Tel Aviv, Israel – Miri Benami tells Al Jazeera she was worried when she could not get through to her son, Yosef Ohana, on October 7.
He was at the Supernova Sukkot gathering, and she had heard that Hamas fighters attacked the trance music festival when they infiltrated southern Israel that day.
After trying his phone several times, she eventually reached his friend, who had been with Yosef when the attack occurred.
What he told her was every mother’s worst nightmare.
As fighters from Hamas’s armed wing stormed the festival, Yosef and his friend stayed to help evacuate other festivalgoers, getting injured people to ambulances and helping others get away from the gunfire.
In the final, chaotic moments, fighters neared the two men and Yosef took the split-second decision to run in one direction and his friend in the other.
As his friend ran, he looked back and saw Yosef taking cover under a car. That was the last time anyone saw him.
Government representatives have since visited Miri and confirmed to her that her 24-year-old son’s status has changed from missing to kidnapped.
“I miss him so much, and I love him.
“I want him back now … to his home,” she says, her voice full of emotion. She searches for more words, but none arrive, and she smiles politely, holding back tears.
‘Bring them home now’
Many families have come to this square in Tel Aviv to protest for the return of their loved ones being held in Gaza.
People embrace, offering each other comforting words. Some sing along to music from the speakers, gently swinging back and forth.
The families protest regularly, looking to keep pressure on the Israeli government to work harder to find solutions for the release of their loved ones.
People hold up placards with the words “Bring them home now” and pictures of their missing loved ones.
Every placard is emblazoned with “Hostage and Missing Families Forum”, the name of a volunteer-led network set up less than 24 hours after the attack to help coordinate national and international efforts to secure their release.
Miri has customised her placard by attaching it to a yellow lanyard so she can wear a large picture of her beloved Yosef around her neck.
In the picture, Yosef is smiling and relaxed as he attended another, earlier, music festival – sunglasses perched on top of his head, which is cocked to one side.
He wears a black sleeveless t-shirt and earrings and seems in his element, listening to music among smiling partygoers, just as he had been on October 7.
A long table stands at one end, laid out as if for a dinner with bottles of red wine and flatware. Pulled up to it are empty chairs with the word “hostage” on the back, symbolising the missing.
Demonstrators sing and perform. A metres-long piece paper banner is taped to the ground for people to write notes to their loved ones and passers-by to write messages of support.
‘To the government of the world’
More than 1,400 people were killed in Hamas’s attack, and an estimated 218 people are in captivity in Gaza, with four released since October 7. Israel’s response to the attack was to bomb Gaza relentlessly, destroying most of its infrastructure and killing 5,791 Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under fire for his government’s handling of the attack and subsequent hostage crisis.
A recent poll conducted by the Jerusalem Post showed that 86 percent of Israelis believe the attack was a leadership failure, and more than half of those polled called for him to resign.
Miri does not offer an opinion on the government, it is obvious that all that matters to her, like other families protesting, is that she gets her son back. She struggles to express herself, worry etched across her face.
Air raid sirens ring out, stopping Miri mid-sentence. A brief expression of concern flashes across her face as she is ushered towards a car parking structure that has become a local bomb shelter in recent weeks.
Some demonstrators seem unperturbed by the piercing screech of the sirens and remain outside playing music; a series of loud blasts are heard in the sky above and Miri flinches as she moves further into the car park, still talking about Yosef.
“We’re all praying for them to come home,” she says, tucking her hair behind her ears.
The blasts appear to have been Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system intercepting rockets headed for Israel.
People appear to have grown increasingly accustomed to the sounds and, in spite of everyone being told to stay under the concrete cover of the car park, demonstrators begin to make their way back outside.
The cousin of another captive told Al Jazeera the demonstration’s message was not just to the Israeli government but “to the government of the whole world”.
“We want her back now,” he says firmly.