This afternoon, I spent a couple of hours sitting with the families of the kidnapped civilians. They had gathered on Kaplan Street, across from the Ministry Of Security. On my way to the meeting point, I encountered six people standing with their backs towards us, acting as live posters. The writing on their backs was in English: “Bring Us Back!,” and in Hebrew, the somber question, “Are You Backing Us?” (“|Yesh Lanu Gav?”).
Unfortunately, I’m not sure of the answer. It seems that what used to be an unquestioned principle in Israel, the Jewish commandment of Pidyon Shvuyim, the redemption of captives, has turned into a cynical political weapon under this government. The minister Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the religious Zionist party and a far-right politician, declared on October 8th that Israel has to be cruel now and not think too much about the hostages in Gaza. I cannot imagine what the families of the hostages felt upon hearing that. His cruel response might explain some of the mean comments we heard today on Kaplan from passersby who support him.
There weren’t many people at the show of support for bringing back the hostages from Gaza, but everyone present felt it was crucial to be there. I overheard a woman telling a reporter that, at this point, there’s nothing more important than showing support. All around us were photos of the kidnapped civilians with the word “kidnapped” in red above them. Next to each photo was the name, age, and nationality. Under the photo, there was a text with an explanation: “On October 7th, nearly 200 innocent civilians were abducted from Israel into the Gaza Strip. Their whereabouts remain unknown. More than 3000 women, men, and children ranging in age from 3 months to 85 years old were wounded, murdered, beaten, raped, and brutally separated from loved ones by Hamas.”
At the bottom of the poster, there was a plea in red: “Please help bring them back alive,” and above it, a code to take a photo of the poster and share it. As I was leaving, I saw a human chain of people holding the posters of the kidnapped civilians. They stood quietly as photographers from foreign media took pictures of their posters. It looked hopeless. On the way back in the car, I heard on the radio that Benny Gantz had met again with the families. It is reassuring that finally, after all the destruction that this government has caused, Gantz, the former Minister of Security and retired Commander in Chief in the Israeli army, joined Netanyahu’s government together with another retired Commander in Chief, Gadi Eizenkot to help in the war effort. It seems that we finally have some responsible adults in the cabinet. Gantz and Eizenkot promised to do the utmost to bring the hostages back. We pray for their safe return.