newsOctober 7

From Gaza to Jerusalem

Captives’ loved ones begin four-day protest march

"My soul is left behind, somewhere among the trees that were my hiding place for so many hours."

Former captive Sharon Aloni-Cunio. whose husband, David, remains in Gaza, speaks ahead of the march at Kibbutz Re'im on Feb. 28, 2024. Credit: The Hostage and Missing Families Forum.
Former captive Sharon Aloni-Cunio. whose husband, David, remains in Gaza, speaks ahead of the march at Kibbutz Re'im on Feb. 28, 2024. Credit: The Hostage and Missing Families Forum.

Families of hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip embarked on a four-day march on Wednesday, from Kibbutz Re’im near the Strip to Jerusalem’s Paris Square.

“Right here, where we stand, I survived the Shoah we went through on Oct. 7 at the ‘Nova’ festival and in the ‘Gaza envelope’ region,” said Niv Cohen, a Supernova music festival survivor, at a press conference in Re’im ahead of the march, being held under the banner of “United for the Release of the Hostages.”

“I’m here … standing. But my soul is left behind, somewhere among the trees around us that were my hiding place for so many hours,” he added.

Cohen came to the Supernova festival with four friends, including Idan Hermati and Ron Zarfati, who were among the 360 revelers murdered by Hamas that day. Evyatar David and Guy Dalal were kidnapped and remain in Gaza 145 days later.

Niv Cohen, a survivor of the Supernova festival in Israel, speaks at Re’im on Feb. 28, 2024. Credit: The Hostage and Missing Families Forum.

Former hostage Sharon Aloni-Cunio said, “The previous march was before our release, I didn’t get to participate in it. When I returned, they showed me pictures and I was moved to see how much our people rallied around it.” She was freed on Nov. 27 as part of a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas in which 105 hostages were released.

Aloni-Cunio, 34, was released along with her twin daughters, Emma and Yuli, 3, her daughter Emilia, 5, and her sister Danielle Aloni, 44. Aloni-Cunio’s husband, David Cunio, 34, remains in Hamas captivity. 

“I ask all of Israel to march with me for my husband’s release and that of all the hostages,” Aloni-Cunio said.

While marching across the country, participants will stop in communities to take part in a variety of ceremonies.

Orna and Ronen Neutra, whose son Omer is among those still being held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, address the crowd at Kibbutz Re’im on Feb. 28, 2024. Credit: The Hostage and Missing Families Forum.

“We’re counting the days, 145 today. And who would have thought Omer, we still haven’t succeeded in bringing you back. And we’re out of words, out of strength,” said Ronen and Orna Neutra, parents of Long Island native Omer Neutra.

“We call on the public, on our families, on our friends, to join us on this march of hope from Gaza to Jerusalem,” they said. 

The families of the captives will hold a ceremony at the rebuilt police station in Sderot and end Wednesday’s leg of the march at Carmim Sports Hall in Kiryat Gat.

“March with us for the hostages. No one should be left behind. The State of Israel cannot be fully restored without securing the release of all the hostages, the living and the murdered,” Ronen and Orna Neutra said.

An earlier rally

This cross-country march isn’t the first to take place in the months following Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 people. 

Earlier this month, reservist soldiers and families of hostages held in Gaza who oppose reaching an agreement with Hamas at the cost of what they deem to be excessive concessions, took part in a five-day cross-country march titled “Victory March: Keep Going Until IDF Victory.

The march began at Kibbutz Zikim, outside the northern Gaza Strip, culminated at a rally in Jerusalem, and was organized by Reservists Until Victory (Mahal HaMiluimnikim), a group founded by reserve soldiers released after serving in the Gaza Strip and at Israel’s border with Lebanon since Oct. 7.

Amid efforts to reach a hostage-release agreement ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israel’s War Cabinet on Saturday agreed to dispatch a delegation to Doha, Qatar, after “significant progress” was reported at the hostage negotiations in Paris.

U.S. President Joe Biden expressed hope this week that a deal with Hamas could be reached within a week. “My national security advisor tells me that we’re close. We’re close. We’re not done yet,” said Biden. “My hope is by next Monday, we’ll have a ceasefire.”

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized last week that while Israel was prepared “to go far” to secure the hostages’ release, it was not prepared to pay any price.

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