At a recent event in Herzliya, Israel, families of the over 200 Israelis being held hostage in the Gaza Strip gathered to demand the safe return of their relatives.
Meirav Leshem-Gonen is the mother of Romi Gonen, a 23-year-old young woman who was taken captive from the desert rave taking place in Re'im, Israel on October 7. Hamas, the terrorist group that runs the Gaza Strip, launched a surprise attack that devastated southern Israel, resulting in the hundreds of hostages and over 1,600 deaths.
Meirav last heard from her daughter at 10:58 a.m. that same day. She was on the phone with Romi as she was shot by terrorists while trying to escape the music festival. Since then she has not received any information about her daughter's condition.
Meirav became emotional as she recounted her hours-long phone calls with Romi as her daughter tried to escape. While at first she told her daughter she would try to help her get away in any way she could, she then realized she would have to change her approach. "In one minute I understood that I'm lying and I would have to take a different approach. And I started telling her, I just wanted to make sure she knows — I started telling her how much I love her and how much she is loved. And that everything will be okay."
I also spoke to a friend of Nepali student Bipin Joshi, another hostage. Israel hosts several hundred Nepali students each year, many of them studying agricultural development in the south. 10 Nepalis were murdered in the Hamas attack, including on Kibbutz Alumim.
Bipin's friend told me that his cohort originally numbered 17 students. Out of these, 10 were dead, four were injured including himself, and Bipin had been kidnapped by Hamas. When we spoke, he had just been released from the hospital after being shot in several places on his body.
"It was just horrible," he said. "I can't really sleep in the night... all I have in my mind in my dreams is the attack."
Also among the friends and family members gathered there were relatives of Mia Schem, one of the only hostages who has been heard from since October 7. A video of Mia, also taken captive from the music festival, was released 10 days later and showed her injuries being treated. In the video, Mia spoke to the camera and said she was "fine" but asked to be brought home.
Though the video gave Mia's family some hope, her relatives pointed out they have no idea what her current state is. "We were beyond lucky to get a sign of life from our beloved one, but so many people didn't get it. And even now, this sign of life means nothing. We have no idea what's going on with her."
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