In Tel Aviv’s ‘Hostage Square,’ euphoria has given way to fear

The end of the truce between Israel and Hamas on Friday, December 1 meant the resumption of fighting in Gaza, but also a halt to the seven-day release of Israeli hostages. On the square in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, renamed « Hostage Square, » where families, surrounded by many anonymous people, keep alive the cause of their kidnapped loved ones, the faces indicated that hope would be harder than ever to sustain. During the ceasefire, 105 hostages, mostly women and minors, were released, 80 of them under the agreement between Israel and Hamas. According to the Israeli authorities, 137 remain in Gaza. In return, 240 Palestinian prisoners were released.

Anat, a slim-faced woman wearing large glasses, who thinks as fast as she moves in the square she manages, shares this observation. A week ago, » she said, « on the first day of the truce, 100,000 people came out. It was euphoria, they were hugging each other. Today, just a few thousand passed through, and people were scared. »

In their tent, set up opposite a wall where everyone can stencil their feelings, the doctors specializing in psychology, dressed in blue vests, answered questions from families and visitors alike. Avital, in his 30s, noted that « since the beginning of the crisis, two camps have become more radicalized: those who want above all to eradicate Hamas, and those who shout: ‘Above all, don’t go, the lives of our hostages are at stake.' » His colleague Tchelet, 25, added, « this place is like a living organism whose emotions are constantly changing, but resilience remains strong. »

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For some, the wait has become unbearable. Sima Ben Naim makes no secret of her disappointment. Close to the mother of Nora Argamani –a 26 year old kidnapped with her friend Avinathan during the techno festival on the outskirts of Gaza – she believed Nora would be released on Friday. « Liora, her mother, is terminally ill with brain cancer. She just wants to kiss her only daughter one last time before she dies. » Ranen, 46, whose wife’s cousin, 22-year-old Omer Wenkert, is still a hostage in Gaza, said, « The urgent thing is to get medicine to him, without which he could lose his life. »

‘We mustn’t become divided now’

Not far away, the family of a 21-year-old hostage, Yonatan Mordechai Samerano, were all together. All were seated on plastic chairs. The aunt said, « It’s hard, we really thought… » before being interrupted by the mother. The anger was palpable. The mother forbade any comment and watched over her husband, with a look of despair in her eyes.

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