'Children should not be used as a bargaining chip': mothers of Israeli hostages plead for their release

At a London press conference, three parents told the story of how their children were seized by Hamas


Batsheva Yahalomi cannot forget the moment she watched her 12-year-old son Eitan disappear into the distance on the back of a motorbike heading into the Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday, the Nir Oz resident retold the story of his kidnap and her miraculous escape from Hamas terrorists alongside two other Israeli mothers whose children were also taken as hostages.

Hadas Kalderon, whose children Sahar, 16, and Erez, 12, were taken, said: "We are not political, we are just mothers. They are children and they have to be home."

Renana Jacob, whose children Or, 16, and Yagel, 12, were seized while she hid alone in a safe room in a different house, said she could not function since October 7.

"You can't sleep, you can't eat, you can't have a shower without thinking about their hygine," she said.

On October 7, after Yahalomi woke up at 6.30am to the sound of rocket fire and alarms she and her family rushed to their safe room and realised, like many others, that it could not be locked from the inside.

As gunfire echoed outside and the sound of voices speaking Arabic grew louder, she, her husband Ohad, and their 10-year-old daughter and 18-month-old girl hunkered down and held the door to their shelter closed.

"It is not easy to be quiet with a small baby," she recalled. 

After two hours, Ohad told his family he loved them and left the room to determine if they were safe.

Hamas terrorists then entered their house, shot Ohad in the leg and demanded Yahalomi and her children reveal themselves.

After the family emerged, the Hamas fighters seized them at gunpoint and left Ohad bleeding on the floor.

As they were driven away on the back of two motorbikes through "hundreds" of terrorists and ruined houses, Yahalomi said, "The kibbutz was burning, there was nothing left."

While the vehicles headed towards Gaza, however, their drivers were surprised by the appearance of an IDF tank. 

Seizing her chance, Yahalomi lept away and ran towards nearby fields clutching her two daughters to her breast.

Amid her desperate escape, she could only watch as Eitan was driven away by Hamas into captivity.

"I can't stand the thought that he's there alone," she told journalists in London.

"I don't want to wish any mother to be in that condition."

Discussing her love for her missing children, Jacob said her son Or used to call her "every two minutes" at work and bother her, but for the last month she has not heard his voice or seen any proof that he is alive.

Asked what she would say to Hamas if she could speak to them, she said: "Since they have mothers, they are apparently human... 

"I hope they realise they're holding children hostage and will treat them as children. I am begging them to release them. Children should not be used as a bargaining chip."

Her voice breaking, she added: "When I think about my sensitive, fragile boy and my teenage girl I want them back. I want to see her dancing... I want to see my boy riding his bike."

Of the 32 children held hostage in Gaza, 16 are from Nir Oz alone. Many displaced kibbutz residents have been reduced to protesting outside army headquarters in Tel Aviv to call for the safe release of their children. 

Yahalomi said: "We have nightmares about what they're eating, about if they're alive. We can't eat. We're in a continuous nightmare, I don't know when it will end. 

"I don't want to know the news. I prefer to ignore it and think only good things."

Jacob said: "Children should be at home with their mothers. What we want is the world to support us.

"Children from Gaza should be able to go to go to a safe place and our children to go home. We're here to enlist the British people in the effort."

In London, Jacob added, the trio of mothers had met the Qatari ambassador, His Excellency Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, who, they claimed, told them he and his country would do "everything in their power" to release Israeli hostages.

"We will never ever forget any help,” she said. 

"We will always be grateful. I'm in a bubble of a nightmare. I don't think about myself I think about them. 

"Imagine your child... just disappeared from your life and was held without seeing the sun or the sky. Just imagine. 

"They can't be a victim of this war.” 

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