Anguished Families Cling to Hope that Hamas Hostages Will Be Found
“I can’t describe such a moment in words where you watch your whole family get taken away from you,” Yoni Asher tried to explain. Summoning the courage to keep talking, he looked around the room of diplomats, U.N. officials, and other suffering families, and put himself back in the moment where his world changed forever.
“My wife was visiting her mother at one of the kibbutzim, and I stayed home,” Yoni stopped, as he probably had a million times in the last week, to let his decision sink in. “I got a phone call from my wife,” who was, “scared — scared,” he repeated, “whispering, terrif[ied], saying that she’s hearing gunshots and people are entering the house.” It wasn’t until later that he saw the video of his wife and two daughters on one of Hamas’s cars or trucks. “I recognized them,” Yoni said quietly of his two little girls, Raz and Aviv, and his wife, Doron.
As the tears fell freely down his face, Yoni finally got out the words that thousands of tortured families have said since October 7: “I woke up to the worst nightmare of my life.”
Others, like Yakov Argamani, pace around their houses, clutching a book of psalms. Surrounded by memories, he mourns that his beautiful teenage daughter’s smell is gone from the room. “Noa was here, there, everywhere,” he told The New York Times’s Jeffrey Gettleman. “All of a sudden, it’s gone. And I’m lost,” the broken father laments.
Other dads, like Hen Avigdori, try to comfort the one child who’s left — while slipping away to cry for his son’s missing sister and mom. “I’m in this endless loop of hope and despair, hope and despair,” he said. “I need some proof of life. I need to know where my wife and daughter are.”
From Thailand to France and America, the families of the 199 missing hostages are in an aching form of limbo. Between television interviews and underground meetings with government officials in Tel Aviv, they live hour to hour, haunted by their last conversations and the knowledge of what Hamas is capable of. To so many, captivity is a fate worse than death. As one heartbroken father told reporters, realizing his eight-year-old little girl had been killed was better than thinking of her in the terrorists’ hands. “It’s a blessing,” an emotional Thomas Hend told CNN the moment he learned Emily’s fate. “She was either dead or in Gaza,” he said after the 48-hour search. “And if you know anything about what they do in Gaza, that is worse than death.”
The number held by Hamas, which Israeli officials increased to almost 200 over the weekend, is complicating things for the soldiers on the ground. While teams of military teams search the 30-mile Gaza strip, terrorist Abu Obeida warned that his men have scattered the hostages — babies, grandmothers, young women, newly orphaned children, and soldiers — in “safe places and the tunnels of resistance” all throughout the area.
Brigadier General Daniel Hagari, a top Israeli military spokesman, insisted they have information on the location of the captives and sought to reassure families that the troops “will not carry out an attack that would endanger our people.” In the meantime, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, issued a stunning declaration, offering himself to Hamas if the terrorists would let the child hostages go. “I am ready for an exchange, anything, if this can lead to freedom, to bring the children home.”
Countless parents at the makeshift headquarters of the Families of Hostages and Missing Persons Forum would almost certainly do the same. “All we have been told is that her phone is in Gaza,” Meirav Gonen said helplessly. Romi, who was kidnapped from the music festival, stayed on the line with her mom for almost 45 minutes until her phone went dead.
“I know she was shot,” Meirav explained. “She called me at 10:15 and I was on with her until 10:58, she was fading away and I heard shooting around her coming closer to the car and then people shouting in Arabic … shouting she was alive and that they need her.”
Romi’s face is one of many lining the wall of Tel Aviv’s HaKirya government building, a horrifying reminder of the dozens of missing. “It’s so, so lonely,” Meirav chokes up. “All the thoughts and feelings that you have once you stop for a minute to listen to them.”
Lt. General (Ret.) Jerry Boykin understands the pain of hostage crises more than most. As commander of the Army’s elite Delta Force, he was one of the leaders on the failed mission to rescue Iran’s hostages in 1980. Like so many veterans, he knows the incredible lengths America will go to bring its people home. “I think most of what you see, other than the bombing and the shelling by the Israelis … is reconnaissance to try to locate the hostages,” he explained to guest host and former Congressman Jody Hice on “Washington Watch.” “This is a big issue for the Israelis because there are Americans being held. And I can assure that those people on the ground in [Gaza] include some Americans, our special operations that are experts at hostage rescue.”
But, Boykin warned, “the key thing to hostage rescue is good intelligence, and I think that’s what they’re doing [in Gaza right now]. … They’re in there looking for the hostages. And I pray that they will find them before the end of this campaign … because ultimately,” he said soberly, “these people will be killed if we can’t find them in time.”
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby was cagey on Sunday about the involvement of U.S. special ops, saying only that the military “won’t rule anything in or out” about the hostage effort on the ground.
For now, Boykin insisted, the world needs to keep its eye on the ball. All of this, he argued, “is on the backs of Hamas.” “Hamas is responsible for everything that has happened up to this point. There is nothing, no one killed, nothing that Hamas is not responsible for. And we have to remember that. … What has happened here is a terrible, brutal, even demonic attack on the Israelis. … And we stand with the Jews.”
More than that, we pray for the Jews — and everyone affected by this unspeakable tragedy. For a partial list of hostages to remember in prayer, visit Pray for Israel by Name and join us in asking for God’s continued blanket of peace and protection on the innocents in the grip of Hamas.
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.