Israeli filmmaker Tom Shoval has expressed his growing fears for Gaza hostage, former actor and friend David Cunio and called on the Israeli government to explore all possible ways, including a ceasefire, to secure his release and that of all the hostages.
Cunio, his wife, three kindergarten-age children, sister-in-law and her young daughter were among more than 200 people abducted by Hamas, during its brutal terror attack on Southern Israel on October 7, which killed 1,300 people.
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“I try to think from which sense I need to talk. Should I be careful or brave, frontal or complex. What angle will serve the cause that is what I need right now? In the midst of disaster, I don’t need sides, right or wrong, I need action,” Shoval wrote to Deadline in a heartfelt message.
“Therefore, I will write as a human being, plain and simple, who is in the midst of a war zone after the horrific criminal attack of the 7th of October, who sees destruction and death in an unending cycle of violence. That’s why I have to talk about what’s close, the ones that were taken, my friend, his family,” he continued.
“I want to shout for him, to be a voice that is clear: release the hostages, their lives are at stake. I think that it is the responsibility of the Israeli government to its citizens to bring these hostages back as fast as possible at any cost.”
Shoval’s appeal came as Israel stepped up its military campaign in the Gaza Strip over the weekend, with Israeli soldiers entering the Palestinian territory exactly three weeks after the Hamas atrocities on the southern part of the country.
Friends and families of the hostages have raised concerns about the operation, fearing it will put their loved ones in more danger. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the release of the hostages is an “integral” part of the military action.
More than 8,000 Gaza residents have been killed in the Israeli bombing so far, according to figures released by the territory’s health ministry.
Shoval said no stone should be left unturned – whether it involves a ceasefire, a halt of the bombing of Gaza, or under the table negotiations – to bring the hostages back alive.
“Any minute that they are not here, innocent civilians, old people, children, babies is sheer insanity, plain and simple,” he wrote.
“I hope that the cinema community, my colleagues and friends who stand with solidarity against the wrongs of the world will help to raise awareness to this matter as well. I don’t know how, in any way. Anyway, that is possible,” he continued.
“I pray for the end of violence and suffering everywhere and all the time.”
Testimony from 85-year-old grandmother Yocheved Lifschitz, who is among four hostages to have been released by Hamas, has revealed that the captives are being held in separate groups in a complex network of tunnels under the Gaza Strip.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on Hamas to provide signs of life, proof of provision of health care and the immediate release, on humanitarian and health grounds, of all those abducted.
Shoval became friends with Cunio through his breakthrough 2013 film Youth, in which he cast the actor alongside his twin brother Eitan as two wayward siblings who kidnap a fellow classmate.
Deadline contacted Shoval two-and-a-half weeks ago when news of Cunio’s abduction broke, but the filmmaker said after initially commenting to raise awareness, he stopped talking to the media out of respect for the wishes of Cunio’s family, who feared the publicity could have an adverse effect.
“After a while they understood it is important to create awareness,” he said.
Shoval recounts how he first heard about Cunio’s abduction from producer Gal Greenspan, who produced Youth as well as his second feature Shake Your Cares Away.
The filmmaker had returned to his family in Tel Aviv from Berlin, where he is working on the development of a TV series, just days before the Hamas attacks.
“It was in the first days and then everyone was in shock and with little information. I felt deep pain like someone tearing a piece of my heart. The uncertainty was sheer hell,” he wrote.
“David and Eitan, his brother, are very close to my heart. I cast them in the movie because their strong connection as real twin brothers was so evident and because it was a film on brotherhood, and I wanted to capture that unique visual bond.
“To learn that the brothers have been torn from one another was heart-breaking for me. I am in contact with the family. You know how it is with life. They have families and are living in the south and I am working and building a family of my own, but we were talking or texting from time to time. I love them dearly. Their performance in my film was like a stroke of confidence that gave me power to keep creating and follow my dreams.”
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