“We are here to remind the Israeli government of the Jewish moral obligation to bring back the 136 captives who are still in Gaza and who have been there for 100 days.”
By Amelie Botbol
January 19, 2024
(JNS) — “I’m fasting. Ask me why,” reads a sign on a chair at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv.
“In Judaism, fasting allows us to correct wrongdoing. I am very fearful for those who are currently in captivity. I am worried that they might not return home. I am fasting to avoid this horrific scenario,” Dubi Avigur from Rakefet, a village in the Lower Galilee, explains to JNS.
“We are a big group. Each one of us fasts once a week. We have been doing it now for a month,” he adds.
Nearby, five people sit silently in a circle, their legs crossed in the lotus yoga position, fasting too but quietly with their eyes closed. Signs around their necks read, “I am fasting in solidarity with the hostages and all the others starving in Gaza.”
At the center of the plaza near the Tel Aviv Museum of Art which has been nicknamed “Hostage Square,” a Shabbat dinner table is divided into two sections. The first 100 places are replete with plates, glasses and cutlery as well as a neat tablecloth and a sticker on each plate that reads, “How good is it to have you here!”
The second section is filled with rugs, bottles of undrinkable brown water and bits of pita bread. No plates or cutlery. Instead of chairs, there are cement blocks and barbed wire.
“We are here to remind the Israeli government of the Jewish moral obligation to bring back the 136 hostages who are still in Gaza and who have been there for 100 days. Every minute counts,” Allie, 45, from Tel Aviv, holding a megaphone and a poster of the Bibas children, tells JNS.
“All of us, mothers, Israelis and citizens of the world were touched by the Bibas family as we watched, on October 7, Shiri holding [9-month-old] Kfir and [4-year-old] Ariel in her arms covered by a sheet, petrified being abducted from her safe room in her kibbutz by Hamas terrorists,” Allie says.
On a rainy January day in Tel Aviv, candles were replaced by blocks of dry ice, one for each hostage, next to heart-shaped notes and “Bring Them Home” flags waving in the breeze.
A talented pianist
A black, silent piano was brought to the square by the mother of Alon Ohel, 22, a talented pianist who was kidnapped on Oct. 7 at the site of the Supernova music festival. On top of the piano, a yellow sculpture reads: “You Are Not Alone.”
Dozens of people wait in line to enter a dimly lit tunnel simulation designed by artist Roni Levavi, who told AFP that he wanted to create “the most faithful reconstruction” of the Gaza tunnels and relied on images from the media. On the walls of the narrow passage, words of love and support were written by visitors, family members and former captives, in solidarity with those still being held in Gaza’s terror tunnels. The sound of shelling and explosions can be heard inside the tunnel.
“We decided to enter the tunnel, even though we knew that the experience was difficult and unpleasant. I was fearful of feeling suffocated, confined and claustrophobic,” Gila, 64, from Ramat Gan, tells JNS.
“While I know that this does not come even close to the suffering of the hostages who have now spent 100 days underground with no air, no food and no contact with the outside world, coming here was the minimum that I could do,” she says.
Inside a tent where merchandise including T-shirts, hoodies, yellow ribbon, dog tags and posters of the hostages are being sold by volunteers, two teenagers hold a banner portraying Agam Berger, 19, whom the terrorists abducted from the Nahal Oz IDF base on Oct. 7; she recently appeared in footage released by Hamas, wounded and terrified.
In a nearby tent, at the entrance of which is written: “My home is Nahal Oz,” survivors of the attacks respond to queries from reporters.
“We are survivors of the Oct. 7 massacre. Hundreds of our friends and our friends’ family members were killed. Others close to our heart are currently held in Gaza,” Ela, from Kibbutz Nirim, tells JNS outside the tent as she held a sign calling for the release of the hostages that she would not let go of throughout the interview.
“We are asking the world to do everything necessary to release the hostages from Gaza. They are civilians who were taken in underwear and pajamas from their beds on Oct. 7 at 6:30 a.m. We have to get them out of Gaza before there is no longer anyone to take out,” she cries.
‘Every day could be her last’
JNS met with families and co-workers of the hostages, including the brother of Naama Levy, 19, who was taken captive at the IDF base at Nahal Oz on Oct. 7 and who appeared shortly afterward in a Telegram video — her hands tied, the bottom of her pants covered in blood, as she was pulled out of a pickup truck by her hair and pushed into the back seat.
“Every day could be her last. We want to emphasize the sense of urgency and how important it is to bring her back now. The love we get from Israeli citizens is incredible and we feel like one big family,” Naama’s brother Amit, from Ra’anana, tells JNS. “I feel awful reaching 100 days. It is unbearable. That is why we are here and so many people who are now family to us and to Naama are here as well,” he laments.
Many Israelis and foreigners have visited “Hostage Square” over the past 100 days and taken part in demonstrations of support every Saturday evening and on other occasions, calling for the release of those abducted into Gaza.
“There isn’t much that citizens like us can do aside from coming here and showing how much we care, together with the families of the hostages and the Israeli people,” Lilach, 45, from Moshav Nevatim near Beersheva, tells JNS.
Lilach came in support of her co-worker Carmel Gat, 39, an occupational therapist from Tel Aviv, who was visiting her parents in Kibbutz Be’eri when Hamas terrorists abducted her into Gaza.
“Carmel would have been the first to be here, so we are here for her,” Lilach says.