For certain members of the family of IIsraeli-Americans that Hamas is supposed to have been taken hostage, the evenings can be particularly excruciating.
Ruby Chen, whose 19-year-old reservist son Itay has been missing since October 7, recently spoke to CNN just before midnight in Israel. “This is the hardest part of the day,” Chen said, because it’s when he finally allows himself a long enough pause to ask himself, “How bad have I been productive by advancing my son’s release by an inch?”
For Iris Haggai Liniado, whose parents were allegedly kidnapped by Hamas two months ago while they were out for a morning walk, every meal can serve as a painful reminder due to the fact that she knows little about the whereabouts of her mother and father. “Today I sat and had dinner with my sister,” Haggai Liniado told CNN one evening this week. “I eat a huge plate of food – and my mother doesn’t eat at all. Or maybe eat rice. Or maybe not even alive.
Not knowing whether her parents, Judih and Gadi Weinstein-Haggai, are still alive — and if so, what suffering they are enduring — has been torture, she said. “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemies. I wouldn’t wish this on Hamas who did all these things.
Chen and Haggai Liniado are now among the families of American hostages who are desperately calling on the Israeli government and the Biden White House to do something – anything – to get their family members out of Hamas captivity.
The release of several Israeli-Russian hostages under a separate deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hamas has left an impression on the families of the American hostages. Even as they acknowledge the unique circumstances that appear to have made the release of the Russian nationals possible — Putin has been accused of supporting Hamas — the families are increasingly wondering whether any arrangement guaranteeing the release of only U.S. citizens might be possible. possible.
“President Putin kind of opened our eyes to the possibility of reaching a separate agreement on a specific nationality,” Chen said. “So that precedent is something that I think makes sense to suggest or consider.”
Haggai Liniado echoed this sentiment, although she too acknowledged the reality of Moscow’s ties to Hamas. “If the Russians have succeeded,” she said, “there must be a way.” Either way.”
Chen was also among hostage families who met with Vice President Kamala Harris’ national security adviser, Phil Gordon, in Israel on Wednesday. Some families, according to Chen, pushed the Biden administration’s idea of reaching a hostage deal with Qatar – which served as the main interlocutor in negotiations with Hamas – without the initial involvement of the Israeli government, according to Chen.
“Sometimes kids argue and you need adults to get involved,” Chen said. Gordon seemed receptive, he said.
As the war enters its third month, the families of the missing Americans have become something of a support system for each other. They have an active WhatsApp group chat, where they share information about the war and the hostages – and discuss possible next steps.
The families CNN spoke with said they appreciate the White House’s engagement with the families so far — but the reality that U.S. citizens are still missing has been a tough pill to swallow.
“As an American citizen, I ask myself: what is my American government doing? » Chen said.
“I expect the U.S. government to permanently bring back the eight Americans. I believe it is their duty,” said Haggai Liniado.
The families spoke with President Joe Biden via Zoom a week after the Oct. 7 attack, and since then the White House and the office of Biden’s hostage envoy Roger Carstens have had constant contact, according to the families.
This contrasts sharply, they said, with the little awareness and support they have received from the Israeli government, which has faced heavy criticism from the freed hostages and their families. Leaked audio recordings of a meeting between freed Israeli hostages, relatives of those still detained and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet captured their fierce anger and frustration this week.
Last Thursday, the families of missing Americans spoke again with Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. Sullivan himself described the conversation afterward as “heartbreaking.”
Shortly after that meeting with Sullivan, things changed.
For seven days, Hamas has been releasing a small group of Israeli women and children hostages every day, as part of an agreement with Israel to temporarily suspend the fighting. But on the seventh day, after Hamas refused to release other kidnapped women and Israel, in turn, rejected Hamas’ demands to move on to the next category of hostages – men – the military operation Israeli quickly resumed.
The halt to daily hostage releases was a blow to families, some of whom were beginning to hope that their loved ones might soon be released.
Jon Polin’s son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, was allegedly kidnapped from the Nova music festival on October 7. Polin told CNN that the end of the truce caused a “day and night difference in all our thoughts.” .”
“We have gone from optimism to despair,” he said.
Formal hostage negotiations taking place in Doha, Qatar, were officially halted last week. Senior U.S. officials said the administration remains in close contact with their Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian counterparts on ways to get more hostages out, but that the apparent lack of progress in this area is fueling growing anxiety among families.
“I would have liked to hear more creativity from everyone involved – the administration, the Israelis, Hamas, Qatar, Egypt,” Polin said, while emphasizing that he was not questioning questioned the White House’s dedication to the mission and said he received “tremendous support” from the administration. “I just feel like I don’t hear a lot of things that are creative thinking.”
Calling the past few days an “inflection point,” Chen said the Biden administration needs to “reevaluate some of the working assumptions the United States has.”
Many families have not held back their criticism of the Red Cross. Despite the truce agreement stipulating that Red Cross officials would be allowed to visit hostages in Gaza by the end of the fourth day of a pause in fighting, more than a week later, this does not has still not happened. As a result, there is virtually no new information on the whereabouts or condition of the missing Americans – including whether any of them are alive.
“The question was asked during the call: what could the United States do to put more pressure on the ICRC’s action? Polin spoke about reuniting the families with Sullivan last week. “It was a point of frustration for him.”
Asked why the Red Cross has not yet been able to travel to Gaza to check on the hostages, White House spokesman John Kirby told CNN on Wednesday that “the blame must be placed on the Hamas.”
“Hamas did not allow the Red Cross to visit the hostages as it had agreed to do. And that’s unacceptable,” Kirby said. “If we could allow the Red Cross access to them, not only would they have some comfort – which is the most important thing for someone to know where they are and care about their condition – but this would help us get information. »
For now, Chen, Polin and Haggai Liniado are holding on to the very last WhatsApp messages they received from their sons and parents before everything went dark.
Chen’s son, Itay, sent a text message at 6:45 a.m. saying his military base was the target of a missile attack. Aggea Liniado’s parents texted her to say they were lying face down in the fields near their kibbutz as they watched the rockets fly overhead.
Polin’s son, Hersh, sent two messages in quick succession the morning of the attack: “I love you.” “I’m sorry.”