Yafa Adar, 85, wanted to spend the remaining years of her life surrounded by her three children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Instead, she is currently somewhere in Gaza, where Israeli tanks and bulldozers have reportedly encircled the besieged enclave that has been under relentless aerial bombardment as well as three communications blackouts.
“I cannot believe that her life will end as a hostage in a dark tunnel in Gaza, alone, in pain and without anyone to help. The thought is horrifying,” Ms Adar’s granddaughter Adva Adar told The National.
Her painful experience – shared by thousands of Israelis – threatens to corrode Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts at fostering wartime unity. His rhetoric is not enough to quell the rising anger and despair among the families of the more than 240 hostages who want the government to bring their loved ones home.
It has been a month since more than 1,400 people were killed and the elder Ms Adar and others – including children – were taken hostage by Hamas in its deadliest cross-border attack on Israel on October 7. The attack has spawned one of the most destructive wars in the decades-long history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived for his second Middle East tour last week to press for more humanitarian aid for Gaza, international pressure mounted on Israel for a ceasefire.
Brutal urban warfare has unfolded in the enclave, with Israeli troops surrounding Gaza city, dividing the enclave in two, in what the army calls a “significant stage”.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in Gaza in Israeli air strikes so far, including 4,800 children, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Casualties are also mounting on the Israeli side, with the latest death toll of soldiers put at 23 by the military.
It is not clear how long Israel will take to crush Hamas, but Mr Netanyahu has vowed that operations will continue “until the hostages are returned”.
“We will simply continue until we win. We have no alternative,” he said after a recent visit to troops.
Rising anger and despair among families
One month into the hostage crisis, families say their patience is waning.
“It is like hell. I cannot believe that it has been a month and my grandmother is still not home,” said Ms Adar.
“She was abducted from her home in Kibbutz Nir Oz and she could probably be the oldest among the hostages. She has multiple health conditions, needs a special bed to sleep and cannot survive without her regular medicines.”
Her cousin Tamer Adar, 38, was also taken hostage, while several other relatives sustained serious injuries in the October 7 attack.
Many citizens have had their entire families taken into Gaza. Yoni Asher told The National that his wife Doron, a German citizen, their two daughters – Raz, 4, and Aviv, 2 – and their grandmother Efrat Katz were taken hostage.
“It is getting more and more difficult to bear the uncertainty. I don’t know where they are, whether they are eating or sleeping. I just want them to be safe,” he said.
Mr Asher came to know of their kidnapping through a TikTok video released by Hamas.
“I have been doing everything in my power to expedite their release. I went to Germany and met the German Chancellor [Olaf Scholz] and the Foreign Minister to request help,” said Mr Asher.
Protests rock Israel
As weeks pass with no news of the hostages, and the Israeli government not relenting to the Hamas demand of freeing Palestinian prisoners in Israel in exchange of hostages, desperation of the families is mounting.
Many relatives are currently camping outside army headquarters to step up pressure on authorities to bring the hostages home.
“Several of my family members are also there. We want to put more pressure on the army and the government. They should know that their only priority should be bring the hostages safe home,” said Ms Adar.
There have also been widespread protests outside Mr Netanyahu’s residence, as many question the government’s failure to protect civilians.
The protests coincide with the latest poll showing more than three quarters of Israelis believe Mr Netanyahu should resign, underlining the growing public fury at political and security leaders.
Many Israelis have raised questions about the major security lapse that allowed the abductions.
When a Tel Aviv resident could no longer get in touch with his family after Hamas gunmen ransacked their home near the Gaza border, he never considered they had been kidnapped.
“But the reality was different,” said the Israeli citizen, who declined to be named.
“We were shocked to realise that terrorists are in my kibbutz, they killed people and they took my family to Gaza.
“We thought the border will be closed in 10 minutes – that is just common sense – but that did not happen.
“But now what is more important to me is that we get them back and not dealing with what should have happened.
“Of course, questions are coming to my head but I really want them back.”
The shock and devastation of the October 7 attack has struck a deep trauma in the Israeli psyche as people grapple with heightened fear and a renewed sense of vulnerability.
“We are traumatised in a severe way. This attack has shattered our sense of security. We are not safe in our own homes now,” said Ms Adar.
“Hundreds of Israeli families have become refugees in their own country. They have lost their homes and possessions.”
When asked whether she trusts the Netanyahu government to bring her family members safe home, Ms Adar said she has “no choice”.
“I wake up every morning only because I believe the government and the army will put the interests of the hostages at the top. They have to bring them back.”
Additional reporting by Ramola Talwar Badam