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War on Gaza: Families of Israeli captives are beginning to turn on Netanyahu

Anger is getting louder over government's approach to bringing back captives after the prime minister called Hamas's proposal to end the war 'delusional'
Relatives and supporters lift placards bearing portraits of Israeli captives held in Gaza during a rally in Tel Aviv on 8 February 2024 (AFP)
By Peggy Cidor in Tel Aviv, Israel

Late one evening last week, Einav Tzangauker, whose son was taken captive in Gaza by Hamas following the 7 October attack, set up a small tent in the middle of Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, a major transportation artery in the Mediterranean city.

Police tried to convince her to clear the road, located between the Ministry of Defense and government offices. Traffic jams began to form.

It was a cold and rainy winter evening, but Tzangauker didn't give in. 

"I will stay here until my son returns from Gaza," she told Middle East Eye. "If I can't sleep and live already for 100 days, nobody [in the government] should sleep either."

The policemen, quite embarrassed, hesitated and finally allowed her to stay there for the night. 

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In less than an hour, other Israelis who witnessed the incident brought mattresses, hot drinks, blankets and other items so that, as one of them said, "she would be as warm and as comfortable as possible in these circumstances".

The families of the 136 abductees still held in war-ravaged Gaza have been holding regular protests across the country as disagreements grow over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's strategy for releasing the captives and the future of Gaza after the war ends.

A small contingent of the protest movement, which also has political characteristics, goes every weekend to the city of Cesarea, near Netanyahu's private home. 

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In Jerusalem, there is an encampment in front of Netanyahu's official home, located, quite ironically, on Gaza Street. Meanwhile, in the plaza of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art portraits of the captives have been placed on a long table surrounded by empty chairs, symbolising an empty banquet.

Israelis, from all over the country, visit theses sites every day. 

They write comforting words, buy yellow awareness ribbons and spend time speaking with anguished families of the captives.

On Wednesday, a large delegation of students from the religious education system arrived at the site in Tel Aviv, where they prayed, sang texts from Jewish sources, and went through the photos of the abductees. 

"We are trying to do something for the families," Mira and Haim, a couple from nearby Ramat Gan, told MEE.

"It's not much, but we are not able to stay at home comfortably when the family members are suffering so much. We must show solidarity, we must return them at any cost."

'Israel will forget us'

The abductees' families headquarters is a well-oiled system of management, spokespeople and public relations.

The organisers have managed to keep the issue high on the Israeli agenda despite their being great reluctance from Netanyahu to comply with Hamas's ceasefire demands. 

Orna, a family member of one of the captives, said: "The main anxiety of the families is that Israel continues to hold the view that only military pressure and crushing of Hamas, demolishing cities in the Gaza Strip and turning approximately two million Palestinians into refugees within their own country, and continuous killing, will achieve the goal.

"Not all of us agree with that priority."

More than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed since the International Cort of Justice in The Hague told Israel to do its best to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. 

'My biggest fear, aside from the concern for my dear father-in-law and the other abductees, is that the public in Israel will forget us'

Ayala Metzger, relative of captive

The total number of Palestinians killed in Gaza since 7 October stands at more than 28,000, while at least 65,000 have been wounded.

On Wednesday evening, five Israeli captives who were released in November directed their anger towards Netanyahu, who dismissed the terms put forward by Hamas for a permanent ceasefire and the release of all of the captives.

"Netanyahu, if you continue on this line - there will be no one left to release," 72-year-old Adina Moshe said as she struggled to hold back her tears.

Netanyahu has instead vowed to continue Israel's military offensive until "total victory" is secured, saying his country would achieve this "within months".

"We won't settle for less," he said. "Surrendering to Hamas's delusional demands ... will not only not lead to the release of the hostages, but will invite another massacre."

Sharon Aloni-Kunyo, who was released from captivity along with her daughters Emma and Yuli after 52 days, addressed Netanyahu at Wednesday's event and said: "We have reached the moment of truth, when you must decide who will live and who will die."

Sahar Calderon's father Ofer is still a prisoner in Gaza, and she said that she would do everything for his return. 

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"He has been in captivity for 124 days. Do you know what it's like to be there for even one day? I was there for 52 days. I may be alive and breathing, but my soul was murdered there."

Ayala Metzger's father-in-law, aged 80, is also among those still held in Gaza. 

"My biggest fear, aside from the concern for my dear father-in-law and the other abductees, is that the public in Israel will forget us," she told MEE.

"That they will get used to the situation and everyone will move on with their lives and leave us alone in the face of political and military considerations that do not include the urgency of freeing our people."

Metzger, who like most Israelis who have family held captive in Gaza, had largely held off from criticising the government. But things have now changed.

With the publication of news that this week a major in the Israeli army announced his resignation due to his role in failing to identify Hamas's plans for the 7 October attack, Metzger says that this is exactly what is needed.

"Everyone, absolutely everyone, will draw the right conclusion: resign and we will start something new here."

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