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“People think ‘there are hostages – it is what it is’. But there are families who cannot carry on with their lives”

Families of Israeli victims of the October 7th attacks come to London as attention wanes on the hostages’ plight

The last time I had visited Israel’s embassy in London to meet relatives of those murdered and kidnapped by Hamas was seven weeks after the October 7th attack. Winter was closing in. Fallen leaves had laid a brown carpet on the gardens of the opulent mansions of the Kensington avenue where Israel’s embassy sits, protected behind barriers and armed police.

The embassy on that dark evening was frenetic, crawling with international journalists. Israel was already under international pressure over civilian casualties in Gaza but there was still enormous media interest in the Israeli victims of Hamas’s savage assault.

Much had changed when I returned this week. The sun was shining and the avenue was verdant. The brown carpet was gone, replaced with a warm dappled light that shone between the leaves on the burgeoning trees. Yet inside the embassy was much quieter.

On the same day that Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was the subject of an arrest warrant request at the International Criminal Court, family members of the Israeli hostages in Gaza were back in London asking people not to forget about the people they love.


There were fewer journalists this time, fewer cameras, as international attention has switched to the intense suffering of the people of Gaza. But the pain for the families of the Israeli victims remained the same. The only difference was their hope now seemed harder to grip.

“As time passes, even in Israel the subject becomes normal,” said Rotem Sharabi, a slightly-built 20-year-old woman with a soft voice but a determined look hardened by grief. “People think ‘there are hostages, it is what it is’. But there are families who cannot carry on with their lives.”

We sat in a library at the back of the embassy. She told me how her uncles Eli and Yossi Sharabi were kidnapped on October 7th from Kibbutz Be’eri by Hamas, who murdered Eli’s wife, Lianne, and their teenage daughters Yahel and Noiya, who were British citizens. Yossi’s family escaped the attack, but after 102 days they found out he had been killed in Gaza. Eli remains in captivity.

Rotem normally studies singing at music school, but now she advocates for her family, for her kidnapped uncle. “It is a humanitarian issue, a moral line. Eli doesn’t have his immediate family to come back to anymore. He deserves to come home so that he can have a hug from his mother.”

Rotem sat on one side of me. On the other was 29-year-old Gal Gilboa Dalal. His brother Guy (23) was kidnapped by Hamas from the Nova music festival, which they were both attending.

Guy had arrived with three friends, two of whom were murdered while the third was kidnapped along with him. Earlier, Guy had briefly met up with Gal at the festival. They had taken a selfie and sent it to their mother. They were due to meet again later on. But later on never came.

“I went there to be with my brother and I came back without him,” said Gal.

When the sirens started, he had got in his car to leave. He didn’t expect a Hamas invasion, thinking only that there would be a rocket attack. Guy told him he would leave separately with his other friends. Gal got stuck in traffic at the festival exit. Then the shooting started.

“Bullets were whizzing around us. I left my car and I ran to a tree to hide.”

He called Guy, who was with four Israeli police officers. But they were pinned down by shooting.

“I told him to stay with our forces, but to stay hidden. That was the last conversation we had. I hid further away. I tried to call my brother again, but he didn’t answer anymore.”

Gal was rescued after nine hours. Unknown to him at that point, hours earlier Hamas had published a video online of his brother Guy handcuffed in a Gaza tunnel. Now Gal also travels internationally to advocate for his release as part of Israeli efforts to keep the hostages in the public eye. Last month, he went to the Vatican with his mother to meet the pope.

“Some days my mother barely speaks. She just cries. For my family, it’s like we are on a rollercoaster, but in hell.”

Rotem spoke again, her soft voice now flicked with anger as she pleaded with people not to let the fate of Israel’s hostages fade away: “I’m 20 years old. I should be studying music. Instead, I go from country to country to be the voice of Yossi and of Eli, and of his dead wife and daughters. Because they don’t have a voice.”

Gal nodded his head. “The world keeps on moving. But we cannot, because we’re stuck.”