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Israel-Hamas war: Families of Gaza hostages fear for those left behind

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Israel-Hamas war: Families of Gaza hostages fear for those left behind



The moment Israeli hostages held for 50 days in Gaza by Hamas finally begin crossing the border into Israel in a handoff with the Red Cross will be bittersweet for those families whose loved ones are not yet part of the hostage deal.

“We are very happy for those families whose loved ones will be coming home, but we are worried about those who are staying behind,” said Idan Baruch, whose younger brother Uriel Baruch, from Givon outside of Jerusalem, was kidnapped from the Supernova music festival in Re’im on October 7. “We had hoped to see a general agreement which would bring all of the hostages out, but the government has insisted that nobody will be left behind, and we have to trust in that. What can we do? We don’t make the decisions. So at least there will be those who will be released now, and we will be happy for them.”

The minimum that could have alleviated the fears of family members would have been to demand that Hamas release videos of every hostage as part of the agreement, he said.

“Just to show us videos – even two seconds – so that we can see that they are okay; we are not looking for more than that. That would help us keep our hopes up,” he said. “Even if we just get a sign of life, that he is okay, we will calm down. Part of our stress is that we are living with uncertainty.”

At a press conference on November 22, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that visits by the Red Cross to all the hostages had been negotiated as part of the agreement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. November 22, 2023 (credit: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

“We had difficult negotiations… it does include visits by Red Cross representatives to the hostages and the delivery of medicines to them,” Netanyahu said. “I heard that there is someone denying this. The Red Cross says that it has not heard; then here is the explicit clause: ‘The Red Cross will be allowed to visit the remaining hostages and provide them with needed medicine.’ I expect the Red Cross to do its work.”

Uriel has a very generous soul and is young in spirit and loves music and festivals, said Baruch. The third of four siblings, he is always the first to help whoever needs it – even strangers. He loves to “celebrate life,” and spend time with his family, said Baruch. They are a very united family, said Baruch, and their youngest brother has returned from the US, where he was living, to be with the family at this time.

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There is such a big dissonance between who Uriel is – he never spoke ill about anyone or had hate for anyone or had any connection to war or violence – and the situation he is in now, that it is difficult to absorb, said Baruch.

They have been honest with his children – eight-year-old Shalev and five-year-old Ofek – in terms they can understand about what has happened to their father. Uriel’s parents and wife, Raheli, are trying to function day by day, said Baruch.

“It is a very scary situation for her. She has built a home with a man and suddenly one day he is not here. Her thoughts are very scary. We hope that at least he will be in the next agreement,” he said.

They have not heard any news about his brother since the morning of October 7 when they believe he was kidnapped from the car he was driving in with his friend Michael, with whom he had gone to the festival. The last they heard from them was when Michael called his wife to tell her they were surrounded by terrorists.

The family has seen videos of Baruch’s car on social media, with Michael dead inside. They saw Uriel lying on the ground near the car – but don’t know if he was dead or injured – and then later his body was no longer there, and there were no signs of blood. He is assumed kidnapped at the moment.

“We are now with mixed feelings,” Baruch said. “If [the government] had waited just a bit more with the negotiations, and kept up the situation in Gaza the way it is now, Hamas would have understood it is to their benefit to do a general agreement for all the hostages. I think the government is doing the best they can and I can’t criticize them.”

Right now, he said, the focus must be on bringing the hostages back home and not to start looking for who is to blame or criticizing one political side of the political spectrum or the other.

“Later we can talk about that,” he said. “It is an emergency situation… and all our efforts have to be on bringing them home, not on who is guilty.”

The Israel-Hamas ceasefire needed to bring Gaza hostages home

ONE THING is for certain, that without a ceasefire agreement Hamas will not release any hostages, said Lior Peri, son of 79-year-old peace activist Chaim Peri, who is among the oldest of the hostages and was kidnapped from his home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

The families of hostages, and especially those from the kibbutzim who were the hardest hit, have said from the beginning that they support any agreement as a start, he said.

