Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


‘They’re coming in coffins’: Israeli hostage families mourn dead

Relatives mourn Chanan Yablonka at his funeral in Tel Aviv
Relatives mourn Chanan Yablonka at his funeral in Tel Aviv - Copyright AFP Eyad BABA
Relatives mourn Chanan Yablonka at his funeral in Tel Aviv - Copyright AFP Eyad BABA
Michael Blum

The sister of an Israeli hostage whose body was recovered from Gaza last week struck a solemn tone Sunday as she laid him to rest after thousands attended his funeral.

“I feared this ending but I wanted so much for it to end differently,” Avivit Yablonka told AFP at the funeral of her brother Chanan.

Chanan, 42, was murdered on October 7 in Hamas’s unprecedented attack, while trying to escape from the Nova music festival where at least 364 people were killed.

His body was taken to the Gaza Strip by militants but was retrieved on Friday by Israeli troops after spending 230 days in captivity.

In the space of a week, the Israeli army has announced the death of eight hostages who had been presumed to be alive — five Israelis, two Thais and a French-Mexican dual national.

The army also retrieved seven bodies — including Chanan’s — that had been held in Gaza since October 7.

Hopes have since faded among the families of other hostages whose whereabouts are unknown.

Militants took 252 hostages during the attack, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.

Dozens of hostage relatives gathered outside the home of Chanan’s parents Sunday for a silent procession to Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Shaul cemetery, accompanied by thousands waving Israeli flags.

The Yablonka family had urged people to join the march in solidarity with the hostages.

“We have to bring everyone back — this march is for him and for the release of all the hostages,” Avivit said.

Surrounded by crowds of people, Chanan’s family said goodbye.

– ‘Funeral to funeral’ –

The war in Gaza broke out after Hamas’s attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,984 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Before she learned of her brother’s death, Avivit, 48, attended the funeral of Ron Benjamin, who was found in the same tunnel complex in northern Gaza as her brother, according to the army.

“I’m scared. I go from funeral to funeral. I’m so scared, but I have hope, I’m not giving up,” she said at the time.

A father of two, Chanan had played for the Hapoel Tel-Aviv football club in his youth, and remained a fan.

His family had not heard from him since October 7, and was told he was in Gaza 90 days after his disappearance.

“We thought they were coming back alive, but they’re coming back in coffins,” Avivit said before laying her brother to rest.

Avivit said she wants “to believe that the government really wants to bring them all back and that there are difficulties in negotiating with such murderers”.

She said last week she had not received a phone call from any minister or lawmaker.

– Anger at government –

Her anger is shared by Jonathan Dekel-Chen, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose son Sagi is being held hostage in Gaza.

“My anger is only growing,” he told AFP.

“We see that there is no progress for the return of the hostages… Israeli society is with us but the government is not doing enough to bring them home.”

Yet he remains hopeful of finding his son alive. He was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, leaving his pregnant wife and two daughters behind.

Sagi’s wife Avital has since given birth to daughter Shahar, which means “dawn” in English.

Around 75 people from kibbutz Nir Oz were captured on October 7.

Dekel-Chen said his “daily” dream was to see his son reunited with his entire family, including children Gali, 3, and Bar, 7.

“They run to him and he, on his two legs, runs to his wife Avital and Shahar, the baby, and finally embraces him, and resumes a normal life,” he said, describing his recurring dream.

“This is my mission. I won’t stop until it happens.”

At the entrance to the university library, tears in his eyes, he stared at a portrait of his son displayed at the reception desk.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

You may also like:


The unions, which represent some 14,000 Disneyland Resort employees, have been in negotiations with Disney over wage increases since April. 


The Marine Climate Change Impacts estimated that 28 percent of the coastline in England and Wales was retreating by at least 10 cm.


US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Friday he had spoken by telephone with Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky.


US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, in a closely watched moment, will return to the campaign trail just one week after narrowly escapation assassination...