At a rally for freeing the Israeli hostages, a call for peace in Israel and Gaza: Reporter's notebook

Six months into the Israel-Hamas war, the hostage crisis continues.

April 10, 2024, 6:00 AM

The White House was lit up in in columns of blue and white light on the night of Oct. 9, 2023, as people linked arms and sung, "Acheinu Kol Beit Yisrael…" – "Our brothers,? the whole house of Israel, who are given over to trouble or captivity... May the All-prese?nt have mercy upon them..."

It was a gesture towards the more than 200 Israelis who at the time were presumed to have been taken captive in Gaza, just days after the Oct. 7, 2023, suprise terror attack by Hamas in Israel and the subsequent breakout of war between Israel and the militant group.

In Israel, at least 1,700 people have been killed and 8,700 others injured, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. More than 33,000 people have been killed in Gaza and about 76,000 others injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health.

PHOTO : A vigil outside of the White House on October 9, 2023.
A vigil outside of the White House on October 9, 2023.
ABC News

And the hostage crisis that erupted last year continues. Hamas kidnapped more than 240 hostages into the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7. So far, 112 surviving hostages have been released, and currently, there are an estimated 131 hostages remaining in Gaza, which includes 33 bodies of those no longer alive, according to Israeli officials.

PHOTO: Relatives, friends and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attack by Hamas militants during a protest for their release in the central city of Modiin, Nov. 16 2023, as they march towards Jerusalem.
Relatives, friends and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attack by Hamas militants in southern Israel, hold placards and images of those taken during a protest for their release in the central city of Modiin, Nov. 16 2023, as they march towards Jerusalem.
Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

I primarily work with ABC News' politics team, but over the past six months, have assisted with some coverage from Washington, D.C. of the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack and the Israel-Hamas war, including the impact on the campaign trail.

I've also covered some rallies for Israel and the hostages for ABC News, a few snapshots of the American Jewish community's response to the Israel-Hamas war, which has included much activism calling for the release of hostages as well as deep disagreements about Israel's conduct. There have also been many other protests and rallies around the nation and worldwide calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. My colleagues have covered the acute pain being felt by Muslim and Arab American communities, including among people with family ties to Palestinians in Gaza.

The rallies I covered show the concern within the American Jewish community for the hostages – and at one rally, a clear call from someone directly impacted by the hostage crisis about how the calls for freeing the hostages are not a zero-sum game against calls for peace in Gaza.

PHOTO: Protestors march near Times Square for Al-Quds Day, April 5, 2024, in New York.
Protestors march near Times Square for Al-Quds Day, April 5, 2024, in New York.
David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Just over a month after the White House vigil, I helped cover the March for Israel on the National Mall, which organizers said hundreds of thousands attended.

I accompanied ABC News Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran, along with some field producers, as we wound our way through the massive crowd, filled with people carrying Israeli and American flags and "Kidnapped" posters of hostages. Jewish community groups had bussed in from all around the country.

PHOTO: People hold signs and flags during 'March For Israel' at the National Mall, Nov. 14, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
People hold signs and flags during 'March For Israel' at the National Mall, Nov. 14, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
Noam Galai/Getty Images

Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose son Hersh was kidnapped by Hamas, told Moran at the march, "I just say [to my son], I love you, stay strong, survive. I just say it, and sometimes I do it to myself. Because it's so hard ... so I have to stay strong and I have to survive. It's the only way we'll save him."

Jewish community leaders and members I spoke to at the march, meanwhile, spoke about supporting Israel, combatting antisemitism, and freeing the hostages – with one marchgoer saying he had felt "a roller coaster of emotions" since Oct. 7.

PHOTO: A look from the press area of the March for Israel on November 14, 2024.
A look from the press area of the March for Israel on November 14, 2024.
ABC News

Months later – and after the Palestinian death toll and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza had escalated drastically – I was again at the National Mall at the beginning of March to cover a smaller rally that attracted a few hundred people from the D.C. region. Many of the rally-goers held flags of the countries where the hostages were from or citizens of.

An organizer insisted to me that the march was not political, but razor-focused on raising awareness of the hostages' plight.

PHOTO: People march in a rally calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza on March 3, 2024.
People march in a rally calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza on March 3, 2024.
ABC News

But one speaker at the early March rally – who has a direct connection to the hostage crisis – called for American political pressure on the Israeli government.

Speaking before the march, Boaz Atzili, whose relative Liat Beinin Atzili was held in Gaza and released, while her husband Aviv Atzili was killed on Oct. 7, called on the Israeli government to accept the then-current proposed hostage release and cease-fire deal.

Describing the relief he felt when Liat was released – and his despair when Aviv was confirmed killed – Atzili said, "as much as it hurts, making a deal with the devil" – Hamas – "is the only way to bring them back home."

PHOTO: Boaz Atzili addresses a rally calling for freeing Israeli hostages, March 3, 2024.
Boaz Atzili addresses a rally calling for freeing Israeli hostages, March 3, 2024.
ABC News

Atzili added that President Joe Biden should put "pressure on Israel, for the Israeli government, to do the right thing for the people of Israel and for the hostages, which is one and the same."

Then he said something that broke down the divide between the plight of the Israeli hostages and the upheaval that Palestinians in Gaza are facing.

"It is also the right thing to ease the tremendous hunger and suffering in Gaza," Atzili said.

PHOTO: A Palestinian child plays on the ruins of a building destroyed by earlier Israeli bombardment in Gaza City, April 8, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group.
A Palestinian child plays on the ruins of a building destroyed by earlier Israeli bombardment in Gaza City, April 8, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group.
AFP via Getty Images

I reached out to Atzili on April 7, the six-month mark of the outbreak of the war, to see if his stance has stayed the same since he spoke that day.

Atzili wrote back by email that "it is still my view, even more so as the situation in Gaza is even more dire."

ABC News' Mary Kekatos, Terry Moran, Briana Stewart and Amanda Maile contributed to this report.

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