'Nightmare is our reality': the agony of Hamas hostages' relatives

Orit Meir, mother of Almog Meir, 21, held hostage by Palestinian Hamas militants since the October 7 attack, at a press conference in Athens on November 6, 2023 (Angelos Tzortzinis)
Orit Meir, mother of Almog Meir, 21, held hostage by Palestinian Hamas militants since the October 7 attack, at a press conference in Athens on November 6, 2023 (Angelos Tzortzinis)

It was just before 8am on October 7 when Orit Meir's cellphone beeped with a terrifying voice message from her son Almog who was at a music festival in southern Israel.

"Mum, rockets are (falling) everywhere. I don't know what is going on," the 21-year-old's message said. "Mum, I love you."

The next time she saw him, it was in video footage Hamas released from inside Gaza, showing her son lying on the ground, terrified.

Like hundreds of party-goers, Almog Meir was at the Supernova rave near the Gaza Strip when Hamas militants launched their bloody attack, the deadliest in Israeli history.

Crossing the border in pickup trucks, on motorcycles and even flying paragliders, the Islamist militants launched a bloody onslaught that claimed 1,400 lives, 270 at the rave site alone, according to Israeli officials.

They also dragged off some 240 hostages, Almog among them.

"My son went to a party and found himself kidnapped in Gaza... it was a party of peace and love," Meir told reporters at an Athens event organised by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum.

"Our life became a nightmare, but this nightmare is our reality," she said, her voice trembling with pain.

In the month since the Hamas attack, Israel has gone to war, launching a withering bombing campaign and ground offensive that have claimed more than 10,000 lives in Gaza according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed again Monday that there will be no ceasefire until the hostages are freed.

For the Meir family, the agonising wait continues as the war rages, with no end in sight to the fighting.

The last glimpse Orit Meir got of her son was a Hamas video released shortly after the attack.

"He was lying on the ground," she said. "He was terrified, terrified.

"We don't know whether he's alive."

- 'Lost sense of time' -

The families of the Israeli and foreign hostages -- captives who range in age from a few months to above 80 -- have united in their agony and grief and pushed for the government to "bring them home".

One hostage has been rescued and four have been released, but Hamas has also said that dozens of unnamed abductees had died in Israeli bombing -- claims that are impossible to verify.

Another parent, Galia David, whose 22-year-old son Evyatar was also taken at the music festival site, said "it is 30 days that we know nothing about him".

"We've lost the feeling and the sense of time," she said.

David's eldest son Ilay said his brother has also been seen in footage posted by Hamas, the closest thing to proof of life since October 7.

In one video, he is seen with his hands tied behind his back, suffering abuse from his captors.

In the other, he is lying on the ground with another four hostages.

"They are all terrified," Ilay David said.

The mother, wiping tears from her eyes, tried to explain the pain the hostage families feel.

"I'm sure all of you have families and can understand what it is when a brother, a mother, a grandmother, any of your beloved ones, has been taking away," she said.

She said her sole goal was to bring her son back home.

Almog Meir's uncle, Aviram, voiced hope that one day the wider conflict will end.

"We want to live in peace with the Palestinians," he said, charging however that Hamas is "breaking the laws of humanity".

"We cannot accept it," he said.

"But we have to find a path for a peaceful life and a long life together".