Thousands gather in Tel Aviv to mark Naama Levy’s 20th birthday while in Hamas captivity in Gaza

Damond Isiaka
6 Min Read


CNN
 — 

Thousands of people gathered in Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday to commemorate the 20th birthday of Naama Levy, who has been held captive for 260 days.

It was one of the first and most searing viral videos to emerge as the October 7 attack unfolded. A cell phone video released by Hamas shows Levy, who was 19-years-old at the time, being dragged by her hair at gunpoint by a terrorist in Gaza. Her hands are bound, her ankles cut. Her pants are soaked in blood.

Eight months on, and Levy is one of 120 people who remain in captivity in Gaza, 116 of whom were among the more than 250 taken hostage on October 7. A hostage and ceasefire deal in November secured the release of more than 100, while a handful have been rescued. But fears for those who remain are growing, with a senior Hamas official telling CNN recently that “no one has an idea” how many of them are still alive.

Their plight is the subject of regular anti-government protests in Israel, where many demonstrators are calling on Israeli leaders to secure a hostage deal and hold an early election.

At Hostages Square on Saturday, Levy’s parents Ayelet Levy Shachar and Yoni Levy addressed the crowd.

“Today, I didn’t want to make a speech in the square. I just wanted to wish Naama a happy birthday, to speak to you, Naama, hoping you might hear, wishing these words reach you,” Levy’s mother said during her speech.

“I … wish for you the most basic right that you deserve as a human being – your freedom, which was taken from you eight and a half months ago,” her mother added.

Levy’s father, Yoni, said he wished his daughter could see how many people showed up to celebrate her birthday.

“I remember your laughter and can hear your voice, imagining exactly what you’d be doing today. We would have prepared a table for you, full of sweets, balloons, and gifts. Like every year,” Yoni said during his speech at the gathering.

“How happy this day could have been. Instead, you’re there. In darkness. For 260 days already. And we stand here,” Yoni added.

“We all understand that 120 hostages cannot be returned through military operations. We must honestly say – 120 hostages will only return home through a deal,” Yoni said.

People hold signs and balloons, as family, friends, and supporters of Israeli hostage Naama Levy, who was kidnapped during the deadly October 7 attack, attend a protest march on her 20th birthday, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 22, 2024. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Yoni also addressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directly, saying, “Victory in war is not just victory in military battles. And it’s not just preserving the coalition at any cost. Victory in war is the ability to preserve the values of this nation, years ahead. And victory is the ability to continue being faithful to our values as Jews and Israelis.”

The gathering in Hostages Square was just one of several that took place in cities across Israel on Saturday

Families of hostages held in Gaza also took part in protests in Jerusalem, Herzliya, Caesarea, Raanana, Be’er Sheva, Kiryat Gat and the town of Pardes Hanna-Karkur.

Many waved Israeli flags and held up signs with images of the Israeli hostages.

“Alive! Alive! And not in body bags!”, “Hostage deal now! Bring them back alive now! The baby, the soldiers, the women, the men,” protesters in Tel Aviv shouted.

Other protesters were heard shouting, ” Elections now.”

“There is nothing more important, every hostage must return!” protesters in Jerusalem chanted.

In Caesarea, thousands of protesters took to the streets chanting, ‘You’re the leader, you’re guilty!’

In the town of Pardes Hanna-Karkur, protesters also called for the release of all hostages and an early election to be held. Some of them were heard chanting, ‘We will not give up until we make it a better place to live.”

Former Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz took part in a hostage rally in Carmei Gat in Kiryat Gat city with members of Kibbutz Nir Oz.

Nir Oz was one of several kibbutzim that bore the brunt of Hamas’ attack on October 7, with many residents murdered or taken hostage.

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