'Where is the world? Where are the decision-makers?'

‘Enough!’: 120,000 attend 24-hour rally for hostages’ release after 100 days in Gaza

Relatives of the kidnapped in Gaza express frustration with government; speakers include French president, US envoy, Israel ex-Supreme Court chief, who pledge never to neglect fight

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

At the 24-hour rally calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza on January 13, 2024 (Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash 90)
At the 24-hour rally calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza on January 13, 2024 (Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash 90)

An estimated 120,000 people attended the beginning of a 24-hour rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday to mark 100 days since the hostages were kidnapped into Gaza during Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught in southern Israel.

The figure, provided by organizers, would make the rally one of the largest held in Israel over the past year, which saw regular mass demonstrations against the government’s controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary.

Speakers during the early hours of the rally, which began after sundown in what has been dubbed “Hostages Square” in central Tel Aviv, included relatives of the roughly 132 hostages still in Gaza, French President Emmanuel Macron, US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew and former Israel Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch.

The family members of the hostages addressing the gathering warned that time was running out to save their loved ones, and expressed intense frustration with the government, which they argued is not doing enough to save those that it neglected on October 7, when some 240 people were kidnapped into Gaza by Palestinian terrorists.

The rally took place as an agreement moved forward to have medications transferred to the hostages for the first time. The medications were reportedly handed over to Qatari officials on Saturday night and were then slated to be delivered to the Red Cross or a different third party, which would be responsible for bringing the meds to the hostages.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again pledged during a Saturday night press conference to exhaust every effort to secure the release of the remaining hostages.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters during a press conference in Tel Aviv on January 13 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube)

However, he said that just as he cannot imagine what the families of the hostages are going through, they too are not able to fully grasp the calculations that Israel’s decision-makers need to make. The remark suggested that other considerations need to be taken into account in negotiations to free those held captive.

Critics of this stance have argued that the government must pay whatever price is necessary to free the hostages, given that the state had a responsibility to protect its citizens and failed to do so on October 7.

Prior to the start of the rally, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum issued a statement calling on the war cabinet to hold its Sunday meeting at the square and stressed that every delay in reaching a deal was resulting in the deaths of more hostages.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said in a press statement in southern Israel on Saturday night that only military pressure would bring about the return of more hostages from Gaza.

With the war against Hamas about to reach its 100-day mark, Halevi said the Israel Defense Forces was “acting via all means, mostly covert, in order to bring back [the hostages] and will continue to do so until we return them all.”

But a growing number of the hostages’ families have been pushing back against this stance, noting that no hostages have been released since Israel resumed fighting after a seven-day truce in late November.

Israelis attend a rally marking 100 days since the hostages were kidnapped into Gaza, on January 13, 2024. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Speaking at the rally, Ronen Neutra said that during a recent meeting with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, he stressed the importance of remaining focused and creative in order to reach an agreement.

“The best answer is a political solution and not a military one,” said Neutra, whose son Omer is among the hostages.

Yamit Ashkenazi, sister of hostage Doron Steinbrecher from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, yelled at the government for “twenty years of abandonment.”

“In the Gaza border communities, we believed we were safe, and we stayed to raise our children there, but you who closed your eyes, sitting in your safe homes, you who talk about the ‘day after’ while my sister and another [131] are there, wake up already!” said Ashkenazi, also a resident of Kfar Aza who survived October 7 with her spouse and children. “I don’t want my sister in a coffin, and no one wants their loved ones in a coffin.”

The family of hostage Doron Steinbrecher at the January 13, 2024 rally calling for the release of Hamas hostages (Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Nobel Prize-winning biologist Aaron Ciechanover spoke forcefully at the rally, referring to the “new levels of barbarism” committed by Hamas terrorists on October 7 and to the residents of the Gaza border communities who were abandoned by the government and army on that day.

“Why did we build a state if we can’t ensure the most basic right to security?” asked Ciechanover. “The leadership failed, and the army didn’t protect its citizens. If [the hostages] don’t come back now, the government can’t look its citizens in the eye. It’s a black stain on the forehead of the Israeli government.”

In pre-recorded remarks, French President Emmanuel Macron referred by name to the hostages with French citizenship, saying that Paris is determined to see Ohad Yahalomi, Ofer Kalderon and Orion Hernandez Radoux released.

“Sadly and maddeningly, the ordeal of their captivity continues,” said US Ambassador Jacob Lew, using the Hebrew word, “achshav,” now, to emphasize the US commitment to bringing home the hostages now.

US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew at a on January 13, 2024, Tel Aviv rally marking 100 days since the hostages were abducted. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The rally was planned to last through 8 p.m. Sunday night, with a full schedule that includes more than 50 artists.

One artist, Dana Sapir, dressed in black and trapped in a cage she installed at Hostage Square, attracted attention from passersby and even brought one woman to tears as she attempted to claw her way out of the cage. Written on both her palms in black marker was the title of her piece: “Over my dead body.”

