On October 7, I was in Boston – 5,000 miles from my family – at the start of a speaking tour on what it would take to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
From the first moment the news alerts came though – alongside frantic calls and messages – it was clear that something catastrophic was underway, an attack more cruel and obscene than anything I could have imagined.
My personal story is not that important, except for the fact that it represents the story of so many Israelis.
It feels meaningful to share it today, as a reminder of what we have all faced in the last 100 days: 100 days of pain and anguish for the hostages and their families. 100 days of grief and loss for the families of those murdered. 100 days of fear and devastation for Palestinian families in Gaza.
The dawning realizations hit hard when I first heard the news.
The lives of my friends and relatives in kibbutzim in southern Israel were in danger. My son and son-in-law would be called up for reserves in combat units. Our country would have no choice but to go to war, and a far-right government few Israelis trusted in would be at the helm.
There’s a feeling that grips almost every Israeli who is abroad upon hearing the news of strife at home, a desire to rush back immediately to be among our people in a difficult moment. That’s what I did, too.
On October 9, I arrived to a country at war, a country that was unrecognizable to me.
The scale of the horror was becoming clearer – the murders, the rapes, the unimaginable abuse and alongside them over 200 kidnappings and abductees.
I had family members and friends in kibbutzim near Gaza. Some were murdered, others kidnapped, the rest were evacuated from their homes. Children of good friends fell in battle.
Conflict in the north reached the house where I grew up. The members of my family who still live on Kibbutz Manara, near the Lebanese border, were evacuated. To this day, they do not know if and when they will return. The houses of the kibbutz, which had stood since 1943, have been hit by Hezbollah missiles – over half of the homes have been damaged.
In the face of all the destruction, hardship and grief of the war, there is a painful and bleeding wound at the heart of Israeli society: Over 130, women, men, young and old, including the now unfortunately famous two redheaded small children, are still held hostage in Gaza.
As soon as I returned to Israel, my feet led me to the headquarters of the families of the hostages.
Since then – for 100 days – together with many wonderful volunteers, I have been at the headquarters, working together with other former diplomats in a team to build global solidarity with abductees, some of whom have been abused, all of them exhausted, and many still in immediate danger.
The war that began as perhaps the most justified war in the history of the State of Israel continues without clear political goals – and, unfortunately, also with the feeling that the safe return of the hostages is no longer a priority.
At the same time, we’ve witnessed an incomprehensible level of destruction and pain metered out on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. It’s been accompanied by truly disturbing, hate-filled rhetoric from members of the Netanyahu government calling for wanton violence and destruction against families in Gaza who had no connection to the crimes of Hamas.
I’m deeply proud of those who – while grappling with the grief, devastation and anguish that all Israelis feel – haven’t hesitated to stand up, speak out and push back against such disgusting displays from members of our own government.
Shortly after October 7, I made a commitment to myself that I would do everything I could so that the State of Israel fulfills its commitment to its citizens.
As a former IDF officer and Israeli diplomat, I feel the failure of our political, military and intelligence systems acutely – failures which resulted in fellow citizens being murdered and kidnapped, literally from the safety of their homes.
Israel must not give up on the freedom of hostages. Not only for them and their families, but for all of us.
Our country was founded on the basis of the Jewish principles of mutual responsibility, redemption of captives, and “Tikkun Olam.” Our concern for every kidnapped citizen must be a sacred, guiding priority.
We are a powerful but small country, and it’s now the responsibility of our leaders to do everything they can to bring every abductee back home.
The price of them remaining in Gaza may not only be their death, but also the death of the connecting threads that hold our interwoven society together.
In this moment, I’m also deeply grateful to be a part of J Street’s movement. Together, we’ve continued to ensure American leaders do everything in their power to secure the safety and freedom of hostages – not only Americans, not only Israelis, but every last hostage.
The Biden administration is working on the issue intensely, and making it clear to the Israeli government that there is no “victory” that does not include the return of the hostages – that it is an illusion to think that the release of the abductees and the other goals of the war can be achieved through military means alone, and without negotiations, diplomacy and compromise.
But so far, we have failed.
100 days since they were taken from their families, 136 hostages remain in the hands of terrorists in Gaza. We can’t go back to normal life until they are all released. We cannot abandon them or their families. We must keep up the fight. We must not waver.
Thank you, sincerely, to the entire J Street community for your support and your solidarity in this unbearably painful moment.