Israel’s Defense Ministry headquarters used to tower over Tel Aviv as a symbol of power, but for the families of hostages now huddled beneath it the building has become a focal point of suffering.
Relatives filled the square opposite the 17-story Matkal Tower on Saturday to demand that the state founded to protect Jews respect that covenant by doing everything it can to rescue the captives in Gaza.
The escalation of the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip raised alarm that their loved ones were vulnerable to tank shells, air force bombs, or reprisals from Hamas captors, and raised painful questions: Has the government given up all hope of negotiating their release? What is the army’s strategy to free the hostages? Was there a strategy at all?
“Is there a plan? We don’t know. This is what we want to find out,” said Chaim Rubinstein, spokesman for the Forum for Families of Hostages and Missing Persons, as families and supporters gathered and embraced under the blazing sun.
“We also want to know the meaning of what happened last night,” Rubinstein said, referring to the ground incursion by Israeli forces into Gaza and the bombing of 150 underground Hamas targets — including tunnels that may host some of the 229 hostages Israel believes are there. in Gaza.
After three weeks of complaints that the government failed to inform their relatives about the crisis, or even meet them, the protest put pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to meet them on Saturday evening.
It was not clear what reassurances he could provide because there appeared to be no plan to negotiate a prisoner exchange or stop the attack, which Hamas said was a condition for any release.
Defense Minister Yoav Galant said in a video statement: “We attacked above ground and underground, and terrorist operatives of all ranks attacked us, everywhere.” He added, “The instructions to the forces are clear: the operation will continue until a new order emerges.”
For families near the Ministry of Defense carrying photos of their relatives, or tying yellow ribbon around benches and trees, it was an ominous statement. Hamas said last week that about 50 hostages were killed in the bombing.
“Every day the hostages are not released, they are in danger,” said Zeev Sherman, whose 19-year-old nephew Ron Sherman was kidnapped in a Hamas attack on October 7. Sherman said the government that day abandoned Israelis who lived near Gaza, and now risks abandoning captured survivors.
“Why this attack? There is no rush. Hamas is not going anywhere.” He favored exchanging hostages for thousands of Palestinians, including Hamas activists, in Israeli prisons. “All prisoners for all hostages.”
Shelley, 62, who carried a sign that read, “Lives Matter,” echoed that sentiment. “The government owes us after they did not protect us. We should focus on the hostages – we should not eat or sleep until we get them home. Hostages first. “There is always time for war.”
Shirley (56 years old) appealed to the Netanyahu administration to give priority to prisoners. “It’s a second Holocaust. Who knows what happens to our children?” She added that the more the bombing on Gaza intensified, the more worried the relatives became. “It’s been three weeks. “We can’t take it anymore.”
For Yreed Al-Shabibi, the complexities of the conflict dissipated into an intense longing for the return of her 26-year-old cousin, Noa Argamani, whose kidnapping on a motorcycle was filmed and widely disseminated online. “We just want her here, that’s all.”
The families and their supporters expressed a wide range of attitudes toward the Palestinians. “We want the Palestinians to have a state. Dalia (62 years old) said: “We are afraid for the people of Gaza, and we do not want them to suffer.”
Ayelet Samerano, whose son Jonathan was kidnapped, was trembling as she spoke. “My son, my little son. He was taken by those animals.
“They killed children in front of their parents and killed parents in front of their children.” Sleep is elusive, Samerano said. “And when I wake up, it’s back to the nightmare.”
It accused the government of leaving its relatives in an information vacuum, but expressed its confidence in the decision to attack Gaza. “I’m not worried about my army. My army knows exactly what to do.”
The Hostages and Missing Families Forum is an umbrella name for groups of relatives organized via WhatsApp.
A strongly worded statement early Saturday criticized Netanyahu and his government for leaving families in the dark while escalating operations in Gaza. “Tonight was the worst night ever,” she said. “Families are worried about the fate of their loved ones and waiting for an explanation. Every minute that passes seems like an eternity.”
The forum did not call for a ceasefire or prisoner exchange. “We are asking the army and the government to return our people,” said Rubinstein, the government spokesman. “We don’t tell them how to do it. We just say: Tell us what the plan is.”
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”