1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Families of Israeli hostages hope for loved ones' return

October 19, 2023

Families of hostages taken by the Hamas militant group to Gaza hope international help will bring them home. DW spoke to some of them.

Israelis gathered at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv hold pictures of loved ones taken hostage bz Hamas
Families are calling on the Israeli government, the IDF and foreign governments to help secure the release of hostages held in GazaImage: Tania Kraemer/DW

Yair Moses has trouble sleeping and looks exhausted. Since Saturday, October 7, when Hamas militants attacked the Israeli Kibbutz Nir Oz near the Gaza border, he has not heard from his parents Margalit and Gadi, nor other relatives.

"We don't know what happened to them. Are they okay? Are they wounded? My mother is a very sick woman. She needs her medicine," Moses told DW.

This Tuesday, October 17, he stood in front of the German Embassy in Tel Aviv holding photos of his parents. Moses' parents are divorced, and his father's new wife is also missing, as are her daughter and two granddaughters. Moses stood alongside other families in front of the embassy, some of whom have ties to Germany or hold dual German-Israeli citizenship.

All were waiting to speak with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who traveled to Israel on Tuesday in a show of solidarity with the country. He met with families whose relatives are missing or believed to be held hostage in Gaza.  

Yair Moses hopes Germany will help push for the release of the hostages.

"The pressure needs to come from all around the world, and we were grateful that he [Scholz] was coming," said Moses. 

Yair Moses and others holding up posters with pictures of their missing family members
Yair Moses is desperately looking for any information on his mother, who has been missing since the Hamas terror attacks.Image: Tania Kraemer/DW

Long identification process of victims 

Moses's mother Margalit is officially listed as missing. 

"We have brought DNA samples to the police, but haven't heard back from them yet," her brother Hanan Cohen told DW. "We only know that her phone is somewhere in Gaza. And that her ex-husband, Gadi, is in Gaza as a hostage. But we don't know for sure what happened to my sister, and to Gadi's wife and the kids."

He said they urgently need information on their relatives and their well-being. 

The identification process of those who were killed during the terror attacks on October 7 is still ongoing, and for some, there is no certainty yet as to what has happened to their relatives.  

So far, families of 203 hostages have been notified by the Israeli military that their loved ones are being held in Gaza, an army spokesperson confirmed on Thursday, October 19. Militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad claim that they are holding up to 250 hostages, including civilians and soldiers. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are designated terrorist organizations by the EU, the United States and others. 

The Israeli government declared war after terror attacks by Hamas on more than 20 Israeli communities in southern Israel, where the militants killed hundreds of civilians and soldiers and took hostages.

Since then, about 1,400 Israelis have been killed, among them many civilians. In the sealed-off, Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, home to about 2.2 million residents, more than 3,700 people have been killed in Israel's ensuing bombardment of the small enclave, according to local Palestinian health authorities.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes amid a full siege imposed by Israel, which has vowed to completely eradicte Hamas from the area.

Keeping up pressure on the government to return hostages safely

With the war in its second week, relatives and friends of the missing and abducted have set up a tent near The Kiriya, Israel's Defense Ministry complex in the center of Tel Aviv, to put pressure on the government to bring the hostages home. A looming ground invasion into Gaza is thought to complicate the rescue or any potential negotiation for a hostage deal. Hamas and other militant factions claim that so far more than 20 hostages have been killed by Israel's massive airstrikes on Gaza.  

On Tuesday, Orly Bar Kima from Tel Aviv cut yellow ribbons and distributed them to those attending the gathering. People held posters of the missing or abducted, while some handed out white roses.

Orly Bar Kima (left) holding yellow ribbons next to a young woman in Tel Aviv at a protest for the hostages
Orly Bar Kima (left) wants the Israeli government to do more to bring the hostages homeImage: Tania Kraemer/DW

"We want to say to our government, we want to say to all the world, we want our children back. We want our mothers, our grandmothers back," Orly Bar Kima told DW. "We are all together in this and it is the government's responsibility to bring them back."  

Currently, it is not known whether indirect negotiations are taking place, and some relatives have been angered by what they perceive as a slow government response.

On Sunday, October 15, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with some of the families, vowing to bring the hostages home — the first meeting of this kind, more than a week after the terror attacks. 

Tzachi Hanegbi, head of Israel's National Security Council, reportedly said on Saturday that there are currently no active negotiation efforts underway. At the same time, international efforts to help secure the release of the hostages have picked up.

The issue was on the agenda during US President Joe Biden's short visit to Israel on Wednesday, as there are several US citizens among the missing and abducted. The US president called for the International Red Cross to be given access to the hostages and said the US was "working with partners throughout the region" to resolve the problem.

The US president's visit also resulted in announcements that Egypt and Israel would allow a limited number of trucks with humanitarian aid to cross the shuttered Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza, with some of the aid expected to start moving Friday (October 20) at the earliest, according to White House officials. The situation for Gaza's civilian population, trapped in the enclave, has dramatically worsened since the start of the war, with Israel cutting off electricity, water and food supplies.  

Growing anger in Israel over the plight of hostages

Aid supplies to Gaza anger some hostages' families

Israel had said it would not allow aid through its own crossings with Gaza, which are completely shut down, until Hamas released the hostages. But Netanyahu‘s office said it would allow water, medicine and food into southern Gaza from Egypt — as long as it didn't reach Hamas.

Agreement on the potential delivery of aid was met with sharp criticism from the umbrella group "Hostages and Missing Families Forum," which was formed to represent some of the families of the kidnapped. A statement released by the group said it was "a terrible decision" to allow humanitarian aid to Gaza.

In the past, countries such as Egypt and Qatar have helped  mediate between Hamas and Israel. Germany is also said to have been involved in mediating a prisoner swap deal between Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and Israel in 2008. Israel and Hamas last indirectly negotiated a prisoner exchange deal in 2011, when an Israeli soldier, captured in 2006 by Hamas militants, was released after five years of captivity in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons.

Woman holding poster that says "Prisoner deal now"
Hostages' families want their loved ones home but some are also against humanitarian aid to GazaImage: Tania Kraemer/DW

But this time, with the sheer number of hostages, among them civilians including elderly, children and young people, the task is more complicated.

For the family of Margalit Moses, every day has become a living nightmare.

"Every piece of news is better than not knowing," her brother, Hanan Cohen, said. "Even if she is dead, I just need to know." 

Edited by: Carla Bleiker