Thousands march for release of hostages
JERUSALEM Thousands of family members and supporters of some 240 hostages held in Gaza streamed into Jerusalem on Saturday, castigating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over his management of the war with Hamas and pleading with the government to do more to bring their loved ones home.
The march capped a five-day trek from Tel Aviv and represented the largest protest on behalf of the hostages since they were dragged into Gaza by Hamas on Oct. 7 as part of the militants’ deadly attack in southern Israel.
About 1,200 people were killed in Israel on the day of the surprise Hamas assault.
Israeli leaders have set dual objectives — to crush Hamas and to bring the hostages home. But they have not made clear to families how they plan to balance the two.
Some of the hostage families have said they fear that the military offensive endangers their loved ones. Israeli leaders, in turn, have argued that only military pressure on Hamas will lead to some hostage releases in a possible deal involving a temporary ceasefire.
The families have not rallied around a single proposal for getting their loved ones back, but pleaded for more empathy and responsiveness from the government. Some criticized Israel’s War Cabinet for what they described as a lack of transparency about any rescue plans.
On Saturday, the marchers carried Israeli flags and photos of the hostages as they finished the 70kilometre walk to Jerusalem and slowly converged on Netanyahu’s office.
Once there, they were joined by crowds carrying yellow balloons printed with the words “Bring them home.”
“I want you to look in my eyes and try to understand just a bit of the trauma I’m feeling,” Daria Gonen, referring to Israeli leaders, said at the rally.
Her 23-year-old sister, Romi Gonen, was kidnapped by Hamas from a music festival-turned-massacre near Gaza.
Ruby Chen, another protester, said that the families want to “keep the awareness of the hostage issue as a top priority for the government of Israel.” Chen’s 19-year old son is a hostage.
For the families, the procession marked the culmination of six weeks of worrying and wondering about the safety and whereabouts of their relatives, who include children and older adults.
At a plaza in front of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, protesters released hundreds of pink balloons into the air and set out trays of cake and cookies, celebrating the birthdays of two hostages held by Hamas, nine-year old Emily Hand and 57-year old Raz Ben Ami.
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited