Crying comes in many forms. Sometimes it is loud and uncontrollable. Other times there is a pause, a voice shakes, a sniff. When I talk on the phone to Eitan Cunio, a survivor of the October 7 massacre, the cry is silent; he simply can’t speak. He’s run out of tears.
Every survivor has a horror story. They’ve witnessed something worse than most of us could possibly imagine even in our worst nightmares.
But Eitan’s pain continues in his waking hours — eight members of his family are missing, including his twin brother Davide, his younger brother Ariel and his three-year-old twin nieces.
It's too painful to even contemplate the agony he is in. It feels cruel asking him to speak. But like many other Israelis, Eitan knows that he has to tell his story.
He has to be believed. And he has to do whatever he can to help get his family home. “I just want an end to this horrible chaos,” he says.
Eitan was born on Kibbutz Nir Oz, where he looks after chickens.
The farm was one of the epicentres of the massacre and the community that has suffered most in percentage terms. Out of a population of 400, more than a quarter are either dead or missing.
Eitan, 33, his wife Stav and their girls, aged two and four, had their house set alight by terrorists on October 7.
Petrol was spread over the door of his safe room and the house set on fire.
For five hours, as searing heat and smoke fumes filled the room, he and his family passed in and out of consciousness.
Eitan's younger brother Ariel and his girlfriend Arbel Yahud (Photo: handout)
There was nothing he could do but try and block the door of the safe room — his girls’ bedroom — with towels. Even as they, in desperation, tried to escape the room to get away from the fire, they found they couldn’t; the heat had expanded the metal handle.
He tried to open the window but it was jammed tight too. They were locked in.
Pulling the air-conditioning unit off the wall gave them just the tiniest amount of air, which may have saved their lives.
Every time he awoke, he said goodbye to his family, telling them how much he loved them. They were out cold but looked like they were “sleeping” — the word he uses to mean “unconscious”. He wrote pleas to his friends on the kibbutz: “Someone help us. We are burning.”
Finally, when help came, the family emerged from the wreckage of their house to a dystopian world. Bodies on the floor, shots still ringing out, and more than half his family missing.
Davide with his wife Sharon and their family (Photo: handout)
Davide, an electrician, his wife Sharon and their three-year-old twins Emma and Yulie are among those lost.
He knows they are likely to be in Gaza as another woman from his kibbutz, who was bundled into a lorry with the four, managed to escape when an Israeli helicopter shot at the driver from the air. Sharon’s older sister Danielle Alony and her four-year-old Emilia, who were staying with the family for Simchat Torah, were also gone.
As was Eitan’s little brother, Ariel, and his girlfriend, Arbel Yahud.
The last he heard from Davide was a message on the family WhatsApp from Sharon that he read only when he had been saved himself. It said: “They are in our house, come save us.”
His last message from Ariel said: “We are in a horror movie.”
The horror movie continues. Eitan admits it's hard to know what to do, especially as he isn’t working.
The whole kibbutz — the survivors — are in a hotel in Eilat, in a strange no-man’s land where they can’t think about anything except getting through the pain of the next day.
“We are in this strange place where we have nothing to do but we have to be busy otherwise we will go mad,” he says. “I am with my kids all day but when I try to go to sleep, the thoughts are going through my mind. What has happened to Davide? Where is he? What have they done to him?
“If he’s alive, can he do normal things like go to a toilet, use a shower? Have they hurt him? Have they cut off his fingers? Things like that.
“I try not to spend time thinking too much because it’s too hard. I am thinking about my family the whole time. I don’t know what is going to happen in my future, where I am going to live. All I can hope for is that everyone comes out alive.
"Because this illogical Holocaust feels so unreal. I know so many people are who are dead; in my kibbutz, one in four people is gone.”
It is when I ask him to describe his missing family that it becomes too difficult as he recalls happy times a few weeks — a lifetime — ago.
“Davide is an electrician who has just started his own business and every day he asks me to come and join him in it. He is a warm-hearted person. Ariel is funny and friendly. The twins… they love to sing…”
There has been some news about the hostages. Two of the women released on humanitarian grounds, Yokheved Lifshitz and Nurit Yitzhak, were from his kibbutz. “It was good to see they were well. And hopefully, they can give information to get more hostages out,” he says.
On Monday Danielle — his sister-in-law’s sister — was at the centre of a cruel Hamas video of three female hostages, which blamed Benjamin Netanyahu for their abduction and demanding that he do everything he can to get them out — including a prisoner swap.
Danielle’s father Ramos later gave the statement: “It is a great relief that she is alive. Until today we had no confirmed details about her and we want so much to hug her and her sister Sharon, Ariel and the twins.
A destroyed home at the kibbutz Nir Oz settlement (Photo: Getty Images)
"In our family, only four of ten remain. I ask and demand that the Red Cross not stand on the sidelines but take the initiative and demand to see all our hostages. I appeal to Qatar, Egypt and all the countries with the power to end this to act now. To hold children and women and elderly, and in general, to hold hostages is a crime against humanity.
“I want to say to Danielle and Sharon: ‘We see you, we hear you, we love you. We think about you every second and we will bring you back.’”
For Eitan, an added pain is that he does not even know if the rest of the family is alive; no one can tell him what is happening, what the plans are to rescue the hostages. “No one from the government has come to talk with us,” he says.
“We don’t know what is going on. It took two days for anyone to talk to us at all — it was someone from the army but they say nothing, they have nothing to say. We don’t have any news at all. We don’t know anything about whether there have been negotiations; we know nothing at all.
“Every day, as time goes on, I become more and more worried. The army going into to Gaza means it is even more dangerous than before. I know that.
"But what choice is there? They haven’t told us about any of their plans. I have to trust the army. I have to hope that they will bring them back alive. That is all I can concentrate on.”