Residents call for release of hostages at pro-Israel rally in Chapel Hill
On Sunday, more than 100 pro-Israel community members attended a rally in downtown Chapel Hill to mark 100 days since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks and call for the release of all hostages held in Gaza.
Demonstrators marched down Franklin Street, carrying Israeli flags and holding posters of people still believed to be held by Hamas. The march ended at the Peace and Justice Plaza.
One of the posters held by marchers included a photo of Keith Siegel, a 64-year-old Chapel Hill native. Siegel and his wife Adrienne “Aviva” Siegel moved to Israel decades ago and lived in Kfar Aza, a kibbutz near Gaza.
Both Keith and Aviva Siegel were taken from their home on Oct. 7. Aviva Siegel was among the more than 100 hostages who were released in November. The majority of the hostages who were freed as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas were women and children. It is believed that Keith is one of the 136 hostages still held in Gaza.
Lucy Siegel, Keith Siegel's sister, was one of the speakers at the event. She said that Keith and Aviva Siegel could see the Gaza-Israel border from their front door.
“They lived on kibbutz Kfar Aza for 40 years, they raised their children on kibbutz Kfar Aza,” Lucy Siegel said. “They love the agrarian life, the tight-knit community. That’s their home, that is their home. Will they be able to go back to their home? We have no idea.”
Orit Ramler, an attendee of the rally, held a poster of Keith Siegel.
“I met him personally a few times, he is a wonderful soul,” Ramler said of Keith Siegel. “He wants peace on earth like all of us.”
The rally was one of many across the world supported by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, an organization established by the families of hostages after the Oct. 7 attack. In Tel Aviv, thousands of people attended a 24-hour rally to call on the Israeli government to bring the remaining hostages home.
The Chapel Hill event was shared on social media by local synagogues and among community members.
“We want the right to live in peace and we want the right to exist,” Ramler said. “And I'm here for all the voices who were murdered and for everyone who is still hostage.”
People in the crowd held Israeli flags and wore yellow ribbons in solidarity with the hostages. Many held signs saying, “Bring them home now” and wore pieces of tape with the number “100” written on them.
“The fact that we're talking about 100 days is quite surreal,” Michal Nachshon, a volunteer with the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, said. “It's quite surreal. We didn't want to be here at this time.”
Following the Oct. 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people, Israel began a bombing campaign and ground invasion in Gaza. Nearly 24,000 people in Gaza have since been killed by Israel.
Earlier this month, South Africa accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in the International Court of Justice — the United Nations' top court. On Friday, Israel claimed its war in Gaza was a legitimate defense and that it was Hamas militants who were guilty of genocide.
Evan Milner, a protester at the event, held a flag emblazoned with both the American and Israeli flags and the words “We stand with Israel.” Milner moved from South Africa two years ago, where he lived for 53 years. He said he took down the South African flag he had flown outside his home yesterday because he disagreed with the nation's actions.
Preparations for the Chapel Hill protests took place over video calls in the weeks leading up to Jan. 14 among global volunteers. Naama Shaked, another organizer from Cary, said they hoped the event would not have been necessary because the hostages would have been released by the 100-day mark.
Chapel Hill police officers were present at the protest and the event did not escalate beyond chants. Some people in the crowd said they were concerned about rising tensions across the nation.
“There are lots of people mourning in this community. We're worried with rising antisemitism,” Ramler said.
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Emmy Martin is the 2023-24 editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as the DTH's city & state editor and summer managing editor. Emmy is a junior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and information science.
Eliza Benbow is the 2023-24 lifestyle editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as summer university editor. Eliza is a junior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and creative writing, with a minor in Hispanic studies.