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Israeli hostage families make Passover plea

protest calling for the immediate release of israeli hostages held in gaza, in tel aviv
A man carries an Israeli flag next to photographs of hostages, as protesters rally calling for their immediate release

Relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza will mark the start of Passover, a week-long festival that celebrates freedom, with a renewed plea to the government to make a deal to return their missing loved ones.

Passover, starting on Monday evening, is traditionally observed with a seder, a holiday feast when families gather and celebrate the biblical account of the Israelites’ freedom from Egyptian slavery.

This year, many families in Israel are expected to leave empty seats at the table to represent those killed or taken hostage in the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 last year.

Rachel Goldberg-Polin’s 23-year-old son Hersh was captured and taken to Gaza after his arm was blown off on Oct. 7 when Hamas fighters attacked the Supernova music festival in southern Israel. She said this year’s Passover would be more profound than ever and urged the government to find a way to return the hostages.

“All of the symbolic things we do at the Seder will take on a much more profound and deep meaning this year,” Goldberg-Polin, a dual citizen of Israel and the United States, told reporters.

She would be participating in a Seder with friends and family, but they have been clear if they are unable to do it or “if 15 minutes in, we just can’t do it, and we need to cry, then we will cry”.

Hamas fighters killed some 1,200 people and abducted another 253, on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies, triggering the war in Gaza in which more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health authorities.

Some of the hostages were freed in a November truce, but efforts to secure another deal to release the remaining 133 captives appear to have stalled for now.

Israel is threatening a ground offensive into the southern city of Rafah in Gaza, the only part of the enclave where it has not sent in troops.

Over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have crowded into Rafah, seeking shelter from the Israeli offensive that has laid waste to much of the territory over the last six months.

Israel‘s Hostage and Missing Family Forum, the organisation representing most of the families of the hostages, is urging families to place an empty chair at their seder table with a portrait of a hostage.

Goldberg-Polin said she hoped for a ceasefire in Gaza, for the hostages to return and an end to the “quagmire of misery and trauma”.

“Something that we need all of our leaders to be doing, all of them, is to make the decision to care about and love their own people more than they hate their enemies,” she said.

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