Our unity is our protection, says ex-hostage on Independence Day

Sapir Cohen spent 55 days in Gaza, where her boyfriend is still held captive


Sapir Cohen and Alex Trufanov, whom Hamas abducted on October7. Trufanov remains in Gaza. (Photo: Courtesy of Sapir Cohen)

“Our unity gives us as much protection as our army. We need it just as much to secure our existence,” Sapir Cohen, who spent 55 days in Hamas captivity, told JNS on Monday.

On Tuesday, Cohen was one of thousands of Israelis to attend an event organised by 44 NGOs in Latrun, west of Jerusalem, as Israel marked its first post-October 7 Independence Day.

The former hostage, who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz with her boyfriend Alex Trufanov and released without him in November’s ceasefire deal, noted the importance of celebrating the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in the State of Israel.

“This event is meant to remind everyone to have hope and that we must rebuild and be better, and to our leaders I say, before making any decision, make unity your first priority and make sure that this is the message you are sending the people of Israel,” Cohen said.

Event organisers David Solomon, CEO of Nifgashim, and Yoel Zilberman, CEO and founder of HaShomer HaChadash, added: “We are embarking on a series of joint actions and calls, aiming to create a momentum that will restore the spirit and hope for millions of Israeli citizens.”

During the event, soldiers wounded in Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza addressed the crowd and kites were flown in solidarity with hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

“We have paid and continue to pay the highest price of all,” said Brig. Gen. (res.) Dedi Simchi, a former Fire and Rescue Services commissioner whose paratrooper son Guy died fighting terrorists at the Supernova music festival on October 7. “We call upon our wonderful people, together with the immense pain and longing, to be filled with hope.” 

“This Independence Day carries significance and unity with a question of how we can be better and become an even more independent country full of meaning,” Simchi added.

On October 6, on the eve of Simchat Torah, Cohen and her boyfriend, Alex Trufanov, drove to Kibbutz Nir Oz to spend the holiday with his parents.

The next morning, they woke up to loud explosions.

“We hid under the bed. There was nowhere else to hide. Then, I heard screams of ‘Allahu Akbar.’ Terrorists were yelling and there were cries of victims they were executing. I quickly understood that they were entering every house and showering the room with bullets. We waited for our turn,” Cohen said.

Soon, Hamas terrorists shot through the door, broke everything inside, and captured Cohen and Trufanov.

“Alex started screaming as they began to hit him. I was rolled in a blanket. They removed it and took me,” she said.

Cohen saw Trufanov on his knees, hands on his head and face full of blood. He was taken away by two armed terrorists and remains in the Gaza Strip.

She was put on a motorcycle and driven into Gaza, where she remained for nearly eight weeks.

“At the beginning of my captivity, I kept asking God why he had to bring me to that place. Soon enough, it became clear. I was being held with hostages who were doing much worse emotionally and I made it my mission to bring them hope,” Cohen told JNS.

“Since I came back, I have been trying to do the same. I think what will give us hope and protection from our enemies is the unity of the people of Israel,” she said.

Cohen has been travelling to tell her story to Jewish communities around the world.

“They need to hear it from us, they can’t relate from watching television. Since I started going, we have been getting contributions and a lot of delegations of volunteers are coming to Israel to help,” she said.

In Israel, Cohen goes to weekly unity rallies for the release of the hostages, which she does as part of the coping and rebuilding processes.

“We can’t sit home in silence and fear. We need to go out and interact with secular and religious people, hear prayers, and hear the words of bereaved and hostage families. We can’t have unity from one day to the next but we can start to build back,” she said.

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