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Bring Them Home

By Randy Pinsky


To the majority of the global community, the horrors of October 7th is a nightmare that is largely in the past. But for the families of the hostages, it is always in the now.

For them, the world stopped on October 7 and it will always be that day until their loved ones are returned.

While the plight of the hostages seems to have faded from international focus, it is crucial that they be front and center in every discussion and every negotiation. One hundred and thirty-three remain in captivity six months later- what is the current situation and what do we know about it? 

The Nightmare That Continues

On October 7th, Hamas terrorists stormed through the border fence separating Israel from Gaza, and indiscriminately attacked and murdered more than 1,200 people at the Supernova music festival and neighboring kibbutzes, kidnapping over 250 hostages.

Ranging in age from infants to Holocaust survivors and both Israelis and foreign nationals, over 130 remain in captivity, while others have been returned in complicated prisoner exchanges or liberated by the Israel Defense Forces. Although some are soldiers or reservists, the majority are civilians, snatched from their beds and used as bargaining chips for Hamas’ aims. 

A Deafening Silence from the International Community 

Reeling from the massacre, the wound was deepened upon the lack of reaction or support from the global community. From women’s organizations who did not condemn the use of sexual violence by Hamas, prompting the #MeTooUnlessYoureAJew hashtag, to humanitarian organizations reneging on their role (or in their words, denied access) to visit the hostages, there has been an enormous sense of betrayal.

Many of the captives have chronic health challenges and require medication, adding to the families’ concerns. However, even when a deal was reached with Hamas, brokered by France and Qatar, for the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide medical assistance to the hostages, Israeli soldiers in Gaza would come across unopened medications, clearly not distributed. This was a critical smear on a humanitarian organization that purports to adhere to rules of neutrality and impartiality. 

Everyone’s Daughter, Everyone’s Son

Since the massacre, Rachel Goldberg-Polin “now lives by a new calendar- not weeks or months, but days of absence and anguish.” Every morning, she writes a number on a piece of tape and attaches it to her clothing; the number of days since her son Hersh was abducted. “When we met in Jerusalem, that number was 155,” stated BBC journalist Orla Guerin.

Those who have been returned are forever haunted by what they experienced. Many confirmed fears of abuse, both psychological, physical and sexual, neglect and starvation.

Hyper-aware of the passage of time, traumatized families criticize the Israeli government (and the United Nations) for not doing enough to secure their return. Many are camping out in ‘Hostages Square’ in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, chosen for its proximity to the Israel Defence Forces headquarters, to keep the hostage situation front and centre. In addition to the powerful murals and kidnapped photos, is a Shabbat dinner table with an empty seat for each missing family member.

The psychological trauma of the unknown (intensified by propaganda videos sent by Hamas) and feeling of helplessness is what is most draining. 

International Law 101

Is the taking of hostages legal in times of conflict?

No. The taking of hostages is prohibited under international humanitarian law as stated in Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines it as a war crime, and the UN Commission on Human Rights asserts it is an illegal act that is “never justified.”


Are the hostages prisoners of war?

No. The laws on prisoners of war “apply only in armed conflicts between states. Hamas is not a state organ.”


Is taking civilians hostage a violation of the laws of armed conflict?

Yes. Taking civilians as hostages is a clear violation of international law, prohibited under Article 34 of the 1949 Geneva Convention. There are also basic stipulations that they must be “treated humanely”, be able to correspond with their families, and for the “wounded and sick [to] be…cared for” - none of which have been complied with. 

Say Their Names

Every hostage has a name. A story. A family. An identity. Personalizing their situations, as undertaken by Montefiore Award Winner Miléna Kartowski-Aïach at the Azrieli Institute, is critical to hasten the demands for their unconditional return. Here are some of their stories:

Alexander Trupanov: Abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz with his mother, partner Sapir Cohen and grandmother after spending Shabbat together. His mother and grandmother were released on November 29 and Cohen was liberated the following day, yet Trupanov remains in Gaza. As the women held dual Russian-Israeli nationality, “Hamas said their release was a ‘tribute’ to Russian President Vladimir Putin- who refused to condemn the group following the 7 October attacks - and not part of the deal with Israel.”

Ariel Cunio: Taken hostage along with his girlfriend Arbel Yahud and her brother Dolev in Nir Oz. Ariel’s brother Eitan managed to escape Hamas, and told The Jewish Chronicle that the last message he received from Ariel said, “We are in a horror movie.”

Itzhak Gelerenter: Was abducted from the SuperNova music festival, and his phone was tracked to Gaza. His daughter Pivko tries to stay brave and hopeful, saying, “I’m trying to think good thoughts. I have a powerful, smart, resourceful father.”

Doron Katz Asher and her two young daughters (one who turned 4 while in captivity) were taken that fateful morning. “The families of the kidnapped are not posters, they are not slogans,” reinforced husband and father Yoni. “They are real people…and I will do everything until the last of the kidnapped comes home.”

The Hostage and Missing Families Forum was formed by the relatives of the abductees less than 24 hours after the attack. They work to provide medical and emotional support, professional assistance, as well as local and global advocacy for their return using the slogan #BringThemHomeNow.

Prisoner Exchanges: Complicated on Many Levels

Since the massacre, almost half the hostages have been returned in prisoner exchanges[1]. A critical problem is the media’s false equalizations as the majority of the Palestinian prisoners had been convicted of attempted (or successful) murder or knife attacks.

There have been six releases since the start of the war. While the families are relieved to be reunited with their relatives, they will not rest until all have been returned. Yocheved and Oded Lifshitz were both taken, with Yocheved, 85, among the first to be liberated. Daughter Sharone said, “While I cannot put into words the relief that she is now safe, I will remain focused on security and the release of my father and all those- some 200 innocent people - who remain hostages in Gaza.”

The strength of the Israelis in the face of such horror was perhaps best seen in the photo of released hostage Rimon Kirsht who refused the offered hand of the Hamas militant out of the jeep, defiantly glaring at him before walking ahead with another hostage, head held high.

In addition to the captives struggling to stay alive, there are those confirmed killed but whose bodies are held for ransom. Beyond the October 7 hostages, Hamas also refuses to release the remains of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul and Israeli citizens Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed (believed to still be alive) from the 2014 Operation Protective Edge.


For the families of the hostages, each day is an agonizing struggle with few answers.

But they will never give up hope. One day, they will be able to welcome back their loved ones, and reassure them that their nightmare is in the past. 

Let that day be soon. 


[1] Soldier Gilad Shalit was held captive for five years, and was returned in 2011 in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. In a sickening irony, one was the mastermind of the October 7 massacre. 

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