Israeli Evacuees Fight for Return of Hostage Family Members, Remember Those Murdered

DEAD SEA, Israel – Some 250,000 Israelis have evacuated their homes due to fighting in both the southern and northern border areas. Many are in hotels not knowing what the future holds. But despite the trauma and uncertainty, Israelis remain standing strong. 

At one luxurious hotel on at the Dead Sea, where visitors from the around the world come to relax, about 1,000 Israelis from Kibbutz Be’eri are staying after they were forced to flee their homes after Hamas attacked on October 7. Although they were thankful for the refuge, it was clear they were not there on a vacation.

Some told their harrowing stories to journalists at a recent briefing.

“I was in my safe room in the morning. They came to my house. They ruined everything. But I’m still alive and I’m still here. And what the most important thing for us now, for my family now, is to bring my sister and my brother-in-law back home,” said Ayelet Hakim.

Hamas kidnapped Hakim’s sister Raz and brother-in-law Ohad Ben Ami that day. The family holds out hope for their return. 

“I’m very stressed every day and we don’t know anything about their physical condition,” said a tearful Yulie Ben Ami, the 27-year-old daughter of Raz and Ohad.

Raz has a serious health condition that requires medication.

“So, every day is like, unknowing what to do next. We are just hoping for good news every day,” said Yulie who lives with one of her two sisters in a different house on the kibbutz.

“The thing I can say about her, that she’s very gentle and I’m very, very worried about her,” said Ayelet. “She’s in my thoughts all the time.”

She described Ohad as the smartest person she knows.  “I speak with him about everything. And I ask him questions about everything. And whatever advice he gives me is the one I would take,” she added.

Nir Shani is father of 16-year-old hostage Amit Shani. 

“Our neighborhood was occupied around 7:30 (am), I think. Many terrorists, lots of gunshots, lots of screaming and yelling. They entered my house around 9:30. They broke everything, broke the walls, tried to get into the safe room. I had to struggle with them, and they set the house on fire and my house is burned. But I survived till the army rescue me around seven in the evening,” Shani said describing the scene.

Amit, his mom and two younger sisters lived at the center of the kibbutz and stayed in touch with Nir for hours during the ordeal. 

“Later on they told me that the seven armed (men) entered the house, they succeed to open the door. They took my ex-wife, they took Amit and his two little sisters.

They took him out to the grass,” Shani said describing the story he heard.

Later on the terrorists brought the neighbors out and kidnapped two more of the males from the Shoabi family.  

“They took them all through the grass toward the (entrance) road, they brought a car. They tied the boys with ropes behind their back,” and took them away, Shani said. 

Twenty-nine of Be’eri’s 1200 members are missing and believed kidnapped into Gaza. Hamas slaughtered 86 community residents, including Michal Pinyan’s parents, Mati and Amir Weiss.  

“We woke up on 6:30 to an un-normal bombing,” Pinyan said. “We got to the safe room on 6:30, but we didn’t get out until 1:00 a.m.”

While the terrorists couldn’t breach Michal’s shelter, they took over her parents’ home. 

“I think around 9:00 my mom wrote us that she hears Arabic voices outside her house and then a few seconds later, she wrote, ‘They’re in my house, they’re shouting, they’re throwing grenades to blow up the house.’ And then there was the message that (her dad) got hurt. She said was he was shot,” Michal said.

She said what was supposed to be a safe room, wasn’t.  

“They found my parents not in the safe room. (The terrorists) blew up the safe room door. They took them out and they were found by the gates of the kibbutz, the back gate, with their hands tied, you know, and shot in their head,” Michal said. 

It’s hard for me to think they died in this way, in fear, in pain,” she added. 

It took two weeks before Michal and her three siblings could bury their parents. Her youngest brother followed through on his wedding plans for October 30 at the last moment. 

“It was a happy and sad moment together. We got a funeral and we got a wedding,” she said.

Founded in 1946 before the State of Israel, Be’eri ended up being one of the hardest hit areas on October 7.   Still, members say the community will survive. 

“In general, Israel has to defeat the Palestinians, the people of Gaza. And it’s obvious that if we want to stay and keep our country safe, we will have to beat them. I hope, I’m full of hope that I would see my son again, and I hope soon,” said Shani.

“We have a right to defend our country. I cannot go back home. I don’t have home to get back to unless it’s going to be safe. And people need to understand there is no other way. We have to take Hamas down in order to go home,” said Michal.  

“I will go back to Be’eri. I will go back. I will go back, and I will live there until I die. But I will go back, and I will rebuild my home and rebuild my family in where I was born, because that’s my home. There’s no other home for me in the world anywhere,” said Ayelet.