An elderly woman missing from her home on an Israeli kibbutz less than a kilometre from the Gaza Strip and feared kidnapped has not contacted her family since Saturday, her worried London-based son has said.
Noam Sagi, a New London Synagogue member from Cricklewood, grew up on the Kibbutz Nir Oz from where his mother Ada was snatched by Hamas terrorists on Saturday morning.
The last he heard from Ada, 74, was at 9.20am Israeli time, when she called from her home to say that she could hear people coming and that she was going into the safe room.
“This is when we lost contact,” said Sagi, a psychotherapist, who at first thought there must be no connection in the safe room, until the events of the day started to evolve.
“I saw a video online from a Palestinian reporter reporting from the front lawn of her house. I saw people start to come out from her house and my heart was sinking at that point.” Sagi said.
Sagi is concerned that his mother, who has asthma and other allergies, will not have her EpiPen with her, and is desperately trying to reach her: “The list of dead and kidnapped from Nir Oz is horrific,” he said.
After the kibbutz was invaded and captured by Hamas terrorists, a second wave arrived to loot properties and take hostages with them, it appears. Like so many other people whose loved ones are missing, or have been slain, Sagi has been forced to piece together what has happened to his mother using footage posted online by the terrorists.
“This is from footage that they put online so I can see it live in front of my eyes and it’s all people I know and people I grew up with, and people that are friends and family,” he said.
The IDF embarked on its operation to secure the kibbutz but when Israeli soldiers accessed Ada’s house, she was not there: “The only thing they saw was bloodstains and that was it. And still, no communication. She is not on the dead list. There is a long dead list of the kibbutz which is also the epicentre of the southern attack. So she's not on the dead list. She's not injured. And she's not on the list of people who have been rescued. We still didn't have any verification or any footage [showing her] in Gaza so we can’t say for sure what is going on, but my strong belief is that she's alive and that she's held hostage in Gaza.”
Sagi believes that his mother is being held along with around 20 of her neighbours and friends from the kibbutz, mostly aged between 74 to around 85, but also young children.
One of those friends is her 84-year-old neighbour Ditza Heiman. A Facebook post described how a neighbour heard Reiman calling for help, and went out to help but was unable to because the area was swarming with armed terrorists. When the family, “helpless and torn from worry”, tried to call her, someone answered her phone in Arabic.
“The people who've been kidnapped are elderly and young kids,” Sagi said. “It's important to emphasise that even in war we have some rules, and this is where humanity lost a little bit of sense of this code. So it's cancer patients, it's the elderly with dementia, it’s people who really need a lot of care now sitting somewhere we can only imagine, but they won't be able to be looked after. It is shocking and painful.”
In telling his story to the JC, Sagi stressed that he wanted others to understand the human toll of the suffering, and that “people are not numbers”.
“The only crime is the fact that they are Jewish people living in Israel. This is why they've been kidnapped and abducted,” he said.
Kibbutz Nir Oz is “a loving, caring community that invests so much into coexistence, living in peace”, he added.
Ada has two sons and one daughter, and six grandchildren aged between seven and 18. She is still recovering from losing her husband last year.
Born in 1948 in Tel Aviv to parents who had escaped Poland in 1936, Ada became an Arabic and Hebrew teacher, going on to serve as the headmistress of the regional school in the south of Israel for years.
“She believed communication is the only way to create coexistence and good neighbourhood”, Sagi said.
“Her main aim was to create dialogue, and to create a better future. That was really her thing. By nature, she's a teacher and a healer. She's the most caring, loving, peace- and justice-seeking human being you would ever meet. I'm not saying it because she's my mum. That's how she lived her life. She's an extremely strong human being.”
At 72, Ada retired and started working with children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Sagi, grew up on the kibbutz before moving to Tel Aviv and then the UK, in 2002, where he lives with his wife and 14-year-old son.
He described the kibbutz as “super secured” when it comes to attacks from rockets and shells, with every house fitted with a safe room, and every public gathering protected.
“The security's very high from that point of view [but] what happened now is that we were not ready. The safe rooms are not designed for people to drill your lock out, and just snatch you out of your house.”
He added: “The kibbutz is a strong community but now it's distraught because not much is left. They burned and looted everything. They killed a lot of people and a lot of people are missing and so it's very hard.”