Hostages released from Hamas captivity returned for the first time to Kibbutz Be’eri as they look to move on from the memories of October 7 and the nightmare in Gaza. “We were moved from house to house; the food ran out along with the terrorists’ patience. At one point, we shared a small orange, just a slice or two per person.” Everyone agreed on one thing: “No hostage must be left behind.”
Hila Rotem enters her house carefully. She asks her aunt to stand by her side next to the broken kitchen countertop while she collects, from among the charred objects, the ones that are important for her to take. “It was sad to see the house. I took things that were important to my grandfather, who died when I was nine. Some broke, but I took what remained,” she said sadly.
Among the hostages who were freed and relatives of those still in Gaza who visited the kibbutz were Amit Shani, Raaya Rotem, and her daughter Hila Rotem, and the members of the Sharabi family, Oren, Ofir, Yuval, and Nira. They talked about what they went through on October 7 and their hard feelings during captivity.
Released hostages from Hamas captivity return to their homes on Kibbutz Be’eri for first time since October 7, January 1, 2024 (Walla)
Ambassadors to bring the hostages back
Through no choice of their own, while their relatives are still in Gaza, the released hostages have become prominent ambassadors in the fight to bring back the hostages. They walk between the remanents of their homes, trying to digest the images while their every step is followed by the media. Despite the complexities, they are adamant in sharing their feelings and speaking of the trauma they have been through.
Amit Shani stands at the entrance to his home. Behind him is a large picture of himself, in memory of the struggle to bring him back.
Shay Hagai, 19 years old, went back to live in his house a few weeks ago along with a dozen additional kibbutz residents. Since then, he has been guiding the media tours. “I went crazy in Ein Gedi. Everyone here does something else with their time. I started by working at the print, and I got a bit bored, so I moved to the hasbara team,” he said. “I still don’t dare to walk around at night. It’s scary. At night, I lock myself up at home.”
Sharon Sharabi, whose two brothers are hostages, speaks outside the house of one of them with a microphone, like an experienced tour guide. Afterward, he continues into the rooms that were full of life a few months ago. On normal days I would have said: “Welcome to the home of Eli and Lian Sharabi. Today I say, welcome to the history of the people of Israel.” This is a war zone. In this small radius, Lian, Noya, and Yahel were murdered. Our family was slaughtered.
As he continues to talk, his words become grimmer. “The images you will see inside are not even one percent of what really happened, but all the people of Israel should make a pilgrimage to see them. They tried to exterminate the people of Israel. They took Eli out of the bomb shelter, from the safe place and took him to Gaza. Like they took Yossi. They still haven’t met each other, but their destiny is not only to be brothers. It connects all of October 7. I hope this evidence resonates in every heart. Our grandfathers survived the Holocaust, and our generation has experienced a Holocaust. Document these moments. They will not return.”
Amit Shani, 16, who returned from captivity, spoke about October 7 and his time in Gaza: “That Saturday I was in the bomb shelter, it started out as a normal red alert that we didn’t get excited about and then we received an intrusion alert. At some point, it got worse, and we heard grenades and RPGs, they entered the house, broke things, took us out, and sat us on the edge of the sidewalk.”
On captivity in Gaza, he said, “The feelings in Gaza are very difficult, endless longing and a huge sense of abandonment. Everyone there is afraid of the bombings and the terrorists, and you don’t know if you will wake up the next day. No one should stay there. They were abandoned once, and they don’t deserve to be abandoned a second time.”
“I was in Gaza for 50 days, it was hard for me, in the dark, without enough food and water. We were not allowed to talk, only to whisper. It was scary, and there were lots of booms all the time,” Hila Rotem said outside her destroyed home. “We moved from place to place, we were together with other hostages, after 50 days, they took Emily and me to be released and separated me from my mother. I was afraid something would happen to her. On the bus to Israel, they asked if I could guess who I was going to meet. I was afraid my Uncle Yaya died, so I said other names. In captivity, we planned what we would do on his birthday. I didn’t think he would be without his mother. After a few days, they announced that she was coming back, I waited for her awake all night. I don’t stop thinking about those who are still there. Every day there feels like an eternity.”
Her mother, Raaya, said, “On Saturday, October 7, I was with my daughter and Emily, her friend, who came to sleep at our house. It took six hours for them to reach us. They opened the door of the Mamad with guns and knives drawn, grabbed me by the shirt, and said in Arabic: ‘You are going to Gaza.’ Security forces were not present in the kibbutz. All the gunshot noise was from the terrorists. The road to Gaza was completely open. In my heart, I already thought it would take a long time.
She continues to describe the conditions in captivity: “The conditions were not easy. We were a few hostages together and were moved from house to house. A few days ago, I ate an orange, and I remembered the small orange that we divided in captivity into several parts, a piece or two for each one. Sometimes it is better not to taste the food anymore. Time is running out in terms of food and drink, but also in terms of physical conditions, the danger of shelling, and the patience of the terrorists. Hila and I think a lot about those who were with us there. The situation was fragile, and now it is even more fragile. Every moment puts them at risk; we must return them urgently.”
Ten members of Kibbutz Be’eri are still being held in Gaza. Oren Sharabi, 13, whose father Yossi was kidnapped, returned to Be’eri for the first time today. “It scared me to come here. After what we went through here, it’s hard for me to be here, I was afraid to come,” she admitted, “but I face the fear because the scariest thing is that my father has been in Gaza for 87 days and nights. On October 6, my father promised me that we would play football on Saturday night. But we woke up to a different world. When the terrorists arrived at the house, my father held the door of the Mamad. The first time he managed to stop them, the second time, he didn’t. I hid under the covers. I heard the terrorists laughing; they told us to follow them, I saw how they tied up our father and our neighbor. My father did not take his eyes off my mother. Then suddenly the terrorists ran and left us alone. My dad is everything to me. Every drop of time is precious. I’m waiting for the soccer practice we planned the moment before it all happened.”
“It was difficult for me to come here today. But it is important for me to talk about my uncle, Eli. You can always count on him to help,” said Eli’s niece, Ofir. “Eli was married to Lian, she and the girls were everything to him. Noya, Yael, and Lian were murdered that Saturday. I don’t know if Eli knows they won’t wait for him, but we are here, waiting to envelope him up.”
At the opening of the event, Be’eri’s communications director Miri Gad Masika announced the death of kibbutz member Ilan Weiss, who was murdered on October 7 and has been declared missing ever since. “Ilan was the deputy of the Tzah”i – the community emergency team, and provided logistical support to the standby units,” Gad Mesika said about Weiss. We want to recognize him as an IDF soldier who was killed in the line of duty; he went to replace the military security coordinator in the distribution of weapons.”