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Remembering their faces


WORLD Radio - Remembering their faces

Israelis in Hostages Square, Tel Aviv, remind the world of the people Hamas took hostage more than 100 days ago

The Hostages Square at the Museum of Art in Tel Aviv. Associated Press/Photo by Leo Correa

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, January 23rd.

This is WORLD Radio and we’re glad you’ve joined us today. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A sobering milestone.

January 14th, that was the 100th day in captivity for some Israeli hostages in Gaza. Many families don’t know if their loved ones are dead or alive.

WORLD’s Jill Nelson paid a visit to Hostages Square in Tel Aviv last month where thousands of Israelis gather each week to show support. Here is her story

AUDIO: [Piano]

JILL NELSON: It’s a Saturday afternoon in December— Shabbat in Israel. A crowd gathers around a bright yellow piano as a musician leads song after song.

The mood is solemn. This spacious plaza is situated next to an art museum and Israel’s defense ministry. In the wake of Oct. 7th, Israelis transformed it into a space for activism.

Some people whisper as they point to the pictures of hostages they know. Others wipe tears from their eyes.

GROSS: Something in our hearts has been broken. I don't think this missing piece could ever heal itself.

Liad Gross is from Netanya, about 20 miles north of Tel Aviv. She has been coming to Hostages Square every week since Hamas kidnapped her friends from Kibbutz Nir Oz.

Gross walks around the plaza holding large posters with their pictures and their names—Eitan and Yair Horn. She is baffled by those in the West who support Hamas—particularly members of the LGBTQ community.

GROSS: I think when I hear you, if it's on Tik Tok, or Facebook or Instagram, saying oh free Palestine, free Palestine. Oh boy you don't know what's waiting for you in Gaza. If you guys would stand in Gaza, you would be slaughtered in a minute.

Gross has two requests for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

GROSS: I think the government and Bibi himself. They need to bring all the hostages back. They need to finish the Hamas organization because we cannot live under terror any more.

South Dakota Senator John Thune met with Netanyahu during an October trip to Israel. Thune compared the country’s heartache and challenges to that of the United States after 9/11. He said Netanyahu pointed out one major difference.

THUNE: He said, the difference is for you in the United States, your enemy was 3,000 miles away. Ours is 1 kilometer away. And it really puts into perspective just the threat environment that Israel sits in. It's a very dangerous neighborhood.

AUDIO: [Men singing]

A long table in Hostages Square reminds visitors just how dangerous this neighborhood is. Each place setting displays the name and picture of a hostage still in Gaza. The table seems to go on forever—more than 100 seats.

This display is personal for many Israelis, including 64-year-old Nissin Shasha and his family.

SHASHA: I know people from other kibbutzim, Nir Oz and Kibbutz Be’eri, that was murdered and also was kidnaped to Gaza

NELSON: Were you able to find their pictures here?

SHASHA: Yah, I saw them.

AUDIO: [Crowd singing]

Soon a large crowd gathers around the table to light the Shabbat candles as the sun sets. One end of the table is dotted with stuffed animals for the children still missing.

I ask Shasha what he would say to the people of Gaza.

SHASHA: I think that they missed the chance to build Gaza like Singapore. They, there was an election and voted for Hamas. 2006. And Hamas doesn't care for the people there.

Michael Levy strolls around the plaza wearing a shirt with his brother’s picture. He recounts the morning when Hamas slaughtered 1,200 Israelis and dragged hundreds more into Gaza, including his 33-year-old brother Or.

LEVY: They got there on Oct. 7 at 6:20 am, about ten minutes before hell started. They immediately ran…

His brother called their mom and told her what was happening. That was the last time they heard from him. Levy’s sister-in-law died during the attack, and now the family is caring for the couple’s 2-year-old son.

There’s been little hope of a second hostage deal since the November exchange that freed 120 people.

Israelis have mixed feelings about hostage swaps. The exchange of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli soldier in 2011 was controversial. One of the prisoners Israel released was Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. He was the mastermind behind the Oct. 7th terrorist attack.

AUDIO: [Rally chant]

But at this plaza, the focus is on bringing the hostages home, and the clock is ticking. Hamas has threatened to kill more hostages if Israel doesn’t stop its bombardment campaign of Gaza.

Israel believes 25 of the 136 remaining hostages have died in captivity. Levy wants to make sure the world doesn’t forget about his brother and the rest of the people taken by Hamas.

LEVY: We all miss them and we all want them back as soon as possible. And they just need to try to imagine their brother or their father or their son being kidnapped by monsters.

AUDIO: [Singer]

As darkness settles over Tel Aviv, thousands of people gather near a large stage.

An Israeli artist sings and around a dozen people file onto the stage holding posters of their loved ones.

Gross works her way closer to the group. She’s both hopeful and honest about Israel’s long road ahead.

GROSS: It was not up to us you know. The peace was not up to us. But we still want peace.

Reporting for WORLD I’m Jill Nelson in Tel Aviv, Israel.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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