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Hostages for 100 days in Gaza: the anguished wait of families in Israel

Marco Longari Agence France-Presse A poster showing the portraits of Ariel Cunio, Arbel Yehud and his brother Dolev Yehud, who were kidnapped during the October 7 attack, is on display at their father's home.

Michaël Blum – Agence France-Presse to Kiryat Gat

6:56 p.m.

  • Middle East

“I’m waiting for them. I want to hug them. » Silvia Cunio refuses to give up hope almost 100 days after the capture of her two sons, who are among the hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Some 250 people were kidnapped and taken to Gaza during this unprecedented attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement on Israeli soil. At the end of November, 105 were released during a truce.

According to the Israeli authorities, there are 132 people missing, the vast majority Israelis, civilians and soldiers: among them, 25 died without their bodies having been returned, while the remains of 11 others are in Israel.

Bring them home now”. These absentees haunt Israeli society, their faces are everywhere, welcoming travelers upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

Little by little, former hostages recount their ordeal, sometimes reporting violence, including sexual violence, that they say they experienced or saw.

Organized as a collective, the relatives are holding more press conferences, calling on the authorities, and symbolically renaming a large square in Tel Aviv “Hostage Square”.

Without hiding their dismay, their pain, they refuse to give up and sink into despair.

“Horror film”

This national trauma is also an intimate tragedy for Silvia Cunio, 63: nine members or relatives of her family were kidnapped on the morning of October 7, in the middle of Shabbat, in the small kibbutz of Nir Oz.

Four remain hostages: two of his sons, David, 33, and Ariel, 26; Ariel’s girlfriend Arbel Yehud, 28; and her brother, Dolev, 35, father of four children.

Less than three kilometers from the Gaza Strip, the small agricultural village of Nir Oz was the scene of one of the worst massacres committed that day in southern Israel.< /p>

Unprecedented in their nature and their violence against civilians since the founding of Israel in 1948, these Hamas attacks killed some 1,140 people, the majority civilians, according to a count by Agence France-Presse based on the Israeli toll.

In retaliation, the Israeli army immediately launched massive bombardments against the Gaza Strip before a ground offensive on October 27. According to the Hamas health ministry, more than 23,200 people have since been killed in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Israel has set itself the objective of eradicating Hamas, but also the return of the hostages.

In her new apartment in the small town of Kyriat Gat, Silvia Cunio has placed a t-shirt on an armchair with the faces of her sons printed on it. She constantly rereads and listens to the latest exchanges on WhatsApp.

At 8:28 that morning, Ariel writes, “We’re in a horror movie. » “Since this message, no sign of life,” says Silvia Cunio.

Paradise Lost

After the attack, a quarter of the 400 inhabitants of Nir Oz did not respond to the desperate calls of their loved ones: 25 were killed there, 75 taken by force to the Gaza Strip, including Kfir Ibas, the youngest hostage listed, who will turn one on January 18 and is being held with his parents and 4-year-old brother Ariel.

During the truce week at the end of November, five of Silvia Cunio's relatives were among the hundred hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners: her twin granddaughters Emma and Yuli (3 years old), their mother Sharon, her sister and her daughter.

Some Nir Oz hostages have been declared dead by Israel, but Ms Cunio is confident her sons are alive. She says that David starred with his twin Eitan in an Israeli-German film (Youth, 2013). They played two brothers who kidnap a young girl to help their father in financial difficulty.

Arriving from Argentina to Israel with her husband in 1986, Silvia Cunio describes life in Nir Oz as “paradise.” But, she assures in tears, she will not return to the kibbutz where she worked in the laundry and as a hairdresser and manicurist.

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“Place des Otages”

At “Hostages Square” in Tel Aviv, a long table has been set up, with chairs, symbols of waiting. Concerts and events are organized there. Tents have been set up there, t-shirts are sold. A clock ticks off the absence, hours, minutes and seconds…

Families are united in pain, but also in the goal: the liberation of their loved ones. But in the method of bringing their loved ones home, cracks appear, replicas of those that run through Israeli society.

Some are urging the government not to deviate from the strong approach. Thus, these Israelis who go to the Kerem Shalom crossing point, on the Egyptian border, to ask the authorities, despite the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, to block aid convoys as long as the hostages are not released.

Others are calling for a new truce, like Silvia Cunio or like Sharon Sharabi, 48, brother of two hostages: Eli and Yossi Sharabi. “We count the days, but my brothers count the seconds,” said the man, whose sister-in-law and two teenage nieces were killed on Kibbutz Beeri.

He left the financial company where he was an executive to devote himself full time to the release of his brothers. In his eyes, the November truce has proven its worth: “We can wage the war against Hamas whenever we want, but now we have to bring them back alive and in good health. »

On January 9, the families’ collective released a report expressing concern about the health of hostages, some of whom were injured or suffering from chronic illnesses. “Time is running out,” says government spokesperson Eylon Levy.

“I ask for them to be returned to me, we must stop this war. Every day, every hour, every minute, every second, there is suffering for the hostages… I am heartbroken,” said Silvia Cunio.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116