On the Ground

‘Don’t destroy Gaza’: Families of Israelis killed or taken hostage by Hamas make emotional pleas for peace

As Israel makes preparations for a ground invasion, some of those who have lost loved ones tell Bel Trew that while they are devastated, military escalation is not the answer

Sunday 22 October 2023 14:45 BST
<p>From left:  Ditza Heiman, abducted from her home in Israel; Bilha and Yakovi Inon, believed killed near the Gaza border; Noa Argamani who was taken during an attack on the Supernova music festival </p>

From left: Ditza Heiman, abducted from her home in Israel; Bilha and Yakovi Inon, believed killed near the Gaza border; Noa Argamani who was taken during an attack on the Supernova music festival

Israeli families of those killed or taken hostage by Hamas have issued heartfelt pleas to stop the “destruction of Gaza” and work towards “long-lasting peace”.

Israel has launched its heaviest-ever bombardment of Gaza and imposed a crippling “total siege” after Hamas militants launched an unprecedented bloody cross-border attack on multiple Israeli communities and a music festival two weeks ago.

More than 1,400 people were killed in the onslaught and at least 212 people were taken hostage, including children, the elderly and foreign citizens. Only two have been released so far: an American-Israeli mother and daughter who were permitted to leave via Egypt in a deal brokered by Qatar on Friday night.

Despite this, some family members of those killed and taken hostage have made extraordinary calls for an end to the bloodshed amid rising concerns for the civilian population of Gaza, which is home to 2.3 million people. According to the World Health Organisation, at least 4,385 Palestinians have been killed in the bombing, while the Hamas-run health ministry says that more than 1,700 are children.

Magen Inon, who spoke to The Independent from London, said his family were devastated by the loss of his parents Bilha, 75 and Yakov, 78. The couple were likely killed at the start of the 7 October rampage, on their village, which is among the closest Israeli communities to Gaza.

Both Magen and his brother Maoz have spoken out against escalating a war in Gaza.

“In the immediate term, we are calling for the de-escalation of the situation,” Magen, said. “We are devastated by the loss of my parents, but we are continuing their legacy in which we see beyond the hate. We are not sure what the way is but we are confident that the goal is to achieve long-lasting peace,” the father-of-three added.

Residents of Tel Aviv show support and solidarity with the families of hostages who are being held in Gaza on Saturday

“I’m talking to you while I’m holding my 10-month-old baby and I know my parents’ legacy would be that he doesn’t grow up to hate anyone.”

In an emotional interview with the BBC, his brother Moaz, a rights activist, had begged for peace. In tears, he said last week “I’m not crying for my parents. I am crying for those who will lose their lives in this war. We must stop the war. The war.... is not the answer.”

Their words echoed others whose lives were also torn apart by the horrific attack by Hamas but are worried about the rising bloodshed in Gaza and hardening rhetoric, ahead of an expected Israeli ground offensive.

The Israeli military has vowed an “unprecedented response to an unprecedented attack on Israel” and by its own admission has launched the heaviest-ever bombardment of the 42-km besieged enclave.

Government and military officials have repeatedly told the media they will do “whatever it takes” to destroy Hamas, a designated terrorist organisation in the UK and the US that runs Gaza.

The Israeli Military has also imposed a “total siege” on the strip, cutting off water, food, power and fuel, an action that rights groups argue could amount to collective punishment and a violation of international law.

Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles head towards the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel

The military has repeatedly ordered civilians – including the medics and the wounded in hospitals – in the north of the strip to evacuate south, an action the World Health Organisation has said is impossible and UN experts said could amount to the war crime of forcible transfer.

Food, water, fuel and medical supplies are running out, having a devastating impact on civilians, including at least one million children, according to the UN. The worsening humanitarian catastrophe has worried some of the families back in Israel.

Neta Heiman, whose 84-year-old mother Ditza Heiman was abducted from her home in Kibbutz Nir Oz, said her message was “don’t destroy Gaza”.

Ditza, who hid in her shelter alone when heavily armed militants went house to house killing and abducting people in her village, appeared in a chilling video being hauled into a Hamas militant truck. Her daughter Neta, who is a member of Israeli peace group Women Wage Peace, said she was extremely concerned about her mother’s wellbeing. Ditza is elderly, sick and requires daily medicine.

“My message is first, don’t destroy Gaza because my mother is there, she too can be killed by Israeli airstrikes. But also I don’t think destroying Gaza will help. It just escalates the situation,” she told The Independent, obviously shaken.

While she said she did not feel that the militants who took her mother acted “like human beings”, in Gaza “there are lots of people like us who want to live in peace and quiet and they can’t say it.”

Smoke rises after Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City on Sunday

“I am sad and angry. I am worried," she added.

In an opinion piece she penned for Israeli newspaper Haaretz she made a direct plea to the Israeli government and those she felt had escalated the situation along the Gaza border.

“From this terrifying place we are now in, I call out to the government… Do not destroy the Gaza Strip; that won’t help anyone and will only bring an even more ferocious round of violence the next time,” she wrote.

One of the most haunting moments of Hamas’ attack was a mobile phone video capturing the moment Noa Argamani, 26, was taken screaming on a motorcycle into Gaza. She was attending the Supernova music festival that was raided by Hamas militants who kidnapped and murdered many people.

Despite this, her father Yaakov has repeatedly called for restraint and peace.

“Let's be honest: In Gaza, too, families are mourning their children,” Yaakov Argamani told Haaretz in an interview.

“There, too, fathers worry about their children. They have fatalities too. What will a few more deaths achieve? They're in pain, just like us,” he added.

Prominent Canadian Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver, 74, went missing from her home when militants launched a bloody attack on her home in Kibbutz Be’eri on 7 October. Vivian was a founding board member of prestigious Israeli rights group B’tselem and a co-founder of Women Wage Peace. Her son Jonaton Zeigen has no idea whether is still alive.

“You can’t kill babies with more dead babies, we need peace,” he told Channel 4 bluntly.

More violence was not what “she spent her life working for”, he added.

Women Wage Peace, the group that Vivian founded and which Neta is part of, condemned the “criminal and unforgivable act committed by Hamas” and added that “we must not lose human dignity”.

“We hear words of revenge all the time: ‘all restraints have been removed’, ‘we will wipe out Gaza’, ‘we will act brutally’. But one cannot resolve one injustice with another injustice,” the group wrote.

“We grieve the death of innocent Palestinians, among them hundreds of children, who are being killed in this accursed war. The situation in Gaza is getting worse all the time.”

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