newsIsrael at War

‘It’s unbearable’

Family, supporters mark hostage Naama Levy’s 20th birthday

"Everything stands still even while time somehow keeps moving," the captive's mother tells rally in Tel Aviv.

Naama Levy appears on a poster at a rally at Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv calling to free the hostages held in Gaza, June 22, 2024. Photo by Lior Segev.
Naama Levy appears on a poster at a rally at Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv calling to free the hostages held in Gaza, June 22, 2024. Photo by Lior Segev.

“No girl should ever have to celebrate her 20th birthday in captivity, it’s unbearable,” Hadas Zubary, the aunt of Israeli hostage Naama Levy, told JNS on Sunday. 

Hamas terrorists abducted Levy from the Nahal Oz military base on Oct. 7. That day, she appeared in footage with her hands bound behind her back and her pants bloodied, being shoved by a terrorist into a jeep and then presumably taken to Gaza.

On Saturday, hundreds of people participated in a 30-minute march beginning at Tel Aviv’s Habima Square to mark Levy’s birthday.

“We feared this birthday. We never wanted it to happen without Naama by our side,” Zubary said.

“It’s not a celebration; we organized events and posted about it hoping she’d see some of it through the media. We know for a fact that former hostages were aware of the weekly rallies for their release. We needed to take a chance,” she added.

After marching to nearby “Hostage Square,” demonstrators joined an intimate gathering with friends and relatives of Naama, replete with musical performance, cupcakes—her favorite dessert—and yellow balloons, which were released into the sky during a prayer for her immediate safe return. The color has been adopted to mark the plight of the captives.

“Don’t give up, Naama, look how many people came just for you today,” Zubary said. “Everyone is behind you. Please, hold on and find the strength to go through another day. You have to survive, you have to stay strong, we will not let you stay there, you have to believe it.”

Naama’s parents, Dr. Ayelet Levy Shachar and Yoni Levy, addressed the crowd, which had swelled at “Hostage Square” for the weekly Saturday night rally.

“Today, I do not want to make a speech,” Levy Shachar said. “I just want to wish Naama a happy birthday, hoping she might hear, wishing these words reach you.

“Naama, everything stands still even while time somehow keeps moving. Everything is waiting for you, waiting for your rescue,” she continued.

“I wish for you the most basic right that you deserve as a human being, your freedom, which was taken from you eight and a half months ago,” Levy Shachar said.

“Naama, we’re waiting for you at home,” the banner reads at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, June 22, 2024. Photo by Lizzy Shaanan.

Naama’s father called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to forge a deal with Hamas to bring home the remaining captives.

“Two weeks ago, in a heroic operation, our brave security forces brought back four hostages. How tall we stood. How much joy we felt. What a victory! It’s no secret, though, that 120 hostages cannot be returned through military operations,” Yoni Levy said. 

“I turn to you Mr. Prime Minister, from this stage. On the 20th birthday of my daughter Naama, who has been held hostage for 260 days, I ask of you: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love my Naama as yourself. Care for my daughter and all the hostages, exactly as you love and care for yourself. Bring my child home,” he said. 

Last week, Israeli negotiators traveled to Qatar in an attempt to narrow the gaps between a proposal Jerusalem agreed upon and Hamas’s demands.

Israel accepted U.S. President Joe Biden’s May 31 truce proposal, one that Netanyahu said does not call for a permanent end to the war. However, an Israeli official revealed on Monday that Hamas had made “substantial changes to dozens of items” in the outline.

Asked about the ongoing negotiations, Zubary told JNS that the Levy family can only live one day at a time.

“We are pressing as much as we can for the deal on the table to come to fruition, but we don’t have plans. We improvise and keep fighting every day, attending rallies, going to the Knesset, joining delegations. We do whatever is needed wherever it’s needed,” she said. 

Zubary expressed gratitude to the Israeli people for the support she and the family received ahead of Naama’s birthday. 

“It is really moving to witness the amount of people who came in a genuine act of support. They could feel our pain and wanted to be there for us on this very difficult day,” Zubary said. 

“We are getting messages from all over the country. Israelis even celebrated Naama’s birthday in different ways. In the south, they made a huge cake for her. Some organized a surfing rally wearing shirts with her picture,” she said.

Ayelet Levy Shachar (right), mother of hostage Naama Levy, at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, June 22, 2024. Photo by Adar Eyal.

Captive Arbel Yehud

Saturday night’s mass rally at “Hostage Square” also marked the birthday of captive Arbel Yehud, who turned 29 on Friday. 

Earlier this month, the IDF announced that the body of Yehud’s brother Dolev, a paramedic murdered by Hamas terrorists during the Oct. 7 assault on Nir Oz, had been located in the kibbutz.

Former captive Shani Goren, a close friend of Arbel, was released in the last stage of the November ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas after 55 days in Gaza. He addressed the crowd on Saturday. 

“People ask me how I’m doing and if I’m managing to process what I’ve been through. The answer is that I can’t,” Goren said. 

“Every day I wake up, I’m still held hostage, because until Arbel and everyone else return home, we can’t even begin to discuss rehabilitation and moving forward. Bring them home. Bring them all home. Now,” she said.

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