'I want the world to know what they did', says aunt of 17-year-old kidnapped by Hamas

Ofir Engel was taken by Hamas while visiting his girlfriend during the deadly attack on Kibbutz Be'eri on Saturday


Since Ofir Engel, 17, was kidnapped by Hamas at Kibbutz Be’eri in Israel during the attack on Saturday, his family has been praying he is still alive.  

“I don’t have words to describe, not because I don’t know good English... but also in Hebrew, we don’t have words in human language to describe the horror,” said Ofir’s aunt Yael Engel Lichi, 52. 

Yael told the JC that Ofir was visiting his girlfriend in the kibbutz near Sderot when he called his father at 6am to tell him alarms had gone off, but not to worry. Ofir, his girlfriend, and her family - her mother, father, and two younger sisters, who asked not to be named - were sheltering inside the safe room.  

When the alarms went off at 8am in the kibbutz near Jerusalem where Yael and her family reside, “we started to understand that it’s something very big”.  

Throughout Saturday morning, Yael's family remained in touch with Ofir, sending photos and speaking on the phone regularly to ensure he was alright. Then, at around 1.30pm, they lost communication with him.  

At 7pm, Yael said they received a call from Ofir’s girlfriend’s mother. She told them that earlier in the afternoon the family had heard people speaking in Arabic within the house.  

“There were a few terrorists with guns that went inside their house, they [were] trying to open the safe room and they succeeded,” Yael said, relaying the information she and her family were told over the phone. 

Safe rooms such as the one in which Ofir and his girlfriend’s family were sheltering are designed to protect against missiles and bombs; in order to allow rescue teams access in the event of a blast, many such shelters do not lock from the inside. Though Ofir and his girlfriend’s father fought to hold the door shut, they could not keep the intruders from getting in.  

Ofir, his girlfriend and the family were taken outside the house along with the family’s dog, which was then shot and killed. The mother and her three daughters were told to sit on the grass as Hamas terrorists took all their mobile phones before putting Ofir and his girlfriend’s father into a black car and drove away.  

Yael called it a “miracle” that the women were not harmed: “The mother and three daughters, they went to another house, just to hide until the Israeli army came to rescue them and took them with other survivors to a safe place near the Dead Sea,” she said.  

Kibbutz Be’eri is one of the several kibbutzim has been ravaged by Hamas since the attacks began on Saturday.

Yael, the founder of a non-profit organisation to support female survivors of domestic abuse, said she has children in their twenties who were scheduled to attend the Supernova music festival where Hamas massacred over 260 people but decided at the last minute not to go.

Many of their friends were at the event, however, and throughout the day Yael said they “started to hear horrible things and [see] pictures of the massacre”. 

“I want the world to see the pictures and know what [Hamas] did,” she said. “They took Holocaust survivors, they took children without their parents, they killed the children in front of their parents.” 

“Innocent people in all these kibbutzim were living there without doing anything bad to anyone. [Hamas] just got in their houses and murdered them.” 

Though the rest of their family is physically safe, the uncertainty of what has happened to Ofir has made it impossible to find any relief.  

Yael said her youngest daughter, who is 12 years old, has not stopped crying: “She’s asking me all the time...'What [does] he have to eat, what [does] he have to drink, if they did something to him’, and I told her, ‘We don’t think about it. We don’t think about it, we just hope all the time.’” 

They are taking the situation hour by hour: “We don’t think what will happen [the] next day, week, or next month,” Yael said. “We just hope everything will have a good end and Ofir will come back to us.” 

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