Published18 hours ago
For the past week, Sharone Lifschitz has barely left her mother’s side.
Yocheved, 85, was one of two women freed from Hamas captivity in Gaza on Monday, after being taken from her home in Nir Oz.
“My mum is strong and resilient, but her heart is still with the people still in those cellars,” says Sharone, referring to the underground tunnels where many hostages from the 7 October Hamas attack are believed to be kept.
Sharone, a UK-Israeli citizen, flew to Israel when the news came through that her mother had been released.
But it was a bittersweet moment. Her 83-year-old father Oded, Yocheved’s husband of 63 years, is still missing, presumed to be held captive in the Gaza Strip.
“My father spent his life in the peace movement and he fought for the possibility of both nations [Israelis and Palestinians] living peacefully side by side,” Sharone told the BBC after her mother was released.
“He believed that you do peace with your enemies. I hope that he is okay. I hope that he’s able use his Arabic and that he is being medically treated.”
The Lifschitz family had lived in Nir Oz for decades and knew virtually every one of the other 400 or so residents of the liberally minded, agricultural and industrial community.
More than 100 of them are thought to have been killed or captured by Hamas gunmen as they ran rampage through the kibbutz on the morning of 7 October.
Sharone is now spending her days helping her mother’s slow recovery, but also lobbying the Israeli government and its international allies, to do more to free the 229 Israeli and foreign hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza.
She believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to invade Gaza with tanks and thousands of troops to “crush Hamas” should wait to give more time for negotiations to release the hostages.
“These people [in the kibbutz] were failed. These people had to fend for themselves for nine hours,” says Sharone, clearly still perplexed and aghast at how long it took the Israeli government and army to respond to the attack.
“We were slaughtered and nobody came for hours. This should be the absolute minimum aim, to bring these people back to their communities and their families.”
Sharone says her mother’s naturally positive demeanour is one reason she made a gesture of peace towards one of her captors, shaking his hand and expressing “shalom”, a salutation indicating peace, during the moment she was handed over to staff from the International Committee for the Red Cross.
The handshake has been questioned by some in Israel, but her daughter says “she did what she felt was right at that moment”.
Sharone said the man was a paramedic who had tended to Yocheved during her captivity, and engaged with her in discussions of peace for the region. But Sharone was keen to stress the care Yocheved had received after the violent abduction should not detract from the hostages’ ordeal.
Until Yocheved’s release this week, there had been no news of the Nir Oz residents taken on the back of motorbikes and cars into Gaza.
Among the kidnapped is eight-year-old Ohad Munder-Zichri, his mother and two grandparents.
Ohad’s older cousin Osnat, 54, described the boy as “very, very smart” and “a gifted child”.
“He’s very good at everything he does, since he was born,” she says.
Osnat and her children left Tel Aviv for Jerusalem, where they are staying with family, to escape the rocket barrages from Gaza.
The attack on Nir Oz, founded by her parents in the mid-50s, came as a great shock.
“Imagine yourself, you’re sitting in your home,” Osnat told me. “You’ve done nothing to no-one and people, the worse kind of people, break into your house, take you out of your house and kidnap you.”
One cousin was killed in the attack, she says.
This week was Ohad’s ninth birthday, but his family says they can’t celebrate until he and the rest of his family are free.
In the days after her release, Yocheved was able to describe not only the conditions in which she’d been held captive but also that she’d been with other members of Nir Oz – but neither Ohad nor Sharone’s father, Oden, were among them.
Despite her mother’s release, Sharone says it’s too early to look to the future. Her parents’ home in Nir Oz has been burned to the ground and everything from her mum’s photography career and her dad’s days in journalism has been lost.
She says she won’t return to her own family in the UK, nor will her mother Yocheved rest until Oded and the other members of Kibbutz Nir Oz, including Ohad, are free.
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