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Hostage plight etched on Durban beach



We silently wandered down from the sleepy promenade onto the yellow sand dunes of North Beach, as if in reverence for the task that lay ahead. Fishermen, here long before dawn, cast out another line, and joggers strode past a group of Shembe worshippers as they prepared to enter the sea for baptism. The glowing morning light seemed to reveal another perfect Durban day, which made the bright red towels and beach buckets in my arms seem all the more jarring.

We were part of a group in Durban who came together to show solidarity with and raise awareness of the horrific plight of the Israeli men, women, and children taken hostage in Gaza four weeks ago.

Every one of the 242 red beach towels we laid out had a poster for each of the innocent civilians being held by Hamas terrorists. Men, women, and children, some elderly and sick, others just toddlers, and even a baby of nine months old. Lives so full of promise, with their stories just beginning. Brutally ripped from their homes, taken from their families, and abducted into darkness, simply for the crime of being Israeli.

A particularly difficult moment was when I had to count out each of the 32 buckets and spades to symbolise the missing children. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ariel, aged four, and Aviv, aged two, loved toys like these as much as my own children safe at home.

The red towels stretched out as far as the eye could see, a stark reminder that 242 isn’t just a number but a collection of individual worlds. Each one has a name, an age, a favourite food, or hobby. They are someone’s mother, a best friend, an aunt, or a nephew. Someone’s child who is loved more than life itself. While South African government ministers and a Hamas spokesperson in a South African Broadcasting Corporation interview refers to “prisoners” and “settlers”, we won’t let their humanity be erased.

As we finished setting up and took a moment to gaze at the surreal contrast of a beautiful beach day with the living hell that the hostages must be enduring, a group of onlookers wandered over. South Africans from all walks of life were shocked to read the posters, learn the names, see images of the hostages, and hear some of the stories of what had happened during the massacre in Israel on 7 October. One woman was moved to tears and comforted by our community members.

An impromptu prayer service was held by a group of Christian pastors who had come to see the towels and express their solidarity with Israel. As they linked arms, their words of protection for those abducted floated across the beach to where some of us were reciting tehillim for friends and family in Israel.

During our planning, we hoped there would be no need for another campaign. Each installation, from the red balloons along Nelson Mandela Bridge and the Israeli flag lighting up Ponte in Johannesburg, has elicited the most heartening reaction from South Africans across different communities. Please G-d, the red beach towels will be our last event, and the nightmare of our 242 brothers and sisters will be brought to an end soon. Until then, we won’t stop saying their names and sharing their plight. We cannot look away.

  • Alana Pugh-Jones Baranov is the social and political justice liaison for the national office of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and social justice liaison for the Durban Holocaust & Genocide Centre.

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  1. Gunter

    Nov 9, 2023 at 12:32 pm

    Please send this to Ben Shapiro.

  2. Chana

    Nov 9, 2023 at 1:03 pm

    Israel is committing a Chilul Hashem killing civilians and so many children in Gaza. No beach in the entire KZN is long enough to place a remembrance for each innocent Palestinian life taken by Isreal.

    • Janine Edington

      Nov 11, 2023 at 3:31 pm

      Ah Chana – the situation is indeed awful. I pray that Hamas releases all the innocent kidnapped hostages so that the bombing will stop – I cannot understand why they don’t. And I have to admit that if a group kidnapped my daughter and sister I would, if I could, bomb the hell out of them until my family were released

  3. Rachel

    Nov 9, 2023 at 6:52 pm

    Chana- you have no idea what Chilul Hashem means
    Live up to your name, mother of Shmuel who commanded to destroy Amalek.
    Learn some Tanach and Jewish history.
    You are worse than an Anti Semite, you self hating Jew!
    See what the Rambam has to say about the likes of you.

  4. Michele

    Nov 9, 2023 at 7:07 pm

    Was this just for one day, Alana?
    Or ongoing?

  5. Mairoonisa

    Nov 10, 2023 at 8:23 pm

    According to the website ‘the Torah does offer some teachings to humanity at large. These guidelines, known as the Noahide Laws, prohibit idolatry, murder, theft, sexual immorality, blasphemy, and eating live animals, as well as encourage justice’.

    And according to Wikipedia ‘In Judaism, a chillul hashem (Hebrew: חילול השם) is an act that violates the prohibition in the Torah of desecrating (chillul) the name (hashem) of God. A chillul hashem occurs when a Jew acts immorally in the presence of others, either Jews or Gentiles. Since Judaism believes that Jews are representatives of God and his moral code, when a Jew acts in a shameful manner, they have represented God poorly, thus desecrating his name.’

    Sorry Rachel but taking these definitions into consideration I would have to agree with Chana that Israel is committing a Chilul Hashem killing civilians and so many children in Gaza. No beach in the entire KZN is long enough to place a remembrance for each innocent Palestinian life taken by Isreal.

  6. Thoheda

    Nov 10, 2023 at 8:36 pm

    Leave religion out, leave all religious books out. Live like a human being with blood in your veins. What planet are we living on??? Are you even alive or is your soul already dead??

  7. Fami

    Nov 16, 2023 at 7:52 pm

    I wonder if Durban has a beach long enough to symbolise the children killed by Israel bombs. Or the children who will not be able to walk to the beach because they have lost limbs. If there are hostages in Gaza why bomb the place and every hospital and school there? Are the hostages not at risk. Are they even in Gaza, the largest open air prison? Children been killed should be condoned by every sane human being.

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