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Hamas attack: 6 months later, Israelis cope with new reality

Tania Krämer | Felix Tamsut
April 7, 2024

Israelis are still coming to terms with the October 7 Hamas terror attacks six months on. While support for Israel's war effort in Gaza remains high, the government is under pressure to get the remaining hostages back.

A soldier stands among posts with the pictures of Israeli victims of Hamas' attack on the Nova music festival in Re'im
A memorial has been set up in Re'im, Israel, where Hamas attacked the Nova music festival on October 7Image: Maya Alleruzzo/AP/picture alliance

Avidor Schwartzman, 38, was in his home in Kfar Aza on October 7 when Hamas militants made their way into the kibbutz in southern Israel.

Schwartzman was locked in his safe room together with his wife, Keren, and their baby until the army rescued them 16 hours later.

"We barely had anything to drink during that time," he said. "We used all the water we had for food for our baby."

Shortly after their evacuation, they found out Keren's parents, Cindy and Igal Flash, were among the 1,200 Israelis who were killed in the attacks. Hamas, which Israel, the United States, the European Union and other governments have designated as a terror organization, also took 240 hostages to the Gaza Strip.

"They were both big believers in peace and human rights for all," Schwartzman told DW.

Since their evacuation from Kfar Aza, Schwartzman and his family have been living in Shefayim, a kibbutz 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) north of Tel Aviv. After spending months in a small hotel room, they will soon move to a 45-square-meter (484-square-foot) mobile home in the kibbutz.

Just recently, Schwartzman returned to Kfar Aza to see what was left of his old home. The walls were full of bullet holes, and the windows and doors were open.

"The feeling I had was that your home, your most personal space, had been violated," he told DW.

Israeli Kfar Aza kibbutz scene of massacre in Hamas attacks

Mixed priorities among Israelis

Six months have now passed since the October 7 attacks and the start of the Israeli military operation in Gaza that followed. Over 33,000 people in the Palestinian enclave have been killed since Israel began its retaliatory offensive, according to Gaza's Hamas-run Health Ministry. Around 130 hostages also remain in captivity after some were released in November in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

While most of the Jewish Israeli public supports Israel's war efforts, opinions are divided on where the country should put its focus now. According to the January monthly index by the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank based in Jerusalem, 47% of the Jewish Israeli public has expressed support for prioritizing the return of the hostages, and 42% said removing Hamas from power in Gaza should take precedence.

In a February poll by the Jewish People Policy Institute, 40% of those surveyed said they favor eradicating Hamas compared to 32% who prefer the release of hostages.

There is also debate over what Israel would be willing to do to get the hostages back, particularly when it comes to the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel with "blood on their hands."

Protesters smear yellow paint on the windows of the Knesset demanding the return of Hamas-held hostages
Protesters have demanded the return of Hamas-held hostages, smearing yellow paint on the windows of Israel's parliament in early AprilImage: Oren Ben Hakoon/REUTERS

But many Israelis have taken to the streets to call for the return of the hostages held by Hamas, and Schwartzman feels this is the only important goal for the country going forward.

"The only decent thing we can do is make sure they're back home," he said. "We lost this war on October 7 already."

Many Israelis share Schwartzman's stance, that bringing the hostages home should be the government's main objective. In fact, family members of the hostages have consistently tried to keep the plight of the hostages in the public consciousness.

Families campaign for return of hostages

One such family member is Michael Levy, whose brother, Or, is among the Israeli hostages still being held in Gaza. Or Levy and his wife, Eynav, were attending the Nova music festival in Re'im, one of the places that Hamas militants targeted during their attacks.

Michael Levy recalled that on the morning of the attack, he "obsessively" called nearby hospitals to find out the fate of his brother and sister-in-law. It later emerged that Or Levy had been kidnapped and his wife had been killed. The couple's 2-and-a-half-year-old son, Almog, is currently being cared for by his grandparents.

"We know that my brother is alive and that he wasn't hurt. We have no reason to believe otherwise," said Levy.

Signs depicting Hamas hostages hanging in Ben Gurion Airport in Israel
A picture of Or Levy hangs in Ben Gurion Airport, Israel's busiest airport, along with photos of other hostagesImage: Tania Kraemer/DW

Levy has kept himself busy for the last six months, the only way he can cope with the situation since his brother's kidnapping.

"My approach is to try to keep this on the agenda as much as I can and to put pressure on practically everybody. I have traveled the world, been to nine different countries, spoken to influential people, presidents, foreign ministers, the media. I have met the pope.

"We're talking about my little brother who has a 2-and-a-half-year-old boy who lost his mother, and my brother is the only parent left. And the world is quiet about it," he said.

Levy said he misses his brother during the small, daily moments, describing Or as an "annoying genius of the family."

"We all have siblings, and we usually take it for granted to pick up the phone and talk to them," said Levy. "My only hope is to be able to pick up the phone and just tell him I love him. That is something I cannot do now, and I regret that I did not do it more."

Israel's prime minister under mounting pressure

Hope for a hostage deal

Levy, along with most of the hostages' families, has followed the roller coaster of apparent progress and setbacks in the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas. He is among many who feel that not enough is being done to release the remaining hostages, about 30 of whom are feared dead.

"They know what they have to do, they know it's their duty, and they know that nothing Israel will achieve in this war will mean anything to anyone here in Israel without the release of the hostages. The fact that [the hostages] are not back means that we are not doing enough," Levy told DW.

Gil Dickmann is the cousin of Carmel Gat, another hostage Hamas is still holding in Gaza. Since October 7, he has dedicated his life to campaigning for the hostages' release.

Dickmann, who was supposed to start his studies last October, said that despite many moments of despair, families feel they cannot give up.

"If we hear Carmel is no longer alive and we know we could have done more to save her, we won't be able to forgive ourselves," he said.

A man walks by a billboard in West Jerusalem shows pictures of hostages held by Hamas with the words "bring them home now."
Six months later, this billboard in west Jerusalem reminds the public of the hostages' plightImage: Tania Kraemer/DW

Dickmann has been the target of heavy criticism on social media, mostly from accounts supporting right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right elements of his government coalition. The accounts have alleged that the campaign for the hostages' release is an attempt to bring down the government and help Hamas.

At the same time, Dickmann noted that he and other family members have received support from the Israeli public, regardless of political affiliation.

"The attacks against us, and me personally, do not represent the majority of Israeli people," he said.

Dickmann said he hasn't lost hope that the government can reach a deal without a change in leadership, something that some Israeli protesters have called for in recent weeks.

"Some people have lost belief that this government could bring about a hostage deal. I haven't, as of today," he said.

Edited by: Davis VanOpdorp

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