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‘When will he be coming home?’

By Amelie Botbol

I can’t allow myself to get caught in the emotional rollercoaster around hostage negotiations,” said Jonathan Dekel-Chen, whose son Sagui, 35, was kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Sagui Dekel-Chen with his wife Avital, his six-year-old daughter Bar and his two year-old daughter Gali. (Hostages and Missing Families Forum)

Sagui Dekel-Chen with his wife Avital, his six-year-old daughter Bar and his two year-old daughter Gali. (Hostages and Missing Families Forum)

“It is hard if not impossible to survive that when your loved one is being held captive by a terror organization,” he told said.

On Oct. 7, some 200 terrorists stormed Kibbutz Nir Oz, murdering 40 residents and abducting 80 more.

“I have been worried for Sagui’s life since then. Every day is another day that the abuse the hostages are enduring could be too much,” said Dekel-Chen. “Every day could be the day that Hamas captors decide that they no longer need hostages or that the captives get caught in crossfire.”

Amid efforts to reach a hostage-release agreement ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israel’s War Cabinet on Feb. 24 agreed to dispatch a delegation to Doha, Qatar, after “significant progress” was reported at the hostage negotiations in Paris.

President Joe Biden expressed hope this week that a deal could be reached within a week. “My national security adviser tells me that we’re close. We’re close. We’re not done yet,” said Biden. “My hope is by next Monday (March 4), we’ll have a ceasefire.”

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized last week in press statements that while Israel was prepared “to go far” to secure the hostages’ release, it was not prepared to pay any price.

“Certainly not the delusional prices that Hamas is demanding of us, the meaning of which is the defeat of the State of Israel,” he said.

Qatar also expressed skepticism that a deal could be reached that quickly.

While Israel’s official position is that keeping up the military pressure on Hamas is the best way to secure the hostages’ release, Dekel-Chen believes the government is prioritizing destroying Hamas over freeing the hostages.

“The state failed on Oct. 7. It must not fail the 134 remaining hostages in Gaza because we as a people and a country will never recover if they are not returned to us alive,” he said.

Sagui, who grew up in the kibbutz, worked for the past 10 years on a project to convert old buses into mobile technological classrooms for underserved communities in southern Israel. On Oct. 7, he started work early, 200 yards from his home. He was one of the first to spot groups of terrorists infiltrating Nir Oz.

Sagui sounded the alarm via the kibbutz’s internal Whatsapp group, which gave residents, including his family, some time to hide and lock the doors to their shelters. He managed to return home to check on his wife and two daughters before going out again to defend the community. He never returned.

When Sagui was abducted, his wife Avital was seven months pregnant. He has yet to meet his new daughter.

“Sagui’s daughters ask when their dad will be coming home and whether he’s hurt,” Dekel-Chen said.

“They ask why they can’t go home and when they will be allowed back to the kibbutz — we don’t have answers to these questions.”

Dekel-Chen spent three months with the rest of his family in a hotel in Eilat in the aftermath of the attacks, before moving to temporary housing outside Kiryat Gat with other members of the Nir Oz community.

“Aside from taking care of my children, my grandchildren and other kibbutz members, I have been actively working both in Israel and the United States to get the hostages free,” he said. To that end, he is scheduled to be meeting Jewish community leaders, and possibly government officials, in the US this week.

He intends to continue these efforts “until all the hostages are home and the remains of those who were killed on Oct. 7 or who died in captivity are returned,” he said.

In the meantime, Dekel-Chen said it’s hard for him to picture himself returning to the place where entire young families were wiped out.

“The very reason why the State of Israel was created in 1948 was to protect its citizens from anything like what happened on Oct. 7,” he said.

“Something went terribly wrong in our national purpose and there can be no redemption for Israel as a Jewish and sovereign state if the hostages are left to die while in Hamas captivity,” he added.

“Sagui, we will get you home and your four girls are waiting for you.”

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