“Any agreement is important and good, and it just needs to be used as leverage for the next agreement,” he said. “We support releasing as many as we can now. We want to release all the hostages, and if it has to be in some time, it will be in some time. We think any agreement is good. Of course, we would prefer that my father will be here, but all agreements are a trailer for other agreements.”

“I want to meet personally the person who can refuse the release of a child,” he added.

Still, he said, the conditions of the tunnels in which the hostages are being held are especially difficult physically for the older hostages.

Peri, who lives in Tel Aviv, said the last news they heard about his father, who on October 7 was able to briefly push out the terrorists invading his house, giving his mother time to hide and be saved, was one month ago, when released hostage Yocheved Lifshitz related that she had seen him alive.

The government’s first priority must be to free the hostages, Peri said.

“The government says their two goals are in parallel, but we say they can’t be together. They think putting pressure on Hamas will advance an agreement, but we believe if they focus on pressuring Hamas, the goal of freeing the hostages will go down in priority,” he said. “I know there are things they are not telling us, and I can understand why… I don’t have a problem with that. It is just important that the government tells me they are doing their best.”

Still, he said, because of its monumental failure to protect its citizens on October 7, the Israeli government now has a duty to prove to the citizens of Israel, and to Jews around the world, that Israel still remains the safe haven for all Jews for which it was founded.

“Israel was created to be a refuge for all world Jewry. That is why all Jews support Israel. Our government now has to show that the country is still worthy of being a shelter for all Jews of the world,” he said. “Something in the contract has been breached.”

He said the multilevel protocol set up by the government which awaits the hostages once they arrive in Israel, comes from the government’s frustration with Lifshitz, who spoke to the media without any government “debriefing,” criticizing the Israeli government for ignoring what she said had been warning signs of Hamas activity along the border weeks before the attack, and speaking positively about her treatment by her Hamas kidnappers.

“They are afraid of that happening again, so they build a framework,” he said. “I don’t envy the person who tries to interrogate my father. My father will lose patience, with the anger he feels toward the government which got him into the situation he is in. Though he will be very happy to be free, he will remember what happened to the Israeli POWs who returned from captivity after the Yom Kippur War and were interrogated by the Israeli security services, suffering second hostage trauma.”

Many POWs from the 1973 war have said that their questioning by Israeli security officers upon their arrival in Israel was worse than their experience in captivity.

Israel has never experienced the situation where so many civilian hostages have been held by terrorists for such a long time, and once they are released family and mental health professionals will have to “learn while walking” of what is the best way to help them with their trauma, Peri said.

He is particularly concerned about how the children will deal with their experience, especially compounded with their 20 years of trauma living under constant threat of missile attacks, he said.

“They have not had an easy childhood,” he said.

But what he most fears is what will happen the day after the war, he said.

“Will the government continue to go in the same directions it has gone for the past year? Will they say the tragedy we experienced is not big enough to move us from the path they have been taking?” he said. “If there is no change, it will be very difficult. I am not interested in looking for a life elsewhere.”

There has not been a real attempt to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he said, and after five rounds of fighting in Gaza, nothing has been resolved.

“It is just doing the same actions, bringing the same problems. There has not been an attempt for a new way. It has just been trying to manage the conflict, not solve it, and the conflict can’t be managed,” said Peri. “Now maybe they will be ready for another agreement – with Hamas or the Palestinian Authority; it doesn’t matter. You don’t get to choose the enemy you want to make peace with.”

THE CONTINUED uncertainty of the situation, and not knowing even when the hostage release agreement will indeed take effect, or when another agreement will be reached, is distressing, said Itzik Horn, the father of Nir Oz resident Yair Horn, 45, and of Eitan Horn, 37, from Kfar Saba, who went to visit his brother that black Sabbath.

The agreement is not being made between two states, where an agreement is an agreement, he said, noting that already from the start the supposed release date was postponed.

