It was a somber, mostly quiet crowd near the Knesset on Monday afternoon, as dozens of family members and friends of those missing or held captive by Hamas gathered to mark 30 days since their loved ones were abducted.
As the crowd gathered in Jerusalem, made up primarily of those representing or supporting the families of the hostages and the missing, one of the rally organizers from the volunteer organization Bring Them Home Now told the families to take their placards and face the parliament building.
“Let them see you from their balconies,” he said. “Let them see your faces.”
The families stood behind a metal barrier, several rows of people holding up their placards, some of which bore the faces of entire family units abducted on October 7, when thousands of Hamas terrorists invaded Gaza border communities and towns, killing some 1,400 people, most of them civilians slaughtered amid vicious atrocities, and kidnapping at least 240.
There was no line of lawmakers or ministers waiting to greet the families — only Labor party leader Merav Michaeli and National Unity MK Matan Kahana walking around the crowd before the speeches.
“I’ve been visiting the families, and I hear from them that there can be no victory without the captives being released,” Kahana said. “I can tell you that the cabinet is exerting every effort and doing everything it can to bring them home.”
For the families, however, there is a strong concern that the government could cave to international demands and offer humanitarian aid to Gaza without the concurrent release of any hostages.
“We feel choked by the sadness, by those who are missing,” said Oded Leopold, a volunteer with Bring Them Home Now. “The politicians should feel that sense of being choked, they should feel it every day until each captive returns home, until they can promise that this will never happen again.”
Nir Meir, secretary general of the kibbutz movement, spoke about the more than 300 members of kibbutzim near the Gaza border “killed in our backyards,” including 71 in Kibbutz Nir Oz and more than 120 in Kibbutz Be’eri.
“They’re not just numbers, they’re friends, they’re family,” said Meir. “We can’t bring back those who were killed, but we won’t leave the hostages.”
Meir looked toward the Knesset as he said: “The government of Israel abandoned the kibbutzim.”
And then family members got up to speak, to explain their particular form of torture as they cling to the hope that their loved ones are still alive and coping with all the unknowns of captivity.
Amit Ashkenazi’s sister, Doron Steinbracher, was taken captive from the safe room of her home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza after she tried to hold off terrorists by blocking her door with a couch.
The Red Cross hasn’t been able to check on the hostages, Ashkenazi noted, wondering why Gaza should receive humanitarian aid given that state of affairs.
“We’ve paid enough,” said Ashkenazi, as the crowd burst into shouts of “Now! Now! Now!”
Lior Rudaif was abducted and his family has received no information at all about his whereabouts, said his niece, Yael Sabrigo. She called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Minister Benny Gantz and “all the decision makers” to not consider humanitarian aid until the missing are returned.
“I feel as if my hands are tied,” said Inbar Goldstein, whose brother and his eldest daughter were killed, while the rest of his family — his wife and three other children — were abducted to Gaza.
Goldstein held up her own hands, bound together with zip ties.
“Are you doing all you can?” she asked, looking toward the Knesset.
Yuval Haran — whose mother, Shoshan Haran, was abducted along with six other members of his extended family, while his father, aunt and uncle were killed at home in Kibbutz Be’eri — shook his head at the banner behind him, displaying the faces of his family members who were killed, abducted and released.
“I’m not a strategist but my family is there, in Hamas’s hands for a full month and the only legitimate action is to bring them home,” he said.
Not everyone was prepared to get involved in the politics of the nightmarish scenario that has played out over the last 30 days.
Kamila Hutter, mother to four and grandmother to 10, spoke about her granddaughter, 13-year-old Gali, who was kidnapped in her flowered pajamas, after her 16-year-old brother Lior suffocated to death in their burning house in Be’eri.
“It’s impossible to imagine it,” said Hutter, talking about her granddaughter’s mastery of TikTok and horseback riding skills. “I’m here in the name of all the grandmothers.”
And Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose son Hersh was taken captive from the Supernova desert rave, spoke about the small children, the babies and grandmothers held captive in Gaza’s underground tunnels, where there is no day or night, and sang the song she used to sing to Hersh every night when he was small, in order to help him sleep.
“It helped him sleep, maybe he’s singing it to them,” said Goldberg-Polin.
At the very end, singer Ivri Lider joined the crowd, singing “Zachiti Le’ehov” (I was lucky to be loved), to all the mothers and grandmothers, fathers, sons and brothers, grandsons, and granddaughters.
He followed with a rendition of Naomi Shemer’s “Al Kol Eleh” (For all these things), about the bitter and the sweet, as people raised their posters, and others wept, and a flock of birds flew across the sky.
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