Families of hostages not slated for release from Gaza during current truce face enduring nightmare
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Ofri Bibas Levy has been haunted by nightmares since Oct. 7, when her brother, sister-in-law and their two young children were snatched by Hamas militants from their homes and dragged into the Gaza Strip.
In those dreams she sees her captive relatives, all except for her brother Yarden. That subconscious omission may reflect her ordeal: Only women and children are expected to be among the 50 hostages released during a four-day cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that started Friday.
All of the men, and many women, will remain captive in Gaza for now. It was not clear if all children were expected to be freed. Hamas on Friday freed 24 people, including 13 Israeli women and children, 10 people from Thailand and one Filipino.
“It’s a deal that puts the families in a situation that is inhuman. Who will come out and who won’t?” Bibas Levy asked. “The children come out, but my brother and many other people stay?” Her relatives were not among those freed in the first release.
The deal will bring relief to dozens whose relatives are captive — as well as to Palestinians in Gaza who have endured weeks of bombardment and dire conditions.
But with some 240 hostages in militant hands, only a fraction of families will be reunited under the current arrangement. There is some hope that the agreement could be expanded: Israel has said it will extend the truce one day for every 10 hostages freed.
But many families are expected to be left to endure the torment of not knowing the fate of their loved ones.
The plight of the hostages — who include men, women, babies, children and older adults — has gripped Israelis. The captives’ families have embarked on a campaign to free their loved ones that has tugged at the heartstrings of many and ratcheted up pressure on the Israeli government to make concessions and secure deals for their release.
That pressure and the families’ widespread public support could force the government into extending the cease-fire even though it has pledged to keep fighting once the current truce expires.
Securing the freedom of all hostages, especially the soldiers among them, could prove difficult. Militants in Gaza see the captives as a critical bargaining chip in their war with Israel.
The leader of Islamic Jihad, a militant group allied with Hamas, said Friday that Israeli soldiers who were taken wouldn’t be freed until all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel are released.
Bibas Levy has put her life on pause to devote herself to fighting for her family’s release — her nephews age 10 months and 4 years were some of the youngest taken captive. The occupational therapist who moved out of a targeted southern Israeli community two months before Hamas’ attack, said she will keep battling until all her relatives return.
Dani Miran — whose son Omri was taken hostage — has been distraught over his son’s well-being. With the unbearable uncertainty and without a sign of life for seven weeks, he is plagued by difficult thoughts.
“My son is not on the list. He’s 46 years old. and I hope that he is in a health condition where he can cope with all the hardship that there is there, that they didn’t wound him, didn’t torture him and didn’t do things that are inhuman,” Miran said.
For many families, the news of a deal has sparked a mix of emotions — grief in cases where they don’t expect their loved ones to be freed and hope that it may lead to further releases.
“I wish that all of them would come back, and I believe that all of them will come back. But we must have patience, and just be strong,” said Yaakov Argamani, whose daughter Noa, 26, was taken captive, along with dozens of other young adults from a music festival that came under attack.
Many families have said they cannot endure listening to the news because all the twists and turns of the negotiations are incapacitating. The current deal, brought about after weeks of fitful negotiations, appeared definite until a last-minute snag prompted a one-day delay.
“It’s like a rollercoaster,” said Eyal Nouri, whose aunt Adina Moshe, 72, was among those released Friday. Earlier, Nouri had said that he did not expect her to be among those freed. Moshe’s husband, Said, was killed on Oct. 7.
The nightmare for many won’t end even if their relatives are released, Nouri said.
After the joy of the reunion, those freed will need to reckon with the trauma of their captivity, their dead loved ones, their destroyed communities and their country at war.
“She has nothing. No clothes, no house, no husband, no town. Nothing,” said Nouri. Once she’s released “she’ll need to build her life from scratch, at 72 years old. Our lives are completely different.”