Israeli captive endured ‘hell’ in attack, but treated ‘well’ in Gaza

Hamas freed 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz, along with another elderly woman, on ‘humanitarian’ grounds late on Monday.

Israeli Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, holds a press conference in Tel Aviv after she was released by Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 24, 2023. - Lifshitz, a resident of Nir Oz kibbutz, one of the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip which Hamas militants attacked on October 7, said on October 24 she was beaten during her abduction, then treated well during more than two weeks held captive in Gaza. (Photo by Erik Marmor / AFP)
Israeli Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, held a press conference in Tel Aviv after she was released by Hamas on October 24, 2023 [Eric Marmor/AFP]

An 85-year-old Israeli woman who was taken captive by Hamas for two weeks said she was beaten while being abducted, but treated “well” while in the Gaza Strip.

Yocheved Lifshitz was freed on Monday night along with another elderly woman, 79-year-old Nurit Cooper. Hamas released them on “humanitarian” grounds in a deal brokered by Qatar and Egypt.

The women are the third and fourth captives released by Hamas since its October 7 onslaught on Israel; some 218 people, including foreigners and dual nationals, are still in captivity in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

‘They seemed ready for this’

Lifshitz, sitting in a wheelchair outside a Tel Aviv hospital on Tuesday, recounted being assaulted by her captors as they sped her into Gaza on the back of a motorbike on October 7.

“When I was on the bike, my head was on one side and the rest of my body on the other side,” she said. “The young men hit me on the way. They didn’t break my ribs but it was painful and I had difficulty breathing.”

“I’ve been through hell … we didn’t think or know we would get to this situation.”

Once in Gaza, however, she said her captors “treated her well”, giving her and other captives “the same food they ate” and bringing in a doctor to provide medicine.

“They treated us gently, and provided all our needs,” she said, when questioned about her reason for shaking the hand of one of her captors at the moment of her release.

“They seemed ready for this, they prepared for a long time, they had everything that men and women needed, including shampoo,” she added.

Lifshitz, who lives in the Nir Oz kibbutz near the Gaza Strip, said Israel’s military had underestimated the threat posed by Hamas, and that the costly security fence “didn’t help at all”.

Will hostages take priority?

On October 7, armed men from Hamas mowed down parts of the security fence separating Gaza from southern Israel, killing more than 1,400 people and seizing more than 220 captives.

Israel has responded with a relentless bombing campaign on Gaza, devastating much of the territory’s infrastructure and killing more than 5,700 people, mostly civilians. According to the Palestinian health ministry, at least 704 people were killed by Israeli air strikes on the Strip in the past day alone. Israel has also cut off Gaza’s fuel, electricity and water.

As Israel readies for a potentially bloody ground assault into the strip, it has ordered more than 1.1 million Palestinians to evacuate the northern part of the territory, warning they may be treated as “terror accomplices” if they do not do so.

Israel has said its top goal in the war is to “obliterate Hamas”, but world leaders and Israeli families have urged for the captives to take priority.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Israel on Tuesday, said securing the release of the captives which includes French nationals should be the “first objective”.

US President Joe Biden, who is eager to bring home 10 Americans thought to be held in the Gaza Strip, said on Monday he would be open to negotiations for a ceasefire only once all captives are released.

Noam Alon, the boyfriend of a 27-year-old woman abducted by Hamas, is one of many Israelis hoping the Israeli government will focus on the captives’ plight. Freeing them “should be the top priority, not to destroy Hamas, not to control Gaza and not anything else”, he said.

The families of Israelis who are missing or being held hostage stand by a set dinner table with empty chairs that symbolically represent hostages with families that are waiting for them to come home, following a deadly infiltration by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, Israel October 20, 2023. REUTERS/Janis Laizans
The families of Israelis who are missing or being held captive stand by a dinner table with empty chairs that represent them, in Tel Aviv, Israel on October 20, 2023 [Janis Laizans/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies