By LORI HINNANT and LAURIE KELLMAN
PARIS (AP) — The photo of the white-haired woman in a golf cart, wrapped in a purple blanket and flanked by a gunman, was among the first to emerge of the hostages seized during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.
But Yaffa Adar’s granddaughter is afraid that the world’s memory of that harrowing day – and the impetus to free some 240 people held by Hamas – is fading. So Adva Adar and her brother, like many other relatives of the hostages, have left Israel for what they hope will be a friendly reception in cities around the world.
Paris, Atlanta and London. Chicago and Vienna. The island of Cyprus.
They fear the alternative will be a collective amnesia, as memories of that day are replaced by news of Palestinian deaths in Gaza. Israeli social media is filled with images of the missing person flyers of the hostages being ripped down around the world.
“It’s very scary thinking that it’s going to be old news that my grandmother will stay hostage,” Adva Adar said.
IN AN INFORMATION VACUUM, FEARS SPREAD
Hamas has said it will free non-Israeli hostages, who are from 28 countries and account for about half the total believed held.
But although there have been no concrete steps toward even that liberation, the idea only raises new fears for families like the Adars, who are Israeli and nothing else. If all the Americans are freed, or all the Europeans, what incentive will there be to press for the release of the others?
“The entire world should press Hamas to release the hostages no matter what nationality,” she said. “I can tell you that my grandmother and my cousin have no other nationality. So it’s like they have no reason to come back home, and it makes me really mad.”
In interviews, some of the families show signs of turning the corner from pure shock and horror to frustration and anger.
The bloodiest day in Israeli history is also abundantly recorded, thanks to smart phones and social media. Yet relatives say they have hardly more information than they did in the days after their loved ones disappeared.
“I’m furious, actually,” said Tal Edan, the aunt of 3-year-old Abigail, who was taken hostage. The family has buried and mourned Abigail’s parents, Roy and Smadar who were killed that day. “They don’t tell us anything,” she said of the Israeli government. “They have nothing.”
Israel’s overwhelming military bombardment of Gaza, families say, raises questions about whether destroying Hamas or rescuing hostages is more important — or whether the two aspirations are mutually exclusive.
Many families are turning for help to other governments — Germany, France and the United States, for example — in an implicit acknowledgement that Israel is unable to secure their loved ones’ releases.
“The priority should be first bring back the hostages before anything else. It should be the only thing on the table, and it doesn’t feel like that is the sentiment,” Ayelet Sella, who has seven family members held hostage in Gaza, said at a news conference with the families of other hostages in Paris on Tuesday.
Gilad Korngold, whose son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren are hostages, told reporters on Wednesday that an Israeli government official keeps in contact with the family three times a week. He says he believes Israel will do what it can for the hostages.
He said members of the family have German or Austrian citizenship, and “I trust the German embassy.”
“Germany and Austria don’t have a fight with any country,” Korngold said. “They have contact with everybody in the world. I believe they can do it.”
Asked if he’s confident that Israel puts the hostages’ release at the top of the agenda, he paused.
“I was believing this in the beginning, three, four days ago. Now I start to lose belief because every day that it’s over we worry more and more. We lose a lot of hope. Now, with less,” he said. “Every day, there’s no sign for them. But I think that the priority is to release the hostages.”
FROM LONDON TO ATLANTA, FAMILIES ARE SPEAKING UP
In London, seated behind a picture of his 74-year-old mother, Ada Sagi, her son Noam called on “all the governments in the world” to bring the hostages home. Four have been freed, including two Americans, and one has been rescued.
For Oliver McTernan, who has years of experience as a mediator and hostage negotiator, only one government matters: the United States. McTernan, who has been going back and forth to Gaza for the better part of 20 years, said there is no way that more than 240 hostages being held presumably in separate locations could possibly be moved safely under bombing.
“I really would have hoped that America (in) particular and some of the European countries would have been a better friend to Israel. You know, when you’re traumatized, you need real friends who can say ‘Just hold back. … Think what the consequences of this will be.’ And I don’t see evidence of that at the moment.”
On Friday, after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out “a temporary cease-fire that doesn’t include a return of our hostages.”
In Atlanta earlier this week, during an event that brought six relatives of hostages together with Georgia state lawmakers, Shani Segal interrupted another speaker when she announced she needed to go out in the hall because Hamas had released a video showing her cousin, Rimon Kirsht, who is among the missing.
“You see my cousin Rimon, sitting alive, skinny, and the only thing that I have in mind is: She’s alive,” Segal said.
“I want you to try and imagine not knowing for three weeks and two days if your family member is alive or not,” Segal said. “And the reason that I’m saying that is because when you try to go to bed. when you try to go to sleep, the only thing that you think is: ‘Does she have a bed? Is she eating? Is she drinking?’”
Segal argued that Americans should prioritize the plight of the Israeli hostages and pressed her family’s case to lawmakers in Georgia, even as Adva Adar did the same in Paris. Segal, like other Israelis speaking, said they were concerned for Palestinians in Gaza but believed most Palestinians were being oppressed by Hamas: “They are holding 2.3 million people hostage, not only our 240.”
Kellman reported from London. Jeff Amy in Atlanta, Danica Kirka in London and Menelaos Hadjicostas in Nicosia, Cyprus, contributed.