LONDON (AP) — Abigail Edan was just 3 years old, but when Hamas militants stormed her kibbutz, Kfar Azza, on Oct. 7 and killed her parents, she knew enough to run to a neighbor’s house to save herself. refuge.
The Brodutch family – mother Hagar and her three children – took Abigail in as the rampage raged. Then all five disappeared, later confirmed by the government to be Hamas captives, both families said, some among more than 200 people dragged to Gaza on Israel’s bloodiest day.
The waking nightmare has plunged the captives’ families into a foggy void, distinct from mourning, even as Israel, a close-knit country, mourns the more than 1,400 people killed by militants. The families of around 30 children taken hostage in Israel describe an even more exquisite agony, that of being haunted by the knowledge that their captive loved ones are defenseless.
“She’s a baby, only 3 years old, and she’s all alone,” Abigail’s aunt, Tal Edan, said in a telephone interview, her voice shaking. “Maybe she was with a neighbor, but I don’t know if they’re still together. She has no one.
Children in both Israel and Gaza have borne a considerable share of the consequences of the Hamas massacre and intensified Israeli bombing of the small enclave, a devastating undercurrent among these tragedies.
Nearly half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are children. The Hamas-run Health Ministry reported Thursday that the total death toll exceeded 7,000 Palestinians, including 2,913 minors. More than 800 children in Gaza remain missing.
Taking civilians hostage is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
But taking children hostage in war is almost never done, said Danielle Gilbert, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University who has interviewed hundreds of kidnappers and hostages in different countries. The reasoning is brutal: the kidnappers attach importance to living hostages, generally men aged 18 to 65. Children are less likely to survive this ordeal.
“Hanging on to someone who is vulnerable and not predisposed to surviving in these conditions will make the kidnappers’ job more difficult,” Gilbert said. “It remains to be seen whether Hamas intended to take such a wide range of hostages. »
Families of detained Israeli children describe a spectrum of emotions from hope to despair and anger, with sleep elusive and distraction from worst thoughts welcome. Many spend their time speaking to the media in a frantic quest for information, proof of life and the return of their loved ones.
Roy and Smadar Edan were buried on October 20, marking the start of the traditional seven-day Jewish mourning period. But there is no specific ritual for children held hostage in war. So the Edans did their best to keep Abigail present.
“She comes into my dreams,” said Tal, married to Roy’s brother Amit. “She comes into every conversation we have here. Everyone keeps asking her how her night went, if anyone is holding her. Because she’s all alone.
Maayan Zin spends endless time without information about her missing daughters, Ella Elyakim, 8, and Dafna Elyakim, 15, spreading the word about them. On October 7, they visited their father, Noam Elyakim, in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz near the Gaza border, where he lived with his partner, Dikla Arava, and his son, Tomer, 17.
The video she later viewed appeared to show the five sitting under duress, Dafna crying and Noam bleeding from his leg, while the activists made demands. Then she saw photos of the girls sitting on mattresses and wearing pajamas that weren’t theirs. Two fingers on Ella’s hand appeared bandaged.
The bodies of Noam, Dikla and Tomer were later found near the Gaza border, according to local media.
Today, Maayan says in interviews that she worries that the girls saw their father murdered. She tries not to think about who changed her daughters into different clothes. She wonders: what happened to Ella’s hand and how is Dafna, who is old enough to understand what is happening?
Maayan was happy to hear that four hostages had been freed and hoped her daughters would be next. She didn’t sleep well.
“I think I hope they don’t give them back to me in a coffin,” Maayan Zin said in a Zoom interview. “It’s a rollercoaster of feelings.”
Some families who were careful not to publicly criticize the government in the first weeks are losing patience.
“We have been abandoned by our government twice: on October 7 and now, because our children are still here,” said Hadas Kalderon, whose son, Erez, turned 12 on Thursday in captivity.
Avichai Brodutch, the husband of Hagar, 40, and father of Ofri, 10, Yuval, 8, and Uriah, 4, who disappeared with Abigail, sat in a chair in front of the headquarters of the Israeli army at 3 a.m. one recent night and insisted on putting up a sign. “My family,” it read, “is in Gaza.”
Hadas Kalderon, Erez’s mother, said she barely had a moment to mourn her own mother, Carmela, 80, and her niece, Noya, 12, who were killed in Nir Oz. She is too busy campaigning for the release of the rest of her family: Erez, Sahar, 16, and Ofer, 53, the children’s father.
She told reporters Thursday that there was video showing them in captivity. At first she refused to look at him.
“And then I’m very, very happy because that means he’s alive,” she said. “And then I’m very happy that they were kidnapped, because the other choice was to be murdered. Saving their lives means saving mine.
She says she finds herself moving on a sliding scale of emotions. Erez, she remembers, had long been afraid of being alone, fearing just such an event.
“Now it’s like his worst nightmare is coming true,” Hadas said of the boy she says is “full of love.”
“I can hear it all the time,” she added. “I hear him crying and shouting to me: ‘Mom, mom, save me.’
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Noveck contributed from New York.
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