She remained in the tiny cage for hours, exposed to the pouring rain.

Next to Sapir was a 25-meter mock Hamas tunnel erected earlier Saturday. Attendees lined up for the chance to walk through the claustrophobic, dimly lit passage.

An art installation in Hostages Square depicts the plight of those held in Hamas captivity at 24-hour rally in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Etched on the walls of the tunnel are the names of the hostages, messages from families to their captured loved ones and tally marks counting the days since they were abducted. The distant sound of gunshots played through speakers inside the tunnel, intending to simulate the dire conditions of the hostages.

People walk through an installation simulating a tunnel in Gaza in an act of solidarity with hostages believed to be held underground by Hamas and calling for their return, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday Jan. 13, 2024. Sunday marks 100 days since Hamas’s cross-border attack on Oct. 7 in which the terror group killed some 1,200 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, and took 250 others hostage. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Ofek, a demonstrator from Tel Aviv who arrived at the square around midnight, planned to stay all night at the rally despite the heavy rain.

Thousands remained throughout the night.

The 24-hour event was being livestreamed on YouTube.

Spotted in the crowd after midnight were ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot from the National Unity party, who arrived at the rally after wrapping up a war cabinet meeting at the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters nearby.

No other members of the government or coalition were seen at the demonstration.

Many of the speakers directed their remarks at the government.

Anat Shoshani, granddaughter of a freed captive from Kibbutz Nir Oz, speaks during a rally in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube)

“You know what Eliya could have done in 100 days?” said Sigi Cohen, mother of hostage Eliya Cohen, abducted from the Re’im music festival. “He could be in Thailand with tickets he bought a year ago. He could be engaged to his girlfriend with the ring he already bought.”

“Where is the world? Where are the decision-makers? Is there anybody home?” said Cohen. “We’re done. Enough. bring them home.”

Former Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch spoke about the legal battle playing out at The Hague, where Israel is being accused by South Africa of perpetrating a genocide in Gaza.

“The massacre on October 7 wasn’t a fight for freedom and wasn’t according to the laws of war,” said Beinisch. “The nations of the world must support us because terrorism is a threat to the world,”

Her voice breaking, Beinisch called on the judges of the International Court of Justice and “all of those who hold the law dear… Don’t let cruelty and lies win. I’m hopeful that the sounds of this rally will resound around the world.”

Former Supreme Court chief justice Dorit Beinisch addresses a rally at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on January 13, 2024, to mark 100 days since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 onslaught. (Screenshot)

There were more personal messages as well, as mothers like Yelena Trufanova, a released hostage, spoke about her son Sasha, who is still held captive in Gaza.

“It’s hard for me to get up in the morning and to go to sleep at night. It’s hard to live,” Trufanova said. “Some days I’m sad I was released because when I was in Gaza I had hope. I’m ready to go back. Just bring back my son.”

Another mother who spoke was Yael Adar, whose son Tamir was part of the Kibbutz Nir Oz emergency squad and was injured, taken hostage and then killed in Gaza. Adar blasted the government for “abandoning the borders and giving us the name ‘Gaza envelope’ when we were definitely not enveloped.”

“I won’t forget, and I won’t forgive,” said Adar. “To the government of Israel, the onus is on you for what happened during your watch.”

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz attends the Tel Aviv rally marking 100 days since the hostages were kidnapped into Gaza on January 14, 2024. (Courtesy)

Another Nir Oz resident, Bar Goren — whose father, Avner Goren, was killed on October 7 along with his mother, Maya Goren, whose body was taken to Gaza — called for the return of his mother’s body so she could be buried alongside his father.

“The nightmare just gets worse from moment to moment,” said Dvora Idan, whose son, Tsahi Idan, 49, was taken hostage after his eldest daughter was killed in his arms in their bomb shelter in Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, what has to happen for you to take initiative?” asked Idan.

“Bibi, I refuse to listen to all those who say you only have political considerations. Don’t wait, move, bring about an agreement, listen to your friends in the cabinet! You have all the tools and ability to do it. You have a huge mandate from the public. Israel won’t forgive you if you abandon them, and God won’t either.”

Freed hostage Danielle Aloni addresses a rally at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on January 13, 2024, to mark 100 days since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 onslaught. (Screenshot)

Freed hostage Danielle Aloni, whose brother-in-law David Cunio is still held in Gaza, said, “It has been 100 days of cruelty that the world hasn’t seen since Hitler.”

Aloni told the rally how Hamas “created a city of terror underground,” where hostages were taken in their pajamas, “without shoes, without glasses, without medicine.”

Appealing to world leaders, she yelled, “How would you feel if your women were being raped? How would you act if they were shooting at your parents, if they were burning your loved ones alive?”

Charlie Summers contributed to this report.

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