‘Psychological torture’: British families describe their pain as loved ones remain hostages of Hamas

Families have been ‘living in a nightmare’ ever since the massacre in south Israel on October 7

Joe Middleton
Tuesday 24 October 2023 16:48 BST
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‘We’re not talking the same language’- Families of Hamas attack victims decry brutality.mp4

The British-based families of people kidnapped by Hamas have said they are enduring "psychological torture" as the militant group releases hostages one by one.

At an emotional press conference on Tuesday, Ofri Bibas Levi said she had been “living in a nightmare” ever since her brother Yarden 34, his wife, Shiri, and children, Ariel, four, and nine-month-old Kfir were captured at their home in Nir Oz on 7 October.

After the family’s kidnapping, she said Hamas sent her a picture of the children being taken and a further image of her brother being aggressively handled by the militants and bleeding from a head wound.

“The pictures keep running in front of my eyes,” she told the press conference at the Israeli Embassy in London.

“I feel guilty for eating, I feel guilty for sleeping in my own bed, I feel guilty for playing with my own children.”

When asked by a reporter what message she would want to send to her family, through tears, she said: “I would tell my brother how much I love him, I always knew how much he loved me but I never knew how much I loved him.”

Hamas freed two further hostages on Monday, Yocheved Lifshitz and Nurit Cooper, after releasing mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan last week. But hundreds still remain captive after the militants’ terror attack on southern Israel which left up to 1,400 dead.

Ofri Bibas Levy shows a picture of her brother Yarden captured by Hamas (REUTERS)

In response to the news of the released hostages, she said: “It is psychological torture, hearing that they are releasing this one and this one.

“We want all of them back, and we want all of them back together.”

Ayelet Svatitzky’s mother Channah Peri, 79, and brother Nadav Popplewell, 51, were taken by the militants and she has heard nothing since their capture 18 days ago.

Ms Svatitzky, whose brother Roi, 54, was killed in the attack, said her “life stopped” when she learned of what was unfolding in Israel.

She was sent images by Hamas of her mother “still in her nightwear” next to her brother on the sofa. Written beneath them was the word “Hamas”. The devastation of her family has left her “shattered to pieces”, she said.

Ms Svatitzky said: “Eighteen days later my brother’s body has still not been officially identified. I’m 46 years old and my life is now worrying about my diabetic mother and my brother.

“I’m chasing dental records and X-Rays and being asked if my other brother had scars or tattoos. They’re trying to ID him so we can bury him.”

She added: “This has been my life for the last 18 days now. When people say ‘today is Monday or Tuesday’, it is not for me. I now count the numbers rather than what day it is - today is day 18.

Family member of British-Israeli kidnap victims Ayelet Svatitzky reacts during a press conference (REUTERS)

“This is not a political issue, this is a human crisis and we demand the return of our loved ones so we can start healing from the trauma.”

She said that she does not know if her mother, who suffers from diabetes, is getting any insulin or if she can survive without the injections.

“I am clinging to the hope that my mother knows how much I love her, I never got the chance to tell her,” she said.

David Bar described the painful moment his sister-in-law Naomi, 53, was killed as she went on her morning run, something she did regularly.

“It took four days to identify what we call the ‘smile of the south of Israel’. She was dental assistant. She simply went for a run in her kibbutz. She was shot in the back and head at point-blank range,” he said.

A tearful Mr Bar added his life has been “turned upside down by death, hatred, and evil people, monsters.”

British-Israeli Ayelet Svatitzky whose mother and brother were taken hostage from Kibbutz Nirim (left) and British-Israeli David Barr (right) (PA)

Mr Bar, who is originally from Leeds, is a teacher at a kibbutz in Israel and said three pupils at his school were still missing.

He also said he worries for jews living “in fear” in the UK. “As a British citizen myself - and I love this country - this is not the country I know. Things have changed,” he said.

“I don’t just worry for my own young family [in Israel], I worry for my Jewish community here in the UK.

“They live in fear. Not only do I worry for them, I worry for everybody here.”

In response to hostages being released on Monday, he said: “They are releasing two people as if to show they are showing the world how compassionate they are?”

It comes as a vigil was held in Parliament Square, London, to mourn the children killed in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas conflict.

People take part in a vigil organised by Medical Aid for Palestinians at Parliament Square, central London (PA)

Around 60 people gathered for the event on Tuesday, which was organised by the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).

Each person attending the vigil had the name of a Palestinian child killed in the conflict written on the palm of their hand.

This mirrors the actions of children in Gaza who have started to write their own names on their hands as a means of identifying their bodies, should they be killed in the attacks.

Melanie Ward, chief executive of MAP, said after the vigil: “What is happening is unacceptable, it is very clearly not being conducted in line with international law and the world, British Government and the Israelis have a responsibility to protect the children of Gaza, and it is clear the only way to do that is to have a ceasefire now.”

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