‘Not knowing’ plunges the families of Israel’s missing into a limbo of pain and numbness


LONDON (AP) — The families of Israel’s dead are holding funerals and mourning in the wake of Hamas’ deadly rampage. The loved ones of people thought to have been taken hostage are demanding the captives’ release.

But nearly two weeks after the worst civilian massacre in Israel’s history, the families of the missing are wandering through a landscape of pain and numbness with no clear horizon and few, if any answers. The not-knowing, they say, plunges them into cycles of sorrow and hope.

“I don’t know what will be,” said Rachel Goldberg, whose 23-year-old son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin was last seen being loaded into a pickup with other hostages abducted by the Hamas militants from the Tribe of Nova music festival. Witnesses said he lost part of an arm in a grenade attack.

“So in the meantime, I just keep walking through hell, because if I stop, then I’m just in hell,” his mother said.

The Associated Press has documented more than 250 people who disappeared in the attacks. Of those, around 140 are confirmed as likely hostages, whether by witnesses who saw them being taken away by Hamas militants, army information given to their families, or by their appearances on social media posted by Hamas.

At least 85 of the missing are either foreign or dual nationals, according to the AP data. At least 20 are children.

Israel this week updated its list of hostages to 199, and families say the army has begun contacting them, but with little information on their relatives’ fates.

“They’re stuck in the limbo of what I call ambiguous loss,” Pauline Boss, professor emeritus of the University of Minnesota and an author on the subject, said of the families.

“It immobilizes people; they’re stuck, because they just don’t know.”

On Tuesday one family got a measure of good news when Hamas released a video showing a dazed Mia Schem, 21, after she’d been seized at the music festival, where at least 260 people were killed. It was among the first signs of life from any of the hostages since the heavily armed Hamas gunmen smashed through the border fortifications on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400 people in Israel.

“I didn’t know if she’s dead or alive until yesterday,” her mother, Keren Schem, said at a news conference. “I’m begging the world to bring my baby back home.”

The prospect of rescuing hostages, or of just getting their medication to them so they might survive, is highly unclear in what has become the most complex hostage crisis in Israeli history. Hamas is thought to be keeping them in a warren of tunnels deep under Gaza City as Israel pounds the seaside strip.

At the same time, identifying the dead has been slow. At Shura military base in central Israel, bodies have been coming in faster than they can be identified, partly because of their condition. Hundreds of soldiers, women, and children in body bags line shelves of refrigerated trucks, awaiting examination.

So the families of the missing wait — and anguish.

Ilan Regev, father of festival attendees Maya and Itay, drove frantically to the festival site after receiving a blood-curdling phone call from his 21-year-old daughter amid gunfire. When he got there, Regev was barred from entering, and there was nobody to speak to him. He spent the day searching for his children, between the festival grounds and a nearby hospital.

A Hamas video indicated his 18-year-old son had been taken hostage. But days later, the army could only say that the siblings were captives — not even whether they were alive, or if they were wounded.

He has been, Regev said, “like a dead person” with fear and uncertainty. “I want to know if my children are alive. And they told me that for now, they cannot tell me.”

“We are finding ourselves in a bad movie,” said Mirit Regev, their mother.

At a borrowed house near Jerusalem, Iris Haim says her family is receiving support and welcome distraction from friends and family as they await word of her son Yotam’s whereabouts.

Haim’s 28-year-old son was last seen in a video he took showing himself in the front door of his apartment in Kfar Aza, a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. The pop-pop-pop of gunfire can be heard before he heads inside and the video ends. Her son texted the video to her and she showed it to the AP.

Haim said her two other children are struggling with sleep issues and even self-blame for their brother’s disappearance.

Members of the band Yotam, a drummer, performs with visited the family over the weekend and “just jammed,” Iris Haim said. At last, she wept for her son.

“I think when I heard them play it was like opening my tear ducts,” she said. “It made me able to cry.”

“I try all the time to be strong,” she added. “Because I don’t want to feel weak, here, now.”


Noveck reported from Los Angeles. Hinnant reported from Paris.


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