The families of the hostages raise the tone against Netanyahu: “We will not spend another night of suffering” | International

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"The families [de los más de 200 rehenes israelíes en Gaza] They will not spend another night of suffering. Period,” his spokesperson, Haim Rubinstein, shouted into the microphone before the around 250 people gathered since this Saturday morning in Tel Aviv after the largest ground incursion and wave of air bombings in the Strip. The movement in defense of the families has been increasing pressure on the Government of Benjamin Netanyahu and the international community to make the release of the hostages the “top priority”, but the advance of the troops and the massive attacks from the air, even with the hostages inside the Strip, has been the straw that broke the camel's back, in the middle of a day of sabbath. Given the protests and requests for a meeting, the prime minister received a group of family members this Saturday.

Just as the entry of troops "until further notice" has begun this morning a "new phase of the war", in the words of the Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant, a new stage has also opened for families, who have raised several degrees the tone when feeling that bombing Gaza is more important today than freeing the hostages, without also receiving explanations from the Executive. For this reason, early in the morning, after the “most difficult night” for the family members, they announced a rally in Tel Aviv until Netanyahu and Gallant received them for the first time.

Around 3:00 p.m. (2:00 p.m., Spanish peninsular time), Rubinstein assured that Gallant was calling them for the next day, but they rejected it: the meeting had to be the same Saturday. They dissolved the protest, but only to resume it in full force at 8:00 p.m. at the doors of the Ministry of Defense headquarters, unless Netanyahu and Gallant first explained two things to the families: “what are they doing to get the hostages home and how they intend to guarantee their safety during ground operations,” the spokesperson explained to this newspaper. “If there is a plan, tell them about it. I am in the WhatsApp group with them and I have seen their distress during the night, the panic attacks. We are going to stand in front of Kiria [la sede de Defensa] and we are not going to move until they receive us. Families are not going to stay in their homes today to spend another night like this,” Rubinstein continued.

The order was successful and Netanyahu has met with family members, who called off the protest. “I am heartbroken after meeting with the hostages' families. I have committed to them to exhaust any avenue to return their loved ones home,” the prime minister said after the meeting. One of them, Yigal Serussi, has assured that Netanyahu listened to them carefully and “will take into consideration” everything they told him.”

Relatives of the hostages captured in the Hamas attacks on October 7, this Saturday at a protest in Tel Aviv.Alvaro Garcia

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Hours before, the anger and concern were notable in the rally, with a few relatives and many activists and sympathizers facing a situation that strikes a particularly sensitive chord in Israel: the unwritten agreement by which the State will always do everything possible to bring back to its citizens, whether through military rescue operations or prisoner exchanges. This is what Hamas has done in the past and asks for: all the hostages in exchange for the release of the more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners for crimes related to the conflict.

The “them” and the “us”

The massive surprise attack by Hamas on the 7th, which caused some 1,400 deaths, mainly families murdered in their homes or at a music festival, has further deepened one of the main dynamics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the division between the “them” and “us”. And, here, they – the more than 7,700 dead in Gaza, mainly minors and women, in the intense Israeli bombings – are only mentioned as accomplices of Hamas or necessary collateral damage. The “we” that moves and worries are the hostages.

Ilan Zejaria explains it from pain, surrounded by banners with the photo of his 28-year-old daughter, Eden, kidnapped at the famous party rave that ended in a massacre. “We are afraid that they will bomb because our children are there. There is no need to bomb, just strangle Gaza. No water, no electricity, no anything. And the world has to support us in this because it is an issue that concerns humanity, and not even the Nazis did what Hamas did. […] I don't care what happens to Palestinian civilians. They were an active part and that has consequences. I was center-left and believe me, as a country, we have learned our lesson,” she says.

Gathering of relatives of the hostages held by Hamas, this Saturday in Tel Aviv.
Gathering of relatives of the hostages held by Hamas, this Saturday in Tel Aviv.Alvaro Garcia

Next to him, at a table, activists from the Israel Forum for Missing and Hostages, the main organization that represents the families and publicizes the cases, non-stop sell T-shirts and flags with the slogan “Bring them home now,” in English and in Hebrew There are no more yellow ribbons, the visual emblem of the movement that decorates fences and trees in the area and more and more people wear it on their wrists.

Glassy-eyed hugs and displays of empathy follow one another. One of those who receives the most is Daniel Lipshitz. His last name made headlines this week, when his 85-year-old grandmother Yocheved became one of four released (two elderly Israeli women and an American mother and daughter) by Hamas as a “gesture of goodwill.” She is also the only one who has told her experience to the media from the hospital.

Sabbath protest

It has a bittersweet feeling. Her grandfather, Oded, 83, remains captive and missed “hearing” from the authorities “that the hostages remain the top priority.” “Yes, Hamas is a terrorist organization and it must be eliminated, there is no doubt. But there will be time for that,” he argues. Lipshitz shared the grievance over the lack of explanations. He clarifies that he does not have a magic wand, nor confidential information on how to achieve it, but demanded that Netanyahu tell him face to face “what the strategy is, whatever it may be,” and “what has been done” to free the hostages. “And if they think that putting tanks [en Gaza] This is what is needed to release them safe and sound, for them to explain it to us,” he protested.

The Hamas attack has united Israel, but the gaps within its Jewish majority and the months of intense division over the controversial judicial reform have not disappeared, and they sneak into gestures and phrases. To begin with, the protest was held in full sabbath and in Tel Aviv, a symbol of the most secular and modern Israel, where a nationalism more attached to the origins of Zionism prevails than the religious and right-wing one that has been gaining ground in recent decades. Furthermore, many of those murdered either lived in a kibbutz (agricultural community), a symbol of that early Israel, or were young people at the open-air festival. A profile that hardly fits with the voter of Netanyahu and his far-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

It is a taboo topic that Mijal Aharoni, one of the Forum's activists, openly breaks: “If it had been Netanyahu's social base, I don't know if they would act like this,” she points out. Aharoni, like many other protesters, repeats a key word: “Contract.” The one by which Israel forces military service of up to three years, but is also capable of releasing more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners for a single soldier (Guilad Shalit, in 2011). “We Israelis are different. We always agree to give more to the State than we receive. But…” Aharoni clarifies, “there is a clear limit to change. One accepts living near Gaza, serving in the army, but knowing that the State will do everything to bring you back if they capture you. And, right now, at the most critical moment, he is not fulfilling it.” Ignoring this “basic pact,” Aharoni, 48, now doubts, for example, whether her daughter should wear her uniform when it is her turn, in two years, something she had never considered before. “I also have American nationality and my feeling is that, if I were the one held captive in Gaza, it would matter more to [el presidente del país, Joe] Biden than Netanyahu,” he says.

Memorial in Tel Aviv in tribute to the hostages, this Saturday.
Memorial in Tel Aviv in tribute to the hostages, this Saturday. Alvaro Garcia

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