Hostage’s Family Remains Hopeful 6 Months Into Israel-Hamas War

To mark the 6-month anniversary of the Hamas terrorist organization’s brutal attack on Israel, the host of America’s Hope, Kelly Wright, went to Israel to talk to the family members of some of the hostages and to find out how they’re coping.

Shelly Shem-Tov has kept her son’s bedroom exactly as messy as he left it on the night of Oct. 6 when he went to attend a music festival just a few miles east of the Gaza Strip. That bedroom has become a shrine of sorts; a place she visits every morning to pray and find hope for her son’s safe return.

At 21 years old, Omer Shem-Tov was among hundreds of young adults partying at the weekend-long Supernova Music Festival near the Negev Desert community of Re’im on Oct. 7 when the event came under attack by Hamas gunmen crossing over from Gaza.

The Israeli side was largely caught unprepared for the Oct. 7 attack, which saw the deaths of around 1,100 people. The attacks that morning began with a salvo of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“In our crazy country rockets are normal, and we thought it’s the normal situation,” Shelly Shem-Tov told NTD’s Kelly Wright in an interview from her home on April 4, nearly half a year since the attacks.

She and her husband, Malki Shem-Tov called their son to make sure that he was still safe. At first, Mr. Omer Shem-Tov told his parents everything was fine. But as the true extent of the attacks that day became clear, his mother and father called him again.

“We talked a few times with Omer, and the last time was a quarter to 9 a.m., and he was panicked. He was very, very afraid. He said that they got to the car and tried to escape,” Mrs. Shelly Shem-Tov said.

Her son shared his phone’s location as he and a group of friends attempted to flee the burgeoning attack on the music festival. Mrs. and Mr. Malki Shem-Tov monitored their son’s phone location for a time, before realizing his pin was moving toward the Gaza Strip. They tried to call again, but he didn’t answer.

Mr. Malki Shem-Tov said he and his wife were initially in denial about their son’s whereabouts. By 8 p.m. that evening, they saw a video published by Hamas gunmen, showing their son among a group of people tied up in the back of a pickup truck, and they could no longer deny what had happened; their son had been kidnapped.

‘We’re Stuck at October 7’

Around 250 people were taken hostage by Hamas and other Palestinian factions that had participated in the Oct. 7 attack.

Hamas turned over 105 of those hostages in November, with Israel agreeing to pause its retaliatory military operation in the Gaza Strip and release 240 Palestinians who have been held in Israeli custody. Hamas has unilaterally released another four hostages, and Israeli forces freed three more in a rescue operation in February. Mr. Omer Shem-Tov is among those still missing in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces fired on and killed three hostages in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City in December. This trio of hostages had reportedly been waving white cloths and calling for Israeli forces to save them at the time they were killed.

For the families of many of the remaining hostages, the status of their loved ones remains uncertain. Hamas has indicated some of the hostages have been killed by Israeli strikes throughout the embattled territory, though their claims are difficult to independently verify at this time.

NTD Photo
Shelly Shem-Tov discusses her son Omer’s Oct. 7, 2023 kidnapping in an interview on April 4, 2024. (Tal Atzmon/NTD)

The Shem-Tov family has tried to keep up the hope for their son’s return, actively participating in forums with family members of other Oct. 7 hostages. The longer they wait, the harder it is to stay positive.

“The energy is, I don’t want to say lower, but let’s say more challenging,” Malki Shem-Tov told NTD.

It’s not only the passage of time that makes hope difficult but also the perception that the general public is no longer as focused on winning the release of these hostages.

“It’s hard to see that people get on with their lives and we’re stuck at October 7,” Mrs. Shelly Shem-Tov said.

Time is Against The Hostages

Mr. Malki Shem-Tov believes the more that time passes without a hostage deal, the worse the odds are for his son and those similarly situated.

Immediately after Oct. 7, he said there seemed to be a huge sense of solidarity around the world for the Israeli public and the families of those injured, killed, or captured in the attack. Since then, he feels that sense of global support has fallen away.

Israeli forces surrounded the Gaza Strip after Oct. 7 and began a campaign of retaliatory strikes, first by air and then with boots on the ground, to eliminate Hamas. Thousands of Gazan civilians have seen their own lives upended in this ongoing conflict, with thousands killed, wounded, and driven out of their homes.

The Gaza Health Ministry has concluded more than 33,000 people have been killed in the fighting in the territory since Oct. 7. The health ministry, a fixture of the local Gazan government which is officially controlled by Hamas, does not clearly distinguish whether those killed are civilians or combatants and their casualty figures are difficult to independently confirm in an active warzone.

The Israeli military campaign in Gaza has seen pushback on the world stage, with the South African government arguing before the International Court of Justice that Israel is committing genocide.

President Joe Biden has also raised concern about the flow of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and said Israel “has not done enough to protect aid workers” after Israeli forces struck a humanitarian aid convoy last week, killing seven civilians.

NTD Photo
Malki Shem-Tov discusses his son Omer’s Oct. 7, 2023 kidnapping in an interview on April 4, 2024. (Tal Atzmon/NTD)

“I believe the time passing, that’s become actually the danger of the whole situation,” Malki Shem-Tov said. “Because of this routine, countries start to see the situation from also the other side and the world’s mind change.”

Within Israel, protest movements have grown critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with some arguing that his mission to free the Oct. 7 hostages has taken a back seat to another wartime objective to outright defeat Hamas. Some of the growing protests have called for new elections to replace the current Israeli government.

Mr. Malki Shem-Tov said he’s not aware of all the behind-the-scenes negotiations to win the release of the hostages, but he’s worried about the prospects for a deal after six months of waiting.

The Netanyahu government has offered to give Hamas a temporary reprieve from the fighting in exchange for the release of some of the hostages. By contrast, Hamas negotiators have insisted on a more permanent ceasefire, with Israeli troops withdrawing altogether from the Gaza Strip, effectively requiring Mr. Netanyahu and his allies to end the war without achieving their goal of totally defeating Hamas.

Mr. Malki Shem-Tov said he’s hopeful for a solution that frees his son before Israel loses too much public support. He’s worried that consensus across the international community, and at the United Nations in particular, is building towards a demand that forces Israel to accept a ceasefire without the release of the remaining hostages.

“Our demand from our leadership is to find an urgent solution. Because the time, it’s against everybody, it’s against the hostages that are there and their risk. And it’s against that—the solidarity—is just going away,” he said.

‘Hope Never Dies’

While they await his return, Mr. Omer Shem-Tov’s family are doing what they can to remain hopeful.

As she visits her son’s room every morning, Mrs. Shelly Shem-Tov says, “Good morning, Omer,” and recites the number of days he has been held in captivity.

“And I’m saying to him, ‘Be strong. Be with faith. We are doing everything to bring you back home,'” she said.

Mr. Omer Shem-Tov sister, Ms. Danna Shem-Tov told NTD she is sustained in this period of waiting and uncertainty by a vision of someday hugging her brother and welcoming him home again. She wants the world to get to know her brother too.

NTD Photo
Amit Shem-Tov (L) and Danna Shem-Tov (R) discuss their brother Omer Shem-Tov’s kidnapping in an April 4, 2024 interview. (Tal Atzmon/NTD)

“He has a dream to be an actor. So he will get his dream. And everybody will know him. And Omer is just perfect. And I miss him so much. And I want him back here.

Mr. Omer Shem-Tov brother, Mr. Amit Shem-Tov, is also holding on for his return.

“Hope never dies,” he told NTD. “Just as Danna said, we’re manifesting it, we’re manifesting Omer. We’re waiting for the day we’re going to be able to hug him.

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