As the Israeli government struggles in Gaza to eliminate Hamas, many people whose loved ones were kidnapped in the Oct. 7 attack in Israel fear that intensifying fighting could put the hostages in even greater danger.
Leaders and activists around the world have stepped up pressure to free the hostages. On Friday, Israeli officials revised the number of hostages taken from 242 to 241, a number that Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said had fluctuated based on Israeli intelligence. The hostages come from more than 40 countries. Among them are more than 30 children; more than a dozen people in their 60s, 70s and 80s; and people who suffer from health problems.
Jon Polin’s son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, is believed to be among the hostages. Mr. Polin said he would have preferred that the government had exhausted all other options to free his son and the other hostages before the Israeli military invasion, but he also admitted that he would probably think differently if his son had not not been removed on October 7. .
That day, Hersh Goldberg-Polin was attending a music festival. When Hamas militants arrived, he lost part of his arm to a grenade explosion, an injury documented in a video showing him being loaded into a Hamas truck.
“I understand the feeling of the Israeli government that we must intervene and take action against Hamas,” Jon Polin said, while adding: “The best option for everyone is a diplomatic and humanitarian release of all the hostages. »
Daniel Lifshitz’s grandmother, Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, was one of four hostages freed by Hamas. But his joy at finding her was quickly eclipsed by concern for his grandfather Oded Lifshitz, 83, who is believed to still be detained.
The couple, both peace activists from Nir Oz, a kibbutz near the border with Gaza, were kidnapped when their community was overrun by attacks.
Since Israel began sending ground troops into Gaza on Friday, Mr. Lifshitz’s fear for his grandfather has intensified. “I don’t see any justification for how an act of war can help the hostages,” he said, fearing that instead “it will make things much more difficult.”
Mr Lifshitz said he would prefer the government take responsibility for its failures on October 7, put more pressure on Qatar to negotiate the release of the hostages and “accept any proposed deal”, whatever or the price.
The families of the hostages organize almost daily demonstrations. In Tel Aviv on Thursday, dozens of survivors of the October 7 attack sat silently in a central square, wearing red headbands, their hands tied with plastic ties, as part of a campaign to keep the fate of the hostages in front of the public eye. .
Limited progress has been made in freeing the hostages. Two were released by Hamas on October 20 and two on October 23 after negotiations brokered by Qatar. A fifth hostage, a soldier, was rescued by Israeli forces during a special operation on Monday. According to the Israeli armyone of the purposes of ground activity in Gaza is to help rescue hostages.
Yehuda Beinin – whose daughter Liat Beinin Atzili and son-in-law Aviv Atzili, both 49, are believed to be hostages – returned this week from a visit to the United States to speak with lawmakers and others from the hostage crisis.
Mr. Beinin said he firmly believed that “Israel must complete its mission of destroying Hamas and everything linked to it.” Although he said he did not know enough to say whether the ground invasion would help repatriate his family members, he was convinced that the United States was advising Israel to reduce civilian casualties, which could “otherwise complicate the hostage situation.”
It has been almost a month since most families have heard from their loved ones who disappeared on October 7. “Unfortunately, time is running out,” Mr. Lifshitz said. As the war escalated, he said he “implored restraint and caution” and hoped “both sides would do everything they can to free the hostages.”
Isabelle Kershner contributed reporting from Tel Aviv.