50 Days of Torment – Scenes from Hostage Square

The author at Hostage Square
Where are our children? Scenes from Hostage Square

I type. I delete. I type again. I have been trying to write for days and weeks. Each time I start, I think: Wait, maybe tomorrow there’ll be news. Maybe tomorrow we will know something about our kidnapped babies, children, adults, seniors… Maybe tomorrow we will see some of the parents hug the children who were taken and now returned to them.

At least one tomorrow has come: Today the first group of hostages is due to be released. I dare to hope that things will go as planned. I know that the hostages have been through hell and who knows how long it will take for them to begin to heal.

Red Cross, where are you? The author at Hostage Square. Photo credit: Gideon Markowicz, used with permission.

Helpless, restless, angry, and sad, I go to Hostage Square in Tel Aviv every day. I stand in line – a silent vigil, visualizing the return of our missing children, sisters, brothers, parents, grandparents… I march around holding up my signs, “Red Cross, Where Are You?” / “Where Are Our Children?”. I join the many restless souls walking around in Hostage Square. We hold up posters with the faces of our kidnapped people. We scribble messages of hope. We walk and sit and walk again. People stop to talk, to ask about the faces on our posters. We share. We hug. We cry.

Tomorrow will be the 50th day of this torment. We are a country on edge. We’re on a roller-coaster of grief and trauma and rage and sometimes tiny sparks of hope. Everyone in Israel – and many of you abroad – are in this together. We reel from one emotion to another,  worried sick about our people in Gaza, whether held hostage by Hamas or in uniform, fighting them. Everyone in Israel has someone in this fight. We are all on the same scary ride of hope and heartache…

The author with Women Wage Peace, silent vigil at Hostage Square.

The ‘regulars’ at Hostage Square all know each other by now. Not just official family members, but also the helpers, people like me, who come to support, to speak up, to do whatever we can. We marched to Jerusalem. We protest outside the offices of the apathetic UNICEF and the useless International Red Cross.

The author protesting outside UNICEF offices on World Children’s Day

Last night I stood near a small group, a family we all recognize by now from our TV screens. Suddenly there were shouts of joy. After days of anguish and uncertainty, it seemed that maybe this time the hostage deal would, could actually happen. The shouts meant this family had been told their children were on the list:  the first group of hostages to be freed. I call out the name of the mother in that group. She hears me and comes over to me. We hug and cry. She knows by my poster and tee shirt that my hostage will be not coming home so fast. Her eyes tell me that she knows and that she feels for me. Although we all want ALL THE HOSTAGES HOME NOW, we are a pragmatic people. We know we must take what we can get – and welcome whomever we can get home, as soon as possible. Time is not on our side. We must accept whatever deal we are offered. As we hug, I say, “Tomorrow you will hug your children, and we will all start to breathe again.”  “Amen,” she says. “Amen,” I say.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in America. And many of us here in Israel are full of thanks for our American friends. There is no doubt that this hostage deal would not have happened without American involvement, guidance, and most likely coercion. It is impossible to imagine how one closes a deal with a terrorist organization bent on annihilating its neighbors, i.e., Israel.

Thank you, President Biden, for whatever you have done to make this miracle happen: 50 women and children in this first group of hostages – to be released over several days in exchange for the release of 150 prisoners and a temporary ceasefire – officially called a pause, to ensure there is no illusion that this is not the end of the war. After the cruelty and insanity we saw on October 7th, it is miraculous to imagine that we will have a glimmer of hope to see at least some of our loved ones come back to us. We have been holding our breath for 49 days. This Thanksgiving weekend, we are hoping to exhale.

About the Author
Nili Bresler is a member of Israel's pro-democracy movement. She is a business communications coach with experience in management at multinational technology companies. Prior to her career in high-tech, Nili was a news correspondent for the AP. Nili holds a degree in International Relations from NYU. Nili volunteers with the nonprofit, NATAN Worldwide Disaster Relief. Nili made aliya in 1970 and lives in Ramat Gan.
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