‘Now!’ demand hostages’ families, supporters in urgent call for new release deal

Over 300,000 gather in Tel Aviv during 24-hour rally to mark 100 days since October 7 Hamas massacre of 1,200 people and abduction of 240

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

People attend a 24-hour rally for the hostages taken on October 7, marking 100 days since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, at 'Hostages Square' in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
People attend a 24-hour rally for the hostages taken on October 7, marking 100 days since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, at 'Hostages Square' in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Over 300,000 people came to Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square over the past 24 hours — from Saturday evening through the night and into a cold, rainy Sunday — to mark 100 days of agonizing captivity for the remaining 132 hostages held by Palestinian terror group Hamas in Gaza, and to show support for their families.

A closing Sunday evening event capped a 24-hour rally that began with a gathering of an estimated 120,000 people in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

The primary message delivered Sunday by nearly every speaker, including family members, released hostages, and supporters, was the same: a demand for the immediate release of the remaining hostages and a call on the security cabinet to approve any deal that would lead to their release.

There was a second message, as well, about the future of the country.

“Bring them home now, otherwise we won’t be able to call this place home,” said author Zeruya Shalev, addressing Israel’s government on Sunday afternoon at the rally.

On Sunday evening, war cabinet observer Minister Gadi Eisenkot, a former IDF chief of staff, was quoted telling his ministerial colleagues that they are in denial and need to wise up before it is too late, according to several Hebrew media reports.

Some 300,000 supporters gathered in Tel Aviv to mark 100 days since October 7 and Hamas terrorists took 240 people hostage (Courtesy)

Eisenkot, whose son and nephew were both killed fighting in Gaza, reportedly told the other members of the cabinet that “we have to stop lying to ourselves, to show courage, and to lead to a large deal that will bring home the hostages. Your time is running out, and each day that passes endangers their lives.”

National Unity Party head Benny Gantz was reportedly supportive of his colleague’s approach, as was Shas party leader MK Aryeh Deri.

According to the reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reiterated their belief that only added military pressure will lead to such a deal.

Many, probably most of the hostages’ families, however, want a deal — any deal — even if it would potentially involve the release of thousands of Palestinian security prisoners to secure the release of the hostages and/or a prolonged ceasefire.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. 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.

The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 25 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also 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.

On Sunday night, Ali Ziyadne, a relative of Bedouin hostages Youssef Hamis Ziyadne, 53, and his son Hamza, 22, implored Netanyahu to take the advice of close associates, including Mossad head David Barnea, and work to secure a deal.

“Bibi, you have officers in your cabinet, take their advice, stop the war, enough, bring our loved ones home!” said Ziyadne.

Maccabit, aunt of hostages Ziv and Gali Berman, 26-year-old twins abducted from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, called on the government and the army to work for their release.

“Those who abandoned them are the ones guilty of their captivity,” she said.

When President Isaac Herzog, who spoke at the end of the rally, offered platitudes that didn’t censure the government, the audience shouted “Now! Now!” over his speech, practically drowning him out as he repeated what’s been said many times over the last three months — that every effort was being made to bring home the hostages.

“Did you give up on them?” yelled Ofri Bibas, sister of Yarden Bibas, 34, who was taken hostage by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7. His wife Shiri, 32, and their two children, Ariel, 4, and Kfir, 1, were taken hostage separately. The children, known to many as “the redheads,” are the youngest hostages held by the Hamas.

Relatives of the Bibas family at the 24-hour rally on January 14, 2024. (Courtesy)

“You don’t have a mandate to give up on them,” said Bibas, looking across the road toward the Defense Ministry compound. “Your obligation is to bring them home. They’re dying in captivity. 136 coffins is not a victory. Listen to the public.”

When the family members spoke, the crowd of thousands stood quietly, their umbrellas held high, dripping water on one another.

They listened to released hostage Sharon Cunio, back home with her three-year-old twins but not her husband, David Cunio. “You abandoned us and continue to abandon us,” she addressed the government.

They heard released hostage Aviva Siegel, who spoke about moving 13 different times during her captivity, being left in “a scary dark tunnel, without oxygen,” when she and her husband Keith, still held hostage, “were sure those were their last hours, and were told that Israel was no longer,” she says.

Siegel said she saw abuses that are “impossible to describe,” and “spent 54 days of hell in Gaza. I beg the war cabinet to bring them home alive.”

More than 50 musicians performed throughout the 24 hours, including well-known performers such as Rami Kleinstein, Tomer Grinberg, Harel Skaat, Keren Peles, Idan Reichel, Shlomi Shabbat and Omer Adam, all offering well-known hit songs that comforted the crowd and the families.

There were guests at the Sunday rally as well, including the German and British ambassadors to Israel, both speaking in Hebrew and passing along messages from their governments, as well as Jerusalem mayor Moshe Lion and Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, who implored the government to “do the Zionist thing” and bring the hostages home.

Demonstrators hold a banner reading “bring back our sisters” at a 24-hour rally for hostages marking 100 days since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Throughout the 24 hours, the dozens of speakers repeated similar messages, including Haifa mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem, a relative of hostage Itay Svirsky, head of the Histadrut labor union Arnon Ben-David, Omer Shtivi, brother of hostage Idan Shtivi, and former general Noam Tibon.

Tibon, who drove to Kibbutz Nachal Oz on October 7 to save his son Amir Tibon and his family, commented that after 100 days, the military operations haven’t succeeded in bringing home any hostages alive.

“I want to tell you something, we know who Hamas is, they’re murderers,” said Tibon. “A deal with Hamas is a deal with the devil, and that’s why that deal has to be made now.”

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, speaking toward the end of the rally, said the State of Israel was not doing enough to release the hostages.

“To return the hostages is the more urgent goal,” said Lapid. “We can kill [Hamas leader in Gaza] Yahya Sinwar in February too. We will kill him, sooner or later. The hostages need to be brought home now. The hostages were not captured in battle. They are there because the State of Israel failed and abandoned them. This is the most terrible failure in the history of the state, and it is not their failure. It is the failure of the government and security forces and now it is the duty of the government and the security forces to bring them home.”

Until the hostages return home, continued Lapid, “the Israeli covenant remains broken. It lies before us on the floor of history, shattered to pieces.”

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