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Israeli protesters blame their government for not doing more to free hostages in Gaza

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The world's eyes are on Gaza as the death toll now exceeds 29,000. That's according to Gaza health officials. Twelve hundred people were killed in the October 7 attack by Hamas. That is what launched this whole war, according to Israel. And families of the remaining hostages worry that they are being forgotten.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Bring them home now.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Bring them home now.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Bring them home now.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Bring them home now.

CHANG: Protests in Tel Aviv and other cities continue every week, blaming Israel's government for not doing more to free the hostages. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: I sit down with 82-year-old Yashay Dan at a cafe in his tree-lined town of Kfar Sava, about a half hour north of Tel Aviv.

YASHAY DAN: I accept to talk with everyone, and I go to every place.

BEARDSLEY: Dan has been on a mission since Hamas-led militants kidnapped his niece, Hadas Kalderon, along with her husband and two children from kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7. She's the daughter of his only brother, who also lived in Nir Oz and died five years ago.

DAN: Yuri Dan - his name. He work a lot for the peace. He used to bring from Gaza to hospital people by his car because they don't have money, and they can't do it alone. And he has a lot of friends that work in the kibbutz that come from Gaza.

BEARDSLEY: Kalderon and her children were released in November as part of a ceasefire and hostage prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel. Husband and father, Ofer Kalderon, is still being held. Dan says the hostage families fear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scuttling chances for another cease-fire.

DAN: He decided to don't come back to the negotiation because the demands are too high. But we don't understand the word too high for the people that was left without army, without nothing. They were sleeping or dancing. He have to bring them back.

BEARDSLEY: Israel never even left a soldier's body behind, says Dan. How can it abandon its citizens? He says the hostage families hate Hamas, but not the Palestinian people.

DAN: We need peace. We need peace, both of the country. And I think that the solution of the American is the best - say two country, two people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: A few weeks ago, French President Emmanuel Macron held a ceremony in Paris to pay homage to the 42 Israeli-French dual citizens who lost their lives in the Hamas attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEARDSLEY: As French soldiers held portraits of the victims, an orchestra played "Kaddish," Maurice Ravel's musical version of the Jewish Prayer for the Dead. Dan and the other families attended, flown over on a French government plane.

DAN: Wonderful, wonderful. It was something that really give me a proudness to be also French.

BEARDSLEY: Dan says Israel's government has given no such recognition to the hostage families. Israeli critics of Netanyahu say his stated goal of total victory undermines any chance of securing the hostages' release and is pandering to his hard-right base. Three months after their release, Dan says the Kalderon family is struggling. Twelve-year-old Erez has trouble sleeping.

DAN: His mother have to show him - to open the door outside to show him, no Hamas there. He was 60 day alone in the night - black day and night, all the time alone.

BEARDSLEY: Erez's 16-year-old sister, Sahar, had a different, yet equally harrowing experience in the tunnels.

DAN: All the other hostage, all the time, was around her. And don't leave the Hamas to come too close to her. They know what can happen. So they don't leave her any minutes.

BEARDSLEY: She was the last member of the family to see her father.

DAN: Ofer is a very good father. They love him, and they want him back.

BEARDSLEY: Israel says 134 people remain captive in Gaza.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Kfar Sava, Israel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.