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The Ramadan ceasefire deadline has expired, and the despair of the families of Israeli-Gaza hostages is deepening

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has begun, but Israel and Hamas have failed to reach any ceasefire agreement (ceasefire deadline). Families of hostages held in Gaza are increasingly desperate, much to their dismay. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promises of “total victory” ring hollow. The Israeli government believes that at least 34 of the 130 hostages still in Gaza have died.

“We watch the news every minute. We see what Egypt says, what Qatar says; the U.S. says a deal is coming, and Israel says it’s not there yet,” said Sharon Kalderon, whose husband, Nissan’s only brother, Ofer, was one of the hostages taken away. “We tried to read between the lines, but we haven’t heard anything about Ofer in months.”

On October 7, militants led by Hamas stormed into southern Israel, killing approximately 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking approximately 250 hostages. Since then, according to Gaza health officials, more than 31,000 Palestinians have died, and hundreds of thousands are facing famine. Israel launched a retaliatory offensive against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

During last November’s ceasefire, about 120 hostages were released, while hundreds of Palestinians were released from Israeli prisons. In addition, during a mission, the Israeli army accidentally killed three hostages.

Some families turned their grief, anger, and despair into strength. They went to the United Nations to express their demands, they marched across Israel, and they wore clothes with “Bring Them Home” printed on them to participate in the Jerusalem Marathon.

But for other families, a quieter pain prevailed. Some people try to end their lives, some stop going to school, and some fall into silence all day long.

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“You can see families running around, calling,” said Ricardo Grichener, 22. “And those who stay there and don’t do anything, their situation is very bad.” Uncle of the hostage, Omer Wenkert.

Sharon and Nissan have been living on the 12th floor of an apartment in Ramat Gan, Israel, since their home was destroyed on the day of the Hamas raid. Nissan’s only brother, Ofer, remains imprisoned to this day. Nissan thought about ending it all. “It’s been hard. I’ve had sleepless nights; I can’t eat. Nothing’s working. That’s it. It’s too much,” Nissan said.

“Every time he came out to the balcony, I was scared,” Sharon said.

International mediators had been optimistic they could agree on a six-week ceasefire before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in exchange for the release of dozens of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners and a flood of humanitarian aid into Gaza. But Hamas wants guarantees of a long-term ceasefire, a demand Israel has rejected.

Grichena said there was no sign of Hamas being flexible, and there was no prospect of an agreement being reached. “We are putting pressure on the (Israeli) government, but I think they have made a mistake.”

Meetings between the hostages’ families and officials from Israel’s war cabinet are ongoing, but the families feel powerless to effect change. Many have received no official updates on the condition of their loved ones, relying on fragments of news from the hostages released in November.

Shlomi Berger is the father of 19-year-old hostage Agam Berger. In November, a released hostage told him that his daughter was still alive, but that was the last time he heard about her. Months later, that excitement has been tempered by overwhelming anxiety and uncertainty.

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“No one knew her condition. They didn’t know if she had air, water, or whether she had tampons during her period. They didn’t know if anyone sexually abused her,” Berger said. “We don’t know if she’s alive or dead. We don’t know anything.”

Israeli National Insurance pays for mental health counseling for the hostages’ parents, spouses, and children. Still, Berger’s family fell apart.

One of Berger’s three daughters has not been to school since October 7, and the younger daughter is on a hunger strike. His wife also stopped working.

The families of the hostages are still looking to the future, and their strategy remains unchanged. They will continue to meet with the war cabinet and continue to wait for their loved ones to return home.

On the first day of Ramadan, Sharon and Nissan watched the sunset together. “We really thought today was the day. But unfortunately, it’s just another day with no answers.”

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