tel aviv, israel (AP) —
Ofri Bibas Levy has been haunted by nightmares since October 7, when his brother, sister-in-law and their two young children were kidnapped by Hamas militants from their home and taken to the Gaza Strip.
In the dream he saw his captive relatives, but he did not see his brother, Yarden. This subconscious omission may reflect her ordeal: Only women and children are expected to be among the 50 hostages released during the four-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that begins this Friday (24/11).
All the men, and many women, will remain prisoners in Gaza for now. It is unclear whether all children are expected to be released. Hamas on Friday released 24 people, including 13 Israeli women and children, 10 Thais and one Filipino.
“This is a deal that puts these families in an inhumane situation. Who will be free and who will not?” Bibas Levy asked.
“The children were released, but my brother and many others remain hostage?” His relatives were not among those released in today’s first release.
The deal will provide relief to dozens of people whose relatives are being held hostage – as well as Palestinians in Gaza who have endured weeks of bombardment and horrific conditions.
Hope for a broader agreement
But with around 240 hostages in the hands of the militants, only a fraction of the families will be reunited under the current agreement. There are hopes that the agreement can be expanded: Israel has said it will extend the ceasefire by one day for every 10 hostages it releases.
However, it is estimated that many families will still have to suffer because they do not know the fate of their loved ones.
The suffering of the hostages – who include men, women, babies, children and the elderly – has gripped Israeli citizens. The families of the captives have launched a campaign to free their loved ones that has captured the hearts of many and increased pressure on the Israeli government to make concessions and secure a deal for their release.
That pressure and widespread public support from the family could force the government to extend the ceasefire, although the government has vowed to continue fighting after the temporary ceasefire ends.
Family members and friends of around 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza urge Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately take them home, during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 21, 2023.
Securing the release of all the hostages, especially the army hostages among them, has proven difficult. Militants in Gaza view the captives as an important bargaining chip in their war with Israel.
The leader of Islamic Jihad, a militant group allied with Hamas, said on Friday that the detained Israeli soldiers would not be released until all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel were freed.
Bibas Levy has put his life on hold to devote himself to fighting for his family’s release – his 10-month-old and 4-year-old nephews are among the youngest hostages being held captive. Levy, who works as an occupational therapist and was forced to move from frequent attacks to southern Israel two months before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, said he would keep fighting until all his relatives could return.
Meanwhile, Dani Miran – whose son Omri is being held hostage – despairs over her son’s fate. With unbearable uncertainty and no signs of life for seven weeks, he was constantly plagued by worry about their fate.
“My son is not on the list (of freed hostages). He is 46 years old. “And I hope he is in a healthy condition that can overcome all the difficulties that exist, not hurt him, not torture him, and not do anything inhumane,” said Miran.
‘We have to be patient’
For many families, news of the deal has triggered mixed emotions – sadness that they did not expect their loved ones to be released and hope that it might lead to further releases.
“I hope they all come back, and I’m sure they all will. But we have to be patient, and stay strong,” said Yaakov Argamani, whose daughter, Noa, 26, was taken prisoner along with dozens of other young people from a music festival when the attack occurred.
Many families said they could no longer bear the news because all the twists and turns of the negotiations were impossible. The current deal, reached after weeks of tense negotiations, looked certain until a last-minute snag caused a one-day delay.
“This situation is like a roller coaster,” said Eyal Nouri, whose aunt Adina Moshe, 72, was among those freed on Friday. Previously, Nouri said he did not expect his aunt, Adina Moshe, to be among those released. Moshe’s husband, Said, was murdered on Friday 7 October.
The nightmare for many people will not end even if their relatives are released, Nouri said.
After a joyous reunion, the freed must face the trauma of their detention, the death of their loved ones, their devastated communities, and their war-torn country.
“He has nothing. No clothes, no house, no husband, no city. Nothing,” said Nouri. After his release, “He had to build his life from scratch, at the age of 72. Our life is really very different (from before).” (pp/ft)