The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why the Israeli hostages could be the key to peace

A woman carries a poster bearing a picture of Israeli hostage Carmel Gat, 39, as people gather in Tel Aviv on Jan. 14 to mark the 100th day after the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images)
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Simona Steinbrecher plays for me the recorded message from her 30-year-old daughter, Doron, on Oct. 7, the last time she heard from her. Doron whispers in Hebrew — “They caught me, they caught me, they caught me.” Her voice is frantic, the terror she is experiencing unmistakable. Doron was pulled by Hamas terrorists from under the bed where she was hiding in her home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Since then, her parents have heard nothing. No video. Nothing from hostages already released.

Simona takes out a “kidnapped” hostage poster with her daughter’s picture. Doron is a veterinary nurse, a warm and caring person, her mother says. Still almost in disbelief, Simona tells me, “They came into her home, where you are supposed to feel safe.” The horrendous sexual violence on Oct. 7 and subsequent reports from freed hostages add to her burden. “I worry about her,” Simona says, “because she is a young girl.”

Like so many other relatives of hostages, Simona experienced her own terror on Oct. 7. After 13 hours in her safe room in her home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, her husband ran out to look for Doron, believing he saw her body. He ran back to Simona. “It’s not her,” he told her. Simona grimaces as she recalls the “horrible” smell of burning bodies that day. Another of Simona’s daughters, her son-in-law and their 6- and 3-year old children survived in their safe room, the terrorists unable to open the door.

Doron requires daily medicine. While a deal was struck to deliver medicine to hostages who need it, Simona has heard that instead it goes “to Hamas and ...,” her voice trails off. Her agony in not knowing, stranded in perpetual helplessness, is palpable.

The Steinbrechers’ ordeal is shared with loved ones of more than 130 other hostages, some known to have been killed, others whose condition, like Doron’s, is entirely unknown. The families have forged an emotional bond, with several members traveling to U.S. cities, meeting with lawmakers and talking in public forums. Simona says she has been heartened and moved by the reactions both on Capitol Hill, where a group met Wednesday with members of Congress, and among American Jewish groups. But their excruciating emotional torture has no end in sight.