Hersh Goldberg-Polin: Gaza hostage’s mother pleads for ceasefire deal

The mother of an Israeli-American man being held in Gaza has told the BBC that Israel and Hamas must urgently agree a new ceasefire and hostage release deal.

Rachel Goldberg-Polin’s son Hersh, who turned 23 four days before he was kidnapped from the Nova festival on 7 October, was seen in captivity in a new video released last week.

She described how she felt when she first watched it.

“As soon as I heard his voice I started to cry, because I haven’t heard his voice in half a year.

“To see him moving, and to see that he is clearly medically compromised, and that he’s fragile. His father Jon and I were both just crying, and I was holding my heart.”

“I don’t even know what I was saying. I was just making noises and crying, and Jon was crying”.

A poster calling for the release of Israeli hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin at the site of the Nova festival, in southern IsraelA poster calling for the release of Israeli hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin at the site of the Nova festival, in southern Israel

Hersh Goldberg-Polin was kidnapped during the attack on the Nova music festival, where more than 360 people were killed [BBC]

Hersh Goldberg-Polin was at the Nova music festival in a forested area close to the Gaza Strip when Hamas-led gunmen stormed Israel’s border fence, killing about 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

More than 360 of those killed were attending the festival event.

Hersh ran several kilometres and sought refuge in a roadside bomb shelter with several dozen others during the attack, but gunmen gathered outside and began throwing in grenades.

Before Wednesday, the last time he had been seen alive was in a Hamas video that showed him being loaded on to a pick-up truck, with part of his left arm missing.

In the new video, posted to Hamas’s Telegram account, Hersh lifts his arm to the camera to show a healed stump where his hand should be. He criticises Israel’s military campaign in Gaza before speaking directly to his parents and two sisters, urging them to keep campaigning for his release.

“We’re clearly very concerned about the injury,” Mrs Goldberg-Polin told me.

“We’ve had several surgeons who have seen the video that say he needs another surgery immediately. If he was treated, it was an emergency treatment. He needs a second surgery at least.”

“He is considered in a fragile and compromised medical state, and so we’re concerned about that.”

A screengrab from a video showing Hamas hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin.A screengrab from a video showing Hamas hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin.

In a new video released last Wednesday, Hersh Goldberg-Polin said he needed urgent medical attention [AFP]

As a 23-year-old man, Hersh would not be expected to be included in the next batch of hostages whose release is being discussed, which includes woman and the elderly.

But those with medical conditions also fall into the category to be freed, and so the family hope that he will be included – although they have not had any confirmation.

Mrs Goldberg-Polin says she is scheduled to meet the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on his latest visit to Israel, which it is hoped will give further impetus to the negotiations.

She had a clear message for all of the parties involved.

“I think that everyone here has leverage. Everyone is using their leverage. But are they using it to the maximum? The answer is clearly no. Because we still have 133 people there in Gaza.

“I am hopeful and optimistic. I’m really praying that all the parties, everyone decides that they’re going to be courageous, be daring, and put an end to all the suffering in this region”.

People take part in a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, Israel (29 April 2024)People take part in a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, Israel (29 April 2024)

Protesters demanded the release of the remaining hostages at a rally in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night [Reuters]

It is expected that Hamas will respond to the latest Israeli proposal in the next 24 hours. The hope is that it can provide a foundation to negotiate a concrete deal, and not be rejected outright.

The details are yet to be officially confirmed but are believed to involve the release of 33 hostages during a five to six week ceasefire. An as-yet-unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners would be released from Israeli jails. There is also believed to be a commitment to discuss a future end point for the war.

But even as those discussions continue, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is planning a ground offensive in Rafah regardless of the outcome. Around 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering there after fleeing their homes during the heavy fighting in northern and central parts of Gaza.

More than 34,500 people have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry. Israel has been conducting a military campaign to destroy Hamas and free the hostages.

A deal agreed in November saw Hamas release 105 hostages – most of them women and children – in return for a week-long ceasefire and some 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

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