‘Look us in the eye!’: 30,000 join Gaza hostages’ families on final march into Jerusalem

Rally held outside PM’s office; Gantz and Eisenkot meet with relatives, with latter reportedly assuring them that deal for return of hostages is being deliberated ‘day and night’

Family and supporters of the some 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza on the final leg of a five-day solidarity rally calling for their return, from Tel Aviv to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Nov. 18, 2023 (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Family and supporters of the some 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza on the final leg of a five-day solidarity rally calling for their return, from Tel Aviv to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Nov. 18, 2023 (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Family members of those missing and held hostage in Gaza were accompanied by thousands of Israelis on the fifth day of their march from Tel Aviv to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, which they were set to reach on Saturday afternoon.

There was no immediate comment from police on how many people were marching toward Jerusalem, however protest organizers said there were tens of thousands walking to the capital.

Channel 12 news said there were some 30,000 marchers.

Kobi Ben Ami, who has two family members held in Gaza, told the outlet that the families were “begging” ministers to meet with them and tell them what they planned to do to return the hostages. Many of the relatives of those held in Gaza have said they feel abandoned by the government.

Ben Ami said the families were enormously grateful for all the members of the public who had supported the families on their march.

“Well done to all the people who came to help, the thousands who came every day to bring food and drink and help with shelter and just to give support. I am simply so proud of you all,” he said.

As the group began the final climb toward Jerusalem, the marchers were joined by Opposition Leader Yair Lapid.

The march entered the capital at around 3 p.m. ahead of a protest at the Prime Minister’s Office at approximately 4 p.m.

As the marchers entered the capital, they were greeted by residents of the city holding yellow balloons printed with the words “Bring them home.”

At the conclusion of the protest, many of the families returned to Tel Aviv and met with war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz and cabinet observer Minister Gadi Eisenkot. They are scheduled to meet on Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Eisenkot was quoted telling them that “the return of the hostages is the supreme priority [of the war], before the destruction of Hamas” — a stance that others helming the coalition have not expressed. He said a possible deal for the hostages was being discussed “day and night.”

Gantz reportedly told the families that “the entire cabinet is convinced that military pressure contributes to the [efforts for the] return of the hostages.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, families of hostages held in Gaza and thousands of their supporters held a rally outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, in an area dubbed “Hostages Square.”

To coincide with Monday’s World Children’s Day, most of the speakers were relatives of the children being held by Hamas and other terrorist groups since October 7.

Family and supporters of the some 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza on the final leg of a five-day solidarity rally calling for their return, from Tel Aviv to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Nov. 18, 2023 (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

The marchers spent Friday night at Ein Hemed, where they held a Shabbat service and had the traditional Friday night meal.

Gantz arrived at the site and spoke with relatives of hostages, embracing many of them.

“How do we welcome Shabbat without knowing where our loved ones are being held?” said Naor Pakciarz, the representative of the families of Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the worst-hit communities in the October 7 massacre.

“We have a message for the war cabinet — it cannot be that you make a decision without sitting with us and looking us in the eye. Look us in the eye!” Pakciarz said.

Throughout their march on Friday, the families of the hostages marchers were joined by thousands of supporters in a large procession at the side of the Route 1 highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

As they marched past the Haredi community of Kiryat Ye’arim, dozens of supporters were waiting with yellow balloons and speakers blasting out the prayer for the return of those held hostage or captive.

Marchers were joined by Culture Minister Miki Zohar and far-right Religious Zionism MK Zvi Succot, drawing jeers from some parts of the crowd. Representatives of the families were quick to issue a statement asking that all ministers and MKs who join the march are respected.

The march came as US President Joe Biden held another call Friday with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and pressed him on the “urgent need” for the roughly 240 hostages “to be released without further delay,” the White House said, intensifying its rhetoric regarding the urgency of the issue.

The phone call came amid reports that Israel is balking on an initial, partial deal that would keep some mothers in Gaza while their children went free.

After previous hostage deal proposals would have seen parent hostages separated from their children abducted with them in Gaza, the war cabinet informed mediators that under no circumstances would Israel accept the separation of mothers from their children.

According to the report, the latest Qatari proposal from Tuesday would see 50 hostages freed in return for a five-day ceasefire and the release of 150 female security prisoners being held in Israel.

Families of the Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza march along with hundreds of supporters towards the Knesset in Jerusalem, as part of a protest calling for the immediate release of the hostages, near Jerusalem, November 17, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, as this would see some mothers separated from their children, Israel refused and is demanding that all mothers and children be released together, the report said.

According to Channel 12, Netanyahu urged Biden to try to secure the release of at least 70 hostages in all.

Meanwhile, Hamas issued a statement warning Israel not to drag its feet.

The recorded statement from the military-wing spokesman, who goes by the name of Abu Obeida, warned Israel that the hostages “could become forgotten.”

He also said that the longer the hostages remain in captivity, the greater the chances of them being killed. Hamas has on several occasions claimed that hostages have been killed in Israeli strikes. Israel denounces these claims as psychological warfare and propaganda.

Families of the hostages held by terror groups in Gaza, along with hundreds of supporters, seen marching toward Jerusalem on November 16, 2023. (Courtesy: Gilad Pirset)

Hamas also published a video Friday apparently showing 86-year-old Aryeh Zalmanovich, one of the hostages being held in Gaza.

The footage raises concerns regarding Zalmanovich’s well-being.

As was the case with previous clips of hostages broadcast by terror groups in recent weeks, Israeli media did not publish the footage, out of respect for the families of the abducted and not to lend a hand to the psychological warfare being employed by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Aryeh Zalmanovich. (Courtesy)

On Monday evening, Hamas published a propaganda video of Noa Marciano, showing her speaking to the camera four days after being taken hostage, identifying herself and reciting the names of her parents and her hometown. The video then cut to her dead body.

On Thursday, thousands of marchers in the procession of hostage families arrived in the central city of Modiin, where they stopped to pay a shiva call to the Marciano family.

Marciano, 19, of the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps 414th unit, was serving on the Nahal Oz IDF base when it was overrun on October 7.

Speaking to the families of the hostages in Modiin, Noa’s mother, Adi Marciano, thanked them for coming and said that she had originally been supposed to march alongside them, before the news of her daughter’s death reached her.

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