Families of Hostages Start a March From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

For 10 days, Noam Alon, 24, has camped in front of the central military headquarters in Tel Aviv, aiming to pressure the Israeli government to do more to bring back his girlfriend of a year and a half, Inbar Heiman, and the more than 200 other hostages currently held in Gaza.

But with no news on when and whether the captives will be released, Mr. Alon has grown impatient with the Israeli government and is moving on from the spot where he and some 30 others have been sleeping. “We won’t sit silent,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Alon joined members of the families of about 50 hostages and supporters— a total of about 100 people — who plan to march for five days from Tel Aviv, on the Mediterranean coast, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem, setting up camp each night along the way.

Carrying water bottles and sleeping bags, the group marched off from a square across from the military headquarters, chanting “Bring them home now!”

Mr. Alon, like many others at the march, wants Mr. Netanyahu and his cabinet to do everything they can to secure the release of those abducted by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups in the Oct. 7 attack that the Israeli government says killed 1,200 people.

“We think the Israeli government should pay any price,” Mr. Alon said, whether that entails a prisoner exchange, a cease-fire or fuel delivery. The hostages’ lives are in the government’s hands, he said. Mr. Netanyahu, who has made clear that Israel’s goal is to eradicate Hamas, has maintained that a cease-fire would be contingent on the release of hostages.

In late October, Israeli forces rescued one hostage, and four others were released by Hamas about a week earlier. But, despite negotiation efforts led by the United States and Qatar, there have been no further breakthroughs on a hostage release deal. Families of the hostages have organized rallies over the past two weeks that have drawn thousands to the military headquarters.

Despite the outpouring of public support, those with family members and friends held captive in Gaza are feeling frustrated.

“I’m tired of sitting around,” said Yuval Haran, 36, from Be’eri, a kibbutz near the border with Gaza that was heavily attacked on Oct. 7. He has seven family members being held hostage in Gaza and was an organizer of the march. “I want to start walking to where the decisions are made.”

The marchers, who range in age from their 20s to their 70s, will walk about 10 miles a day along main highways, sleeping each night in campsites on the side of the road. They are filling one lane of the highway, with police escorts, support staff and vans carrying gear taking up another.

Shelly Shem Tov, 51, whose son Omer, 21, was abducted from the Nova festival, joined the march to try to galvanize popular support and pressure Mr. Netanyahu. She also sees leaving her comfort zone, by marching on foot to Jerusalem, as an opportunity to identify on a personal level with her son, who is in “a place I can’t even imagine,” she said.

On Monday, Hamas released a video of a hostage who the group claims was killed by an Israeli airstrike, raising concerns among the families that Israel’s military operations in Gaza are threatening hostages’ lives.

In July, protesters against Mr. Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul organized a similar five-day march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The families of the hostages have described the march as apolitical, but Avi Gur Arye, 73, who joined as a supporter, said that it would be a boon if the movement also contributes to a change in government, which he said is “dividing and unraveling the fabric of this country” after the war.

Mr. Alon said that he wants to be optimistic that the marchers won’t need to walk all the way. He said he hoped that during the march, “Everyone will tell us, ‘Stop walking. They are here.’”

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