A group of East Bay residents rally in support of the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza every day on an East Bay overpass. (Photo/Instagram @24_bring_them_home)
A group of East Bay residents rally in support of the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza every day on an East Bay overpass. (Photo/Instagram @24_bring_them_home)

For nearly 100 days, this group has hung ‘Bring Them Home’ banners on a Walnut Creek overpass

Almost every day since Oct. 7, an ad hoc group of Bay Area volunteers have displayed banners and flags on a windy overpass above the packed lanes of Highway 24 near Walnut Creek, calling for the release of the hostages in Gaza.

They come at afternoon rush hour, unfurling large signs reading “Kidnapped” and “Bring Them Home Now” and waving Israeli and American flags to remind drivers streaming by that lives are still at stake.

For one of the group organizers, Yoav Harlev, the action is deeply personal.

Harlev, who comes from a kibbutz near the Gaza border, said he knows many of the people who were killed or kidnapped on Oct. 7, when Hamas infiltrated Israel’s border communities, murdering 1,200 and taking an estimated 240 hostages.

“The first couple of weeks were really, really difficult, and I was searching for what I can do,” he said.

“I grew up in Kibbutz Kissufim. Our fields are about 100 meters from the border from the Gaza Strip,” Harlev said. Kissufim lies in a region that suffered intensely in the Hamas attacks.

Among the people he knew who died or were taken captive, “We all went to the same high school and are part of the same community,” he said. “And I now live here, but definitely feel like it is my calling to make sure that we don’t lose sight of these innocent hostages that are there, suffering every day.”

Harlev said the first time he went to the overpass, it was just him and a friend. But interest grew quickly.

“We had five people on day two, and now we have about 200 people in our WhatsApp group,” he said.

A group of regulars — Israeli Americans, American Jews and even, Harlev said, a few non-Jews — take turns on the overpass during rush hour. It isn’t a formal organization.

“It’s just been word of mouth,” said volunteer Sarah Liron. She’s been coming regularly and estimates that anywhere from eight to 35 people might show up on a given day.

“I’ve made friends there, too,” Liron said. “And I think they’ll probably remain friends after the fact.”

Liron said they’ve had some pushback from people who deliberately drive by to shout at the group along the El Curtola Boulevard overpass. One time a woman stopped her car in heavy traffic, got out and waved a Palestinian flag, Liron said. But it hasn’t been too bad.

Harlev agreed. He said they mostly get a thumbs up, with an occasional “different finger.”

“We don’t engage, and they tend to go away pretty quickly,” he said. “So for the most part — in this community, at least — we’ve felt very supported.”

The group skipped Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, when traffic is low anyway, and have been rained out twice, but otherwise people have been showing up during the heaviest traffic periods on most days.

The long holiday weekend will mark the 100th day since the hostages were taken. On Monday, the group expects a large crowd to commemorate the somber milestone. Harlev said the volunteers have only one focus. They don’t talk about politics, and they don’t advocate for anything other than the return of the hostages.

“That’s our purpose,” he said. “That’s why we’re up there every day.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.