“We don’t know when they will be released, and for now they are only speaking about women and children. Who knows when there will be another ‘quota’ and how or what the criteria will be,” he said. “Another thing that worries us is that they are saying the soldiers will be the last to be released. But who does Hamas define as a soldier? It can be any one from 18 to 45 years old. If we felt we were in a position of impotence before, now it is even more.”

He is trying to keep up hope that both of his sons are alive. Yair is well known by everybody on the kibbutz, having worked in all different sectors, including managing the kibbutz pub. Nir Oz, with a population of about 400 people, suffered the most losses proportionally of all the kibbutzim, with almost one in four people either dead, missing or taken hostage.

His hair stands on edge when he hears that the priorities of the military operation are first to finish off Hamas and then to rescue the hostages, Horn said.

“The objective is to rescue the hostages first,” said Horn, who was evacuated to Herzliya from his home in Ashkelon. “The government has the responsibility to rescue all of the hostages because they failed to protect them and allowed what happened to happen.”

Quoting a Spanish saying, Horn, who is originally from Argentina, noted that a reckoning for those responsible will come, not during the war but after.

“‘While the cannons fire, the poets are quiet,’” he said. “When this is over we will stop pointing toward Gaza and will need to point towards whoever needs to be pointed at. Netanyahu does not even have to accept responsibility. It is his automatically. If he knew and didn’t do anything, it is his responsibility. And if he didn’t know, it is also his responsibility. We have to start at the head.”

As Sigalit Pasharel, from Holon, waits to hear about what will happen with the hostage release, she tries to go about the mundane tasks of daily life that need to get done: bank errands, getting dinner on the table for her family.

“I have to function as a mother. It is very difficult,” she said. “I barely eat. I am always thinking about him, how he is, if he is suffering. You live with a lot of uncertainty and a lot of stress.”

Never in a million years would she have thought she would be in such a position, she said. Her only brother, taxi driver Eitan Levi, 53, of Bat Yam, was down South on that Saturday just on a fluke, having agreed to make the long drive down to take a passenger to one of the communities along the Gaza border.

“I don’t know anything about the hostage release agreement, because no one knows anything,” Pasharel said. “I am very happy that there are hostages going home, but I am very sad that my brother is not included in that agreement. I believe there are a lot more people who are sad their loved ones are not in the agreement. But this is what the government has decided, so even if I say I don’t agree, it wouldn’t help.”

What is most important for her, she said, is that the Red Cross be allowed to go see the other hostages and assure that they are physically okay.

“I believe there will be other agreements. The government promised us all the hostages will be back home no matter what – those dead and those still living,” she said. “It is very important that they all come home in peace, including my brother – that they work on bringing them back home. I hope there will continue to be agreements and that my brother will be included in the agreement and they won’t leave him to the side.”

The last time she heard from her brother – they are only a year apart in age, and he is her only blood relative outside her nuclear family – was at 6:50 a.m. when he called her to say he was very scared, that he was in his taxi trying to get home via Kibbutz Be’eri after being caught in a barrage of missiles. Nobody knows what happened to his passenger.

“He said he was coming back home, and then we heard him say in a very quiet voice “oy vavoy,” and then all we could hear was a lot of Arabic voices saying ‘Allahu akbar,’” she said. She kept her phone on mute and listened as the car was backed up, and for several hours heard movement on the line and lots of Arabic until the phone was disconnected, but she didn’t hear her brother’s voice, she said.

As part of the Family Forum, she has spoken everywhere and to everyone who will listen to her story, she said. She wants everyone to know that also among the hostages there is a taxi driver named Eitan Levi, who is not home. •





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Jewish diaspora expresses concern as Iranian drones launch toward Israel

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Jewish diaspora expresses concern as Iranian drones launch toward Israel



Jewish diaspora organizations expressed concern for Israel and increased their own security preparedness as Iran launched drones against Israel on Saturday night.

