As Hostage Deal Nears, Families Wait With Hope and Fear


As Hostage Deal Looms, a Family Hopes for Good News

Sheffa Phillips-Bahat has two young cousins who were taken hostage from their home at Kibbutz Nir Oz. More than a month after they were kidnapped, she “can’t think of anything but getting the hostages back.”

You know, they released a video of him talking and we thought he was going to be released. And it just gives you a sense of false hope. But also, you see him and he’s — he’s still the same person. You can recognize him, but his eyes are — they look like he went through so many things so quickly. Just so much less life in them. You can tell the difference between the happy, joking, laughing boy he was, and who he is now. For a little bit there, it felt like every day he would come back and be released, and at least he would be here, even if all the others aren’t. And then we realized that wasn’t going to happen in the next few days. And that led to another just wave of agony. People I knew, I saw at every family gathering and at school, and they’re just gone. I mean, it’s not something that should ever happen to somebody, especially at that age. I can’t think of anything other than getting the hostages back.

Sheffa Phillips-Bahat has two young cousins who were taken hostage from their home at Kibbutz Nir Oz. More than a month after they were kidnapped, she “can’t think of anything but getting the hostages back.”

As Israel and Hamas indicated that they were nearing a hostage exchange deal, some families of Israeli hostages abducted to Gaza were grappling on Tuesday with conflicting emotions: a growing optimism that their loved ones would return that was chilled by a gnawing fear that the deal might collapse — or worse, that they might be left behind.

“If we’ve been on a roller coaster, now we’re going up,” said Gili Roman, whose sister Yarden Roman was taken hostage from Be’eri, a Gaza border kibbutz, during the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7. “The fear is that the higher we go, the farther we’ll fall. There’s a lot of anxiety.”

The terms of the proposed deal have not been announced, but people familiar with the hostage negotiations said they have centered on Hamas releasing roughly 50 women and children in exchange for about 150 Palestinian women and children jailed by Israel. Israeli authorities have said around 240 people were abducted during Hamas’s attack.

Yifat Zailer — whose cousin Shiri Bibas was abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz along with Ms. Bibas’s husband, Yarden Bibas, and their two red-haired children, Ariel and Kfir — said her anxious wait for news has been tinged by the hope that she might soon see her loved ones and the fear something might go awry.

“I’m trying to take care not to be happy too quickly,” Ms. Zailer said on Tuesday. “It could collapse tomorrow, for any reason. We might see the days pass, the hostages returning — and Shiri and her children not among them.”

Kfir, less than a year old, is one of the youngest Israelis abducted by Hamas-led gunmen on Oct. 7. His family in Israel still does not know where he and his brother are being held, whether they are with their parents — or even if they are still alive, Ms. Zailer said.

But even if Ms. Bibas, Kfir and Ariel return home as part of the emerging hostage deal — far from guaranteed — Yarden, her husband, is likely to stay behind.

“We are being torn apart,” Ms. Zailer said, calling it an impossible situation. “It breaks your heart,” she added.

At Kibbutz Nir Oz, 76 people were taken hostage on Oct. 7, according to Irit Lahav, a kibbutz spokeswoman.

Sheffa Phillips-Bahat, 15, a resident of the kibbutz, had two cousins who were kidnapped by Hamas — brothers Or, 16, and Yagil Yaakov, 12. Their father, Yair Yaakov, was also taken hostage.

Yagil appeared in a video released on Nov. 9 by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an armed group based in Gaza that invaded Israeli towns on Oct. 7 alongside Hamas, in which he asked Israel to bring him home. Hostages often appear in such videos under duress and their statements are likely to have been coerced.

Ms. Phillips-Bahat and her family have not heard whether her cousins would be among those coming home in a hostage exchange, but they remain optimistic.

“I can’t think of anything but getting the hostages back,” she said.

David Blumenfeld and Carmit Hoomash contributed reporting.

Related Articles

Back to top button