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Israeli mother keeps hope alive that her son, held hostage by Hamas, will be freed

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It has now been more than 3 1/2 months since Hamas fighters took hundreds of hostages as part of an attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people. More than a hundred hostages have since been released, but the families of those who are still being held fear time is running out. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel has the story about one mother's mission to keep hope alive.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Musicians are sound-checking in a small community center in Zikim, a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. They're here to play for Alon Ohel, a 22-year-old who was taken hostage by Hamas on October 7.

IDIT OHEL: Music is a big part of his life. He moves through music. He actually moves physically through music. You can see when he moves, it's like he's listening to music all the time.

BRUMFIEL: Idit Ohel is Alon's mother. Alon was supposed to be starting at one of Israel's best music academies. He was a fantastic piano player. He was taken in the early hours from the Nova music festival, just a few miles from where we're standing. Hamas militants killed hundreds at the festival. Idit says she's seen videos of Alon as he was taken hostage. She hasn't heard anything since.

OHEL: I know that he is alive. I know he's alive because he was taken alive, and I know he's alive because I'm a mother.

BRUMFIEL: Families of the more than 100 hostages that remain in Gaza are increasingly frustrated by what they see as a lack of progress in negotiations for their loved ones' release. They've set up encampments outside the residences of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in protest of the hostages' continued imprisonment.

OHEL: They have no more time. That's why we're doing this, because music says that we have to stop and we have to do something. The government and the world, I hope, will help the young.

GUY MAZIG: (Singing in non-English language).

BRUMFIEL: Playing are some of Alon's favorites, including Guy Mazig, an Israeli artist. He's singing about someone trying to help their child.

MAZIG: (Singing in non-English language).

He's in big trouble. And you're in a great hurry. And, you know, everything that comes along with this, the sadness, the fear, the everything - all the range of emotions.

(Singing in non-English language).

BRUMFIEL: Alon's father is here and his brother. Some soldiers show up. They heard from their base near the border. That's because this music isn't just playing in the community center. Outside, two strings of loudspeakers are suspended from a crane pointed towards Gaza.

MAZIG: (Singing in non-English language).

BRUMFIEL: So the sound of the music is echoing out over the hills. In the distance, there's smoke rising from Israeli bombardment of Gaza City.

The concert wraps up. The truck with the speakers drives away. An Israeli fighter jet rumbles overhead. Back inside, I ask Idit Ohel if she believes her son was listening.

OHEL: I know he heard me because I just know. You know, sometimes, like I say, you don't have to hear music. It's not the hearing. It's the vibe. It's the energy.

BRUMFIEL: And then she picks up her smartphone. She wants us to hear Alon play piano.

OHEL: Oh, no, no, no. You have to see this. Oh, you have to - OK. Listen. OK. You have to listen. Yes, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO PLAYING)

OHEL: This is Alon.

BRUMFIEL: Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News, Zikim, Israel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.