JERUSALEM (AP) — In the hours after Hamas blew through Israel’s heavily fortified separation fence and crossed into the country from Gaza, Ahal Besorai tried desperately to reach his sister. There was no answer.
Soon after, he learned from witnesses that militants had seized her, her husband and their teenage son and daughter, along with dozens of others. Now, aching uncertainty over their fate has left Besorai and scores of other Israelis in limbo.
“Should I cry because they are dead already? Should I be happy because maybe they are captured but still alive?” said Besorai, a life coach and resort owner who lives in the Philippines and grew up on Kibbutz Be’eri. “I pray to God every day that she will be found alive with her family and we can all be reunited.”
As Israel strikes back with missile attacks on targets in Gaza, the families grapple with the knowledge that it could come at the cost of their loved ones’ lives. Hamas has warned it will kill one of the 130 hostages every time Israel’s military bombs civilian targets in Gaza without warning.
Eli Elbag said he woke Saturday to text messages from his daughter, Liri, 18, who’d just began her military training as an Army lookout at the Gaza border. Militants were shooting at her, she wrote. Minutes later, the messages stopped. By nightfall, a video circulated by Hamas showed her crowded into an Israeli military truck overtaken by militants. The face of a hostage next to Liri was marred and bloodied.
“We are watching television constantly looking for a sign of her,” Elbag said. “We think about her all the time. All the time wondering if they’re take caring of her, if they’re feeding her, how she’s feeling and what she’s feeling.”
For Israel, locating hostages in Gaza may prove difficult. Although the strip is tiny, subject to constant aerial surveillance and surrounded by Israeli ground and naval forces, the territory just over an hour from Tel Aviv remains somewhat opaque to Israeli intelligence agencies.
Militants posted video of the hostages, and families were left in agony wondering about their fate.
Yosi Shnaider has wrestled with worry since his family members were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz, just over a mile from the Gaza fenceline. He saw video of his cousin and her two young boys, held hostage.
“It’s like an unbelievable bad movie, like a nightmare,” Shnaider said Monday. “I just need information on if they are alive,” he added.
Also missing, his aunt who requires medicine to treat her diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Since the family found out they were taken hostage, the woman’s sister has been so mortified that she is “like a zombie, alive and dead at the same time” said Shnaider, a real estate agent in the Israeli city of Holon.
Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, said the country is committed to bringing the hostages home and issued a warning to Hamas, which controls Gaza.
“We demand Hamas not to harm any of the hostages,” he said. “This war crime will not be forgiven.”
Hamas has also said it seeks the release of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails — some 4,500 detainees, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem — in exchange for the Israeli captives.
Uncertainty also weighs heavily on families who still do not know whether their relatives have been killed, taken into Hamas captivity, or have escaped and are on the run. Tomer Neumann, whose cousin was attending a music festival near the Gaza border and has since vanished, hopes it’s the last of the three options.
The cousin, Rotem Neumann, who is 25 and a Portuguese citizen, called her parents from the festival when she heard rocket fire, he said. She piled into a car with friends, witnesses said, but fled when they encountered trucks filled with militants. Later, her phone was found near a concrete shelter.
“All we have is bits and pieces of information,” said Neumann, who lives in Bat Yam, a city just south of Tel Aviv.
“What now is on my mind is not war and is not bombing,” he said. “All we want is to know where Rotem is and to know what happened to her and we want peace.”