The Jewish Federation said it was comforted by IDF statements that the situation was under control and by the statements of support by the United States of America, but was watching “Iran’s launch of an attack on Israel with extreme concern.”

“We are monitoring the situation very closely and join in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Israel.”

Preparing for attacks in the diaspora

The Conference of European Rabbis said that Jewish communities in Europe were raising their level of preparedness, given the history of Iranian proxies attacking Jewish targets on the continent.

A drone is launched during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on October 4, 2023. (credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

“We are closely monitoring the Iranian attack on Israel and its implications for the security of Jews in the diaspora,” said conference president Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt. ‘We are in contact with all the leaders of the Jewish communities and security officials across the continent. I call on all Jews across Europe to remain vigilant in community institutions and to act responsibly in the public sphere.” 





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Dozens of Palestinians and Jews injured in West Bank altercations

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Dozens of Palestinians and Jews injured in West Bank altercations



The IDF said on Saturday night that dozens of Jews and Palestinians had been injured in altercations in the West Bank following the terrorist murder of 14-year-old shepherd, Binyamin Achimair.

Though he was murdered on Friday, his death was only confirmed Saturday afternoon, with the subsequent violence between Jewish extremists and Palestinians being declared the largest battles in the area not involving IDF forces since February 2023.

In February 2023, dozens or more of extremist Jews burned large swaths of Palestinian property in Huwara in the West Bank, injured a number of Palestinians, and killed at least one Palestinian.

The IDF said it had significantly beefed up its forces in the area to try to maintain order, but it appeared to be on a significant delay from after multiple rounds of attempts by Jewish extremists to take revenge on nearby Palestinians villages, though these extremists did not have any specific information about who might have committed the murder.

After February 2023, the IDF apologized for failing to react fast enough to protect Palestinians and had said it would preemptively beef up to be ready for future potential reactions by Jewish extremists to the killing of Jews in the West Bank by Palestinians.

Binyamin Achimair, Missing 14-year-old boy from Samaria, Police are requesting help in searching, April 12, 2024. (credit: ISRAEL POLICE)

One area attacked by Jewish extremists on Saturday was the Duma village, south of Nablus.

A mix of Israeli, Arab, and US media reported that Jewish extremists also attacked over Friday and Saturday al-Mughayyir, Deir Dibwan, and Beitin, east of Ramallah and the town of Sinjil, northeast of Ramallah.

Violence from both sides

There were also reports of Palestinian counterattacks.

It was unclear which reports involved live fire, which lower grade rock-throwing style violence and how much violence was committed by each side.

Reports did say that dozens of Palestinians’ cars or structures were set on fire by extremist Jews, with some reports of Palestinian deaths.

By Shin Bet statistics, most extremist Jews, though not all, involved in violence come from a specific list of West Bank settlements or outposts.





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Israeli drone shot down by Hezbollah was worth $10 million

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Israeli drone shot down by Hezbollah was worth $10 million



An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was shot down last Saturday by Hezbollah. The UAV was later revealed as an Elbit Systems Hermes 900 Kochav, valued at around $10 million. 

The Hermes 900 is Elbit’s largest drone and has been sold to the Israeli Air Force, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and according to foreign reports, Azerbaijan. The UAV is a relatively large and expensive drone capable of staying in the air for approximately 30 straight hours.

Hermes 900 UAV (credit: ELBIT SYSTEMS)

The IDF’s response to Hezbollah terror

Following the downing of the UAV, the IDF struck targets in Baalbek deep in Lebanon, on the border with Syria. Missiles were fired in the next morning towards the Golan Heights, and in the afternoon towards Kibbutz Manara and Moshav Margaliot.

Proceeding this, about a month and a half ago, the IDF announced that an Israeli Air Force UAV was shot down by Hezbollah in Lebanese territory. In response, the IDF struck targets of the terrorist organization in the Baalbek area in Lebanon for the first time since the Second Lebanon War. Baalbek is approximately 100 km. north of the border and is the northernmost target that the IDF has struck since the beginning of the war.





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