was harming national resilience,” Goldblum said.

“He’s killing all the possibilities for unity in this country and it immediately hurts the security of Israel,” he continued, accusing the premier of ignoring actual intelligence reports as well — a claim Netanyahu has denied.

Several officials in Egypt and the US have alleged that Egyptian intelligence passed indications of Hamas’s intention to act in some way ahead of the attack, but have said the messages may not have gotten to Netanyahu himself.

Goldblum, in his 70s, said that none of his immediate family was harmed in the October 7 attack, but that he’d come because he intensely identifies with the plight of the families.

“None of my family was kidnapped, but I’m dying because of those who were,” he said.

Amiram Goldblum calls for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign during a vigil for those kidnapped to Gaza in Tel Aviv on October 14, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)

Former army general Gal Hirsch, appointed by Netanyahu as coordinator of hostages and missing persons, announced on Friday the establishment of a team of some 200 reserves officers to maintain “personal and direct” interaction with the families of the missing.

The team is being headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Meir Kalifi, under the aegis of the IDF’s department for hostages and missing persons.

Hirsch said Friday that members of the team will visit each family to provide support. “We have recruited for this important and sensitive mission officers and experienced personnel, who will reach out to the families to assist at this time of uncertainty,” he stated.

Hirsch met in Tel Aviv on Friday with representatives of the families and detailed what has been done so far, including the activities of a negotiation team and a judicial team, his office said. The meeting was attended by some 500 people, including first-degree relatives of those kidnapped and missing.

Hirsch informed them that efforts were being made around the clock to obtain information and that diplomatic efforts had been broadened. Relatives raised a demand to establish an immediate humanitarian corridor to enable the transfer of medicines and facilitate doctors’ visits to the hostages.

On Saturday, a forum representing families of the missing and hostages said they had transferred medical details and medicines used by their loved ones to the International Committee of the Red Cross. A day earlier, the ICRC reiterated that it was trying to gain access to the hostages.

“Our hearts go out to people who lost family members or are worried sick about loved ones taken hostage. We reiterate our call for their immediate release and stand ready to conduct humanitarian visits,” the ICRC said.

The families’ forum said they were working to make contact with all families to ensure that the information was passed on.

Most Popular
read more: