Families of Israeli hostages gather in hope ahead of expected deal with Hamas

Israel on edge as reports swirl of an impending agreement that would release a significant number of Israelis kidnapped into Gaza on October 7

A tribute for the hostages taken by Hamas and other Palestinian factions, outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Willy Lowry / The National
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Israelis gathered in front of the Tel Aviv Art Museum in hope on Tuesday, ahead of an expected deal with Hamas to free hostages in Gaza.

Families of the hostages were among those at the vigil.

A huddle of people were heard singing the Beatles 1966 song Eleanor Rigby, some while crying, at the meeting arranged to honour the nearly 240 hostages taken by Hamas on October 7. The song is often described as a lament for the lonely.

Outside the museum, dozens said prayers for those held captive before releasing yellow balloons into the air.

For more than six weeks, Israelis have been gathering and calling on the government to bring their loved ones home.

On Tuesday, they got the most concrete indication yet that good news could be on the horizon – at least for some of them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said that Israel "was advancing" towards a potential deal with Hamas that would see a significant number of Israelis captives released.

The terms are unclear, although reports suggest Hamas would get in return Palestinian prisoner releases, more aid convoys into devastated Gaza and a pause in fighting of between four to six days.

Israeli Evgeny Pirogovsky said his wife’s cousin is among the hostages.

“We're doing everything we can to support the families to help them to hold on in the situation not and to do everything possible to keep this topic in the headlines and to show our support and our demand that all the hostages will be back with their families,” Mr Pirogovsky said.

As news of a possible deal gathered steam, Mr Pirogovsky said it was unlikely that his wife’s cousin, who is 22 years old, would be among the first to be released.

"I really hope that it will happen and all the children will be released back to their families,” he told The National.

Mr Pirogovsky said he and his family would keep pressuring the government until all the hostages are home.

"We will keep coming here until each and every one of them will be back home,” he said.

Eden Khalifa, a bedouin woman came to support the families and show solidarity with the hostages, among whom are some Arab Israelis, including a young woman named Ayesha, Ms Khalifa said.

“I want to share my voice for the world to stand with us and help us against Hamas,” she said.

The solidarity on show could not mask the fact that the hostage issue has become especially fraught and politicised in the past two weeks.

There is a growing feeling within Israel that rescuing the captured should be the main military goal in the ongoing operation in Gaza.

There are now many critics who believe the government is ill-prepared at best, unwilling at worst, to prioritise the safety of the captives.

Last Tuesday, family members of hostages and other supporters embarked on a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that garnered widespread coverage and solidarity.

On Monday, the government came under intense criticism after families accused ministers of abandoning their loved ones, leading to screams during an emotional parliamentary session in which far-right politicians rebuked families for assuming they “have a monopoly over pain”.

As rumour of an impending deal to release the hostages increased on Tuesday, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said such an agreement could end in "disaster".

The hardline politician implied a deal would be giving into Hamas and give other groups an incentive to take Israeli hostages.

Updated: November 22, 2023, 4:11 AM