ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Hundreds of stores, businesses, and firms shut nationwide in plea for Oct. 7 hostages

Retail chains, restaurants, businesses, and law firms come to a standstill during a 100-minute labor strike to express support on the 100th day since Hamas seized its victims

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Hundreds of stores in BIG shopping centers across Israel shut down amid 100 minute strike to mark 100 days since the October 7 Hamas assault, January 14, 2024. (Sharon Wrobel)
Hundreds of stores in BIG shopping centers across Israel shut down amid 100 minute strike to mark 100 days since the October 7 Hamas assault, January 14, 2024. (Sharon Wrobel)

Hundreds of shops, restaurants and businesses on Sunday came to a standstill across the country during a 100-minute labor strike to commemorate the 100th day since the abduction of hostages by the Hamas terror group on October 7.

Employers and employees in Israel, including in universities and retail chains, halted all of their operations starting at 11 a.m. for 100 minutes. Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut labor union, agreed to a request by the families of the hostages to hold a 100-minute labor strike to broadcast their message demanding the return of their loved ones.

Among tech firms and large businesses that took part in the solidarity act were Israeli online gaming giant Playtika, Teva Pharmaceuticals, the Aviv real estate and construction group, Israeli investment house Altshuler Shaham, and leading law firms across the country. The Israel Bar Association and The Teachers Association also joined the effort.

Retail and food chains at Israel’s main shopping malls, including Fox, Fox Home, Foot Locker, Laline, Mango, American Eagle, Flying Tiger, Nike, Cafe Cafe, and McDonald’s, closed their doors for 100 minutes and engaged in solidarity and support ceremonies.

“We haven’t seen this before — that commercial businesses shut down in such a magnitude — but we feel that this is the time for us to show social responsibility and do everything we can to put pressure on the government to bring back the hostages,” BIG Shopping Center CEO Hay Galis told The Times of Israel on the sidelines of a ceremony held outside the Yehud BIG Shopping Center during the 100-minute shutdown. All of the 24 BIG malls across the country halted their operations.

With canopy tents set up for the ceremony during rainy weather and yellow balloons in abundance, family members of current and former hostages as well as BIG shopping Centers management representatives and employees gathered to show their support wearing yellow shirts that read: “100 days without them, bring them home now.”

Eitan Bar Zeev, chairman of BIG Shopping Centers (middle); Hay Galis, CEO of BIG Shopping Centers CEO (right); and Yaela Machlis, mayor of Yehud outside the BIG Shopping center in Yehud, Jan. 14, 2024. (Courtesy)

Family members of the hostages and the malls’ chairman addressing the gathering warned that time was running out to save the hostages, and expressed disappointment with the government, while emphasizing that the unity of the people as the whole nation was coming together in this difficult time was giving them hope.

War erupted between Israel and Hamas on October 7, when thousands of terrorists burst across the border into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages — mostly civilians.

“To the Knesset and a government that brought this upon us – you have failed! And in particular you have failed in bringing back the hostages,”  said Eitan Bar Zeev, chairman of BIG Shopping Center. “I have lost faith in you. Disconnected government.”

Speaking at the ceremony was Yoni Asher, whose wife and two young daughters were released after being held as hostages by Hamas terrorists in Gaza for 49 days.

“Without bringing back the hostages there will be no trust and without trust there will be no state and no government,” said Asher. “The people are already united; it is the government that is lagging behind. Everyone knows that the priority is to bring the hostages back home now.”

Also speaking at the ceremony was Shahar Ohel, the cousin of Alon Ohel, 22, a budding pianist who was abducted by Hamas terrorists from a crowded shelter in a field on October 7.

A yellow piano is displayed outside the BIG shopping center in Yehud to represent hostage Alon Ohel, 22, who was taken captive by Hamas during the October 7 assault, January 14, 2024. (Sharon Wrobel)

“Keeping up the spirits is so important right now. Everyone is breaking down; even the strongest break down, but they also know how to get up again and this is what we need to do right now,” said Ohel. “We need to stay strong and meet our goals to build a better nation for the period after the war.”

Ohel’s family started a project that began with bringing a yellow piano to the Hostages Plaza in Tel Aviv, representing the hope that he will return. Visitors are invited to play the piano and send love and strength. Additional yellow pianos will soon be placed in at least four BIG Shopping Centers, including in Yehud.

Among other retail chains that joined the effort are H&M, Kravitz, Ronen Chen clothing, Lee Cooper, Nine West, Jack Cuba, Opticana, Optica Halperin, Mega Sport, Intima, Golf & Co, Kitan, Steimatzky, and Adika.

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