In the heart of Tel Aviv, at Dizengoff Square, the hostages are everywhere: on flyers, in the light of candles and in the thoughts of bystanders. The central fountain has become one of many memorials to the at least 239 Israelis who are in the Gaza Strip.
It illustrates the growing pressure to free the hostages. Since the outbreak of war, five of them were released, in part because of Qatar’s commitment. Again this week, reports came out that the Gulf state is engaged in talks about more releases.
Couple Jessica Kleiman (40) and Moises Idi (49) say they are trying to bring the little light in these dark times to Tel Aviv. Carrying a box of candles, the two drove to the coastal city this morning. “We are doing this to show respect and express our wish for everyone to come back,” Kleiman said.
Kleiman and Idi hand out the candles to passing people. “What we are doing is actually nothing, but we really wanted to do something,” says Idi, who helps a woman light a memorial light, while Kleiman films the scene.
Nir (26), a young man sitting next to the fountain, also came here to pay his respects. Since he has not been drafted into the army and his university is closed, he has time to honor the missing, murdered and held hostage Israelis. “Every night there is a memorial service here. We burn our candles for the victims then.”
Everywhere in Israel, people face harsh realities. Upon arrival in the Holy Land, at Ben Gurion airport, all the hostages are pictured on signs. Flyers with the pictures of the hostages also hang on stores, buses and restaurants across the country.
The hostages case is high on the agenda. Both in Israel and abroad, observes Dani Shek, former ambassador of Israel in France and currently a representative at the forum for Hostages and Missing Families Forum.
Shek: “In Israel, it’s interesting to see that in the first week the destruction of Hamas was seen as a priority by the public, and since a few weeks ago rescuing the hostages is number one in most surveys.”
With the slogan “bring them home now,” an Israeli businessman, who has personal involvement in the events of October 7th, founded the organization. From lawyers to doctors and psychologists to media strategists; hundreds of volunteers are helping. “We have only one task,” says Shek, “we support the families.”
Now, now, now
In Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, hundreds of empty beds symbolize the consequences of the Hamas terrorist attack. From here, thousands of protesters are marching Saturday night to the so-called hostage plaza next to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
At first glance, the protest is reminding of the weekly demonstrations held against judicial reforms. But these have not been going on for weeks and nothing has been shown about the fragile democracy. The protesters are demanding the return of all hostages. “Now, now, now,” sounds from the demonstrators’ throats.
Criticism against the government is not shunned by the protesters and especially the families. So does Noam Perry, the daughter of Haim (79) who was kidnapped from the kibbutz Nir Oz. “Prime Minister, members of the cabinet, don’t talk to me about conquest, don’t talk to me about crushing Gaza. Don’t talk at all. Just take action. Bring them home now.”