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Live Life Deliberately

Released Hamas hostage was held in ‘spiderweb’ of damp tunnels under Gaza

TEL AVIV — Released Israeli hostage Yocheved Lifshitz described on Tuesday the “unimaginable hell” of her kidnapping ordeal that included being thrown over the back of a motorcycle, beaten with sticks and held in a “spiderweb” of wet tunnels after she was abducted from a kibbutz in southern Israel.

In a news conference in Tel Aviv, the 85-year-old said that after militants rampaged through her kibbutz, she was put on the back of the motorcycle, “with my legs on one side and my head on the other,” and driven through fields while being beaten with sticks, making it difficult to breathe.

Lifshitz was speaking from Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, where she was being treated. She sat in a wheelchair and spoke faintly as a throng of journalists pressed in closely to hear her.

“They didn’t break my ribs, but they hurt this area a lot, and that made breathing very difficult,” she said, adding that she was robbed of her watch and jewelry while on the motorcycle.

The hostages were taken to a “huge network” of tunnels that looked “like a spiderweb.” She described how they walked for two to three hours in damp passageways until they reached a large hall, where their group of 25 hostages was separated according to which kibbutz they were from.

She said her captors seemed prepared for hostages and had clean rooms with mattresses on the ground. There was one guard for each of them and they ate together, but their captors did not want to discuss the “politics” of what had happened.

The hostages in her small group were treated well, she said, and received medication and regular visits from a doctor. She said she could not speak for the treatment of other groups of hostages, which were held in different locations by different captors.

She described how unprepared Israel had been for the devastating Oct. 7 attack. “The IDF did not take it seriously. We were left to fend for ourselves. The lack of knowledge in the IDF and the Shin Bet severely affected us.”

“They seemed prepared for it,” she said about the hostage takers. “They prepared for this for a long time.”

The news conference, which has been promoted by the hospital’s spokesman as one that would offer “shocking testimony,” was criticized as exploitative by some in Israel who saw it.

Nachman Shai, a former minister and Israeli army spokesperson, called it “a mortifying event, with no organization, no guiding hand. She must be tired. They might have waited a little. I don’t understand if she was pre-briefed or not.”

Many also recoiled at Lifshitz’s lack of harsh words for her Hamas captors claiming the conference ended up being public diplomacy for “terrorists.” On Azriel, a founder of the Bodkim fact-checking collective, however, noted that “her husband is held captive by them and it’s unclear whether they threatened to kill him.”

In the video showing her release, Lifshitz turns to shake hands with one of her Hamas captors, also sparking questions about whether she had been coerced. In an interview with Kan News, her son Yizhar said she shook hands with her captor upon her release “because he had kept her alive and she thanked him. That is all. It has nothing to do with the savage murderers who rampaged through the kibbutz. Her rage at them also remains.”

Sharone Lifschitz, a daughter who is normally based in London, also spoke about her 83-year-old father, Oded, who is still believed to be in Gaza.

In a separate interview, she told the BBC that her father was “very involved” in campaigning for the rights of Palestinians and for peace and would regularly drive Palestinians to Israeli hospitals for treatments. “I hope he is being looked after and has the chance to talk. He speaks good Arabic, so he can communicate very well with the people there.”

“It’s the tragedy that so many of the people killed were the immediate neighbors of Gaza who truly believed in working toward peace and who thought that was very much possible,” she said. “It’s a twist of history that these peace-loving communities were the ones that sustained such a horrendous massacre.”

Asked whether this was the end of her parents’ dream of living in peace with their neighbors, she said, “No, no, no, no … I don’t think so at all, we have to find ways because there is no alternative. If anything it makes me more resolved.”

Tarnopolsky reported from Jerusalem and Adam from London.


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