A deal to free hostages held in Gaza by Hamas appears closer than ever — but with details yet to be sorted out and an agreement not yet finalized, New York area families of loved ones captured in the brutal Hamas terror attacks of Oct. 7 remain in an excruciating limbo.
The unpredictability of the situation is weighing on the families, who said they are hoping for good news about the release of their loved ones, though unsure who might actually be included in a potential deal should it come to pass.
More than 1,200 Israelis were killed and some 200 taken hostage when Hamas stormed the border on Oct. 7. The war that followed between Israel and Hamas has killed around 13,000 Palestinians. Two hostages were recently reported to be found dead near al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.
Of the hundreds of hostages, 14 are reportedly from the U.S. and at least nine have ties to the New York area. The families of Omer Neutra, Hagar Brodutch and her three young children and others have been vocal advocates for the release of the hostages as they cope with their grief, stress and anger.
“The situation is so fluid and then things can change in a second when you’re held by a terrorist organization that is not always acting in a rational way, which is why it’s important to promote the release of all the hostages as soon as possible and not wait nor delay it,” said Moshe Lavi, who lives in New York and whose brother in law, Omri Miran, is one of the hostages.
“Because it’s risking their lives.”
The deal, as it has been reported, could release around 50 women and children taken hostage by Hamas in exchange for more aid and fuel, a temporary ceasefire and the release of around the same number of women and children taken captive by Israel, according to the New York Times.
Biden on Monday responded “I believe so” and crossed his fingers when asked about a hostage deal at the annual turkey pardoning.
More hostage releases could follow.
Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer told NBC’s Meet the Press that negotiators are “closer than we have been” to reaching a deal but that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” reminding the public that “sensitive negotiations like this can fall apart at the last minute.”
On Oct. 7, Hamas kidnapped and held hostage Miran, his wife Lishai Lavi, and their two young daughters, after breaking into their Nahal Oz home.
Lavi and the children made it out — but Miran is still missing. The family is grappling from the acute trauma of the situation as well as the enduring pain of missing their loved one for 45 days.
Moshe Lavi told the Daily News that he’s meeting the news of the developing negotiations cautiously — wary that much of the news around the release will not apply to his brother-in-law.
“All the hostages need to be released,” Lavi said. “Not only women and children who are held unjustly but also men who are fathers, sons, grandfathers, for whom schools of loved ones are waiting at home. And this initial deal — if it actually struck because we’ve been talking about it for a few weeks now — … if it is, then this needs to be a first step in a more comprehensive relief for the hostages.”
Miran is a massage therapist, a gardener in their kibbutz and an avid reader who takes care of the couple’s two children.
“I think he is alive. We’re hoping he is,” Lavi said. “We just don’t know. We don’t have any information about his well being.”
Ruby Chen, father of 19-year-old Itay Chen, a young soldier who has been reported “Missing In Action” since October and is likely being held hostage in Gaza, said he’s trying to stay away from false media reports and misinformation, but that he’s “hopeful that an [infrastructure] for future deals will be put in place.
“This will allow for future deals with more hostages to become more realistic,” he said.
Hagar Brodutch, 40, and her children were last seen alive as they were led away from their kibbutz by Hamas terrorists.
Navé Strauss, Brodutch’s cousin, previously told The News of his hopes that she, her three children, Ofri, 10, Yuval, 8, and Uryah, 4, can be returned their home and family.
“I hope that they’re returned immediately and I hope that they’re cared for medically and mentally right away,” Strauss said last month. “No one should ever have to go through this, no matter what creed or color they are.”
Jonathan Dekel-Chen, whose son, Sagui Dekel-Chen, 35, was taken hostage in October, said that he’s nervous about the uncertainty of the situation.
“I just try to keep an even keel, and I’ll believe it when I see it, when hostages are going over the border to freedom,” said Dekel-Chen, a professor at Hebrew University who was born in CT and partly lived in Brooklyn for years.
Dekel-Chen described his son as a dedicated father of two young daughters. His wife is eight months pregnant.
“I’ll only breathe when my son and all 240 of the hostages are released,” Dekel-Chen said. “… The current reports and rumors speak of maybe 50 children and women, which would be wonderful if it happened, but the work will only be done when all 240 men, women, children, infants, elderly, when they’re back home with their loved ones.”
Many families still feel the horror from Oct. 7, where Hamas – deemed a terrorist organization by the United States – launched an attack on Israel, hitting a desert music festival, towns and kibbutzim near Gaza. Sagiv Baylin Ben-Zvi, who was first thought be be taken hostage, was later found dead near the site of the festival.
“I’m wishing for the other hostages they’re holding in Gaza, I hope that everybody can come home safe and alive. That’s what I ask from God every day,” Ben-Zvi’s father, Guram Benyashvilli, 58, said. “But for my son, it’s not great, it’s not happening.”