Fate of hostages dominates Israel's memorial day

Daughter of couple killed on October 7 and taken into Gaza says she has no closure until their bodies are returned

Judi Weinstein and her husband, Gadi Haggai. Photo: Iris Weinstein Haggai
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As Israel marked memorial day on Monday, Iris Weinstein Haggai said she cannot have closure despite knowing her parents were killed on October 7th.

Judi Weinstein and Gadi Haggai, killed on the outskirts of Kibbutz Nir Oz, are among 39 people to have been confirmed killed in the Hamas attack and then taken into Gaza.

“I never thought that, by Memorial Day, I wouldn’t have a grave,” their daughter told The National from her home in Singapore. “We don't even have a grave to cry on to and be together as a family … there's no closure, even though you know they're dead.”

Nir Oz, less than two kilometres from Gaza, was one of the hardest hit in the attack, with one in four people either killed or taken hostage.

“Memorial Day this year, it's not just my parents. 51 people were murdered from my kibbutz alone, ten of them are hostages. Most of my friends still have family hostage. Everybody's in pause. Basically, it's mourning a life that we once had. And it's a very lonely feeling.”

The fate of remaining hostages and the bodies of others held in the enclave overshadowed memorial day commemorations on Monday.

Families walked out of a speech given by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, while protesters disrupted a speech given by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv. That protest came hours after relatives of the hostages held a silent demonstration and blocked the city’s main Ayalon motorway.

Speaking at Mount Herzl, Doris Liber, the mother of Guy Iluz, whose body is also being held in Gaza, addressed Mr Netanyahu directly.

“I don’t have a grave to go to. Return them to us,” she was quoted by the Haaretz newspaper as saying.

For almost two months, Ms Weinstein Haggai had no confirmation whether her parents were alive or dead. In November, she returned to Israel and scanned the lists of hostages to be released under a temporary ceasefire.

“I can't explain the torture. Every day we would wait for the release, sometimes it would come at 9am, sometimes it would come at 5pm. And every day I would wait to see if my mum's name was there.”

“My mum and I, we are American and Canadian. And she was 70, she had all the 'ticks' to come out.”

Her father was confirmed dead 83 days after October 7, requiring a committee to prove beyond any doubt that he was killed. Authorities also confirmed Judith was killed, and in December, the Biden administration also confirmed their deaths.

In recent weeks, Hamas has twice claimed Judi was killed in Israeli air strikes on Gaza last month – a claim which her daughter firmly denies.

Audio and video footage shared with The National showed videos taken by Judi on October 7th and calls made to Israel's emergency services after her husband had been killed.

“It's hard to digest. In Judaism, we sit Shiva, where you sit for seven days and mourn the person you lost, and we can't even do that. We don't have a grave – even though you know it's just a body and the soul is not there, you still want someone to talk to.

“When you see the atrocities that are coming out of Gaza, a lot of people don't believe me. They don't believe that my parents were murdered and kidnapped. They say I'm lying.

“I saw all the horrific photos and the intelligence. She died on October 7, for sure.”

The return of remains held in Gaza are part of continuing negotiations, led by Qatar and Egypt, between Israel and Hamas: discussions that have yet to bring even a temporary reprieve for Gaza since the last truce in November.

“The fact that for seven months, the world couldn't get this resolved, is ridiculous to me. If the right people put the right amount of pressure on both sides, this could be over. But people don't care enough,” said Ms Weinstein Haggai.

“I have access to the biggest people, the largest officials, and it's all politics. Everything is about politics.”

The children of Israelis killed on October 7 have been some of the biggest proponents for a ceasefire deal in Gaza, including Maoz Inon, who has called for peace and “no revenge” in the wake of his parent's killing.

“He's amazing. He will make peace, I totally trust in him,” said Ms Weinstein Haggai.

“I hope that the hostage situation can be over with, and I can be by his side and push for that. I will do what I can – but my focus now is getting my friends out.”

At sundown, Israel will mark the end of Memorial Day and the start of Independence Day – also set to continue large-scale rallies for a hostage release deal.

The official Families Forum will hold a rally in Tel Aviv – featuring bereaved relatives and families of hostages freed and still held in Gaza – calling on the “return all the hostages for the sake of our resurrection”.

An official statement from a pro-hostage protest movement says they will hold an alternative Independence Day ceremony in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square.

“There is no independence until the government goes and the abductees return,” it said.

In southern Israel, the surviving residents of Nir Oz remain scattered across the country.

“If was only about my parents, I would be OK, right now, I would be able to continue,” said Ms Weinstein Haggai.

“Yes, I would miss them terribly every second, but I know they would tell me 'it's fine, we would have died anyway someday … we lived the best life we could. I would be OK. But it's not just them. It's my whole community.”

Updated: May 14, 2024, 7:29 AM