JERUSALEM (news agencies) — Chants of “Now! Now! Now!” ring out at nearly every protest in Israel imploring the government to do everything possible to win the immediate release of dozens of hostages held by Hamas.
But a small group of hostages’ families is pushing a different message: Let the army first finish the job of defeating the militant group, even if that delays the return of their loved ones.
These families argue that the price to be paid in any hostage deal — the release of large numbers of Palestinian militants held by Israel — would endanger the country in the future.
“When you release terrorists, they will return to murder. That’s how it has always been,” said Tzvika Mor, whose son Eitan, 23, was abducted four months ago from the Nova music festival, where he was working as a security guard.
“How can you stand in front of people and say, ’I want my son back, and I don’t care about you?’” Mor told media by phone. “Instead of us only worrying about our son, we are concerned for the whole country.”
Most of the hostages’ relatives sharply disagree with Mor, saying only a deal can free the captives and that their chances of survival are increasingly dim given the dangerous conditions in Gaza. Those fears were heightened late Wednesday when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the latest Hamas demands for a hostage deal as delusional and instead vowed to pursue war until “total victory.”
The hostages’ plight has captured the Israeli public’s attention since they were seized during the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel that sparked the war. Posters of the captives are plastered on city streets, and many Israelis now wear necklaces with symbolic military-style dog tags and small yellow ribbons in solidarity with them.
Protests calling on the government to reach a deal with Hamas have grown in size and intensity as the crisis has dragged on. And fearing that time is running out to bring them home safely, protesters have grown increasingly vocal — in some cases grabbing microphones and letting out blood-curdling screams.
Mor said he knows his opinion is “different from what’s acceptable” and is even viewed as unnatural. In December, Alon Nimrodi, the father of hostage Tamir Nimrodi, told Mor during a live show on Israel’s Channel 11, “just because you gave up on your son, doesn’t mean I will give up on mine,” causing Mor to break down in tears.
The Mor family and two other hostages’ families founded the Tikva Forum, a loosely organized group whose public members are mostly religious and right-wing. They share the belief that military pressure, not an immediate cease-fire or hostage release deal, is the best way to bring their loved ones home.
Mor said his critics can’t understand how he could put his ideology above the natural response to seek the safe return of loved ones. He and others in the forum say they are being rational and that their critics are being led by their emotions.
Approximately 250 people were taken hostage during the Oct. 7 attack in which Hamas also killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Israel’s ensuing war on Hamas in Gaza has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of whom are women and children, according to local health officials in Gaza, where Hamas continues to hold sway in some areas.
During a weeklong cease-fire in November, approximately 100 hostages were released in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women and children who had been convicted of minor offenses.
In its latest demands, Hamas is seeking the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including those convicted of killing Israelis during the long-running conflict, in exchange for freeing all the hostages.
That’s unacceptable to the Tikva Forum, whose views hew closely to Netanyahu’s.
“Surrendering to the delusional demands of Hamas that we have heard not only won’t lead to the release of the hostages, it will invite another massacre,” Netanyahu told reporters Wednesday.