Mother of Hamas hostage takes captives' plight to Davos

Rachel Goldberg tells of the suffering of Gazans and Israelis alike as war drags on

Mother of Israeli hostage held by Hamas tells how her son was captured

Mother of Israeli hostage held by Hamas tells how her son was captured
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The mother of an American-Israeli held captive by Hamas has said she fears the plight of hostages has been forgotten about as the war in Gaza drags on.

Rachel Goldberg's son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, was taken by militants who stormed the Nova music festival in southern Israel on October 7.

The 23-year-old's hand was blown off when Hamas fighters threw grenades into a bomb shelter in which 29 people were hiding. Most inside were killed.

Ms Goldberg, an American who lives in Jerusalem with her husband Jon and two daughters, was told he was put into a pick-up truck and taken over the border to Gaza.

These hostages were taken back to Gaza and hidden among this population of people, so many of whom are innocent and caught in the crossfire of this horrible situation
Rachel Goldberg

She has taken the story of her son and other hostages to the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, where she hopes to keep their plight in the public consciousness.

In total, 243 hostages were taken. About 100 were released in November during a ceasefire, with at least several killed in Israeli bombing.

About 130 are thought to still be alive and held by Hamas. About 1,200 Israelis died in the October 7 attack. More than 24,000 Palestinians have died in the subsequent Israeli onslaught.

"These hostages were taken back to Gaza and hidden among this population of people, these Gazans, so many of whom are innocent and caught in the crossfire of this horrible situation," she told The National, emphasising the compassion that she has for victims on both sides.

"It's a really messy, tangled situation. We really can't forget that this is a microcosm of a humanitarian catastrophe."

Ms Goldberg, who wears a sticker each day counting the number of days since he was taken, described her son Hersh and the music fans attending Nova as "young, hippy, granola-crunching music lovers".

She received two short messages from him before he was taken, saying: "I'm sorry."

"Since then we've lived in a different universe to people," she said.

Keeping the fight alive

Ms Goldberg and other hostage families have been at pains to point out the hostages are not just Israelis and Jews, but people of many nationalities and faiths.

"Still we have over 100 people there ... and they still represent close to 20 different nations. You still have Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists being held – you still have that eight or nine-month-old baby that's just celebrated his first birthday there."

Ms Goldberg wants to see the hostage issue dealt with separately from the conflict, however difficult that may be.

"It is its own issue but it's been conflated into this horrible situation that's now happening in Gaza, where you have hundreds of thousands of people suffering terribly and mass, mass, mass casualties. It's really painful."

Hostage families have been given updates by the Israeli and US governments on their relatives' plight, although many have grown frustrated with the lack of a second exchange.

"Everyone says the right thing. I've been all over the world and talked to very important people and everyone assured me 'of course we want Hersh home, of course we want all the hostages home'. And wanting and doing something are two very different things. If you don't put together action with that, nothing happens."

Ms Goldberg's appeal at Davos comes after relatives of hostages, including her son's father, visited Washington on Wednesday, where they called on the US government to do more to secure the return of their loved ones.

Liz Hirsh Naftali, whose four-year-old niece Abigail Mor Edan was returned in the hostage exchange, said the hold-up is with the Israeli government and accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of wanting to prolong the war.

Hersh's father, Jon Polin, attended the Congressional press conference and called for more to be done to allow the hostages to receive medical care, saying that a recent breakthrough deal that allowed Israel to deliver medicine in exchange for more aid deliveries for civilians in Gaza was "not enough".

“The announcement now that medicines will be brought in to some hostages after 103 days is not enough,” Mr Polin said.

“While world leaders have worked towards a deal to secure the hostage release, international aid organisations must be permitted to offer medical care to the hostages."

Back in Davos, Ms Goldberg said she hopes that negotiations between various governments and Hamas remain open.

"There's a lot of finger pointing. I would love for there to be an adult in the room who will stand up and say 'I'm going to do the right thing here'."

Updated: January 18, 2024, 11:09 PM