When she woke up on Shabbat morning, Ayelet Svatitzky was surprised to hear her husband speaking on the phone. “There’s something happening,” he told her. “You need to call your mum now.”
It was only over the course of October 7 that the full horror of what had taken place at her mother's kibbutz, Nirim, became clear to her. The 46-year-old, who lives a two-hour drive north of Gaza with her three teenage children, was later to learn her mother, Channah Peri, had been taken by Hamas along with her older brother, Nadav Popplewell.
On Tuesday, Svatitzky spoke at the Israeli embassy in London on Tuesday alongside David Bar, a survivor of the terror raid whose sister-in-law was gunned down, and Ofri Bibas Levi, whose brother was kidnapped along with his wife and two young children.
The trio remains determined to inject a fresh urgency into the international effort to secure the release of over 200 hostages still trapped in Gaza.
After seeing messages on a Whatsapp group populated by her childhood friends still living on Kibbutz Nirim, where she grew up, Ayelet called her mother to warn her that terrorists had infiltrated Israel.
After rushing into her safe room, however, the 79-year-old discovered to her horror that it did not lock from the inside. The shelter, designed to protect from the regular rocket attacks from Gaza, was not suited to provide shelter from terrorist gunmen.
Ayelet then heard a man’s voice in the background, speaking English with an Arabic accent. She immediately hung up and called her brother Nadav, whose house was just seconds away, to warn him. As she instructed him to lock his doors and hide, she heard the same Palestinian voices in the background again, and the call disconnected.
The next she saw of her family were photos sent to her from her own mother’s phone, showing her in her nightwear standing alongside her son in her living room. Underneath text in English simply read: “Hamas.”
Since that day when she found out that her other brother Roi was shot and killed behind his house, she says, “Life has stopped”.
Having received no information about her family since those photos sent on October 7 she has spent her time chasing dental records and filing reports in an attempt to identify her brother’s corpse so it can be returned.
“I don’t have the privilege of breaking because I have a mission,” she insists.
Ofri Bibas Levi holds an image to showing her sister-in-law Shiri holding her children Ariel and Kfir as they are taken hostage from their home in Nir Oz by members of Hamas during the October 7 attack in Israel, during a press conference at Israel's Embassy in London, on October 24, 2023. (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images)
For Ofri Bibas Levi, the last 18 days have been “live living in a nightmare”. Her brother Jordan Bibas, his wife, Shiri, and their four-year-old son Ariel and nine-month-old baby boy Kfir all remain missing after being seized from Nir Oz.
Kfir and Ariel Bibas are carried by their aunt in the aftermath of Hamas's attack on Nir Oz, they remain kidnapped in Gaza
As the Hamas pogrom progressed, Levi received increasingly frantic texts detailing the threat faced by the Bibas’s kibbutz. Jordan had a loaded handgun ready to use, he said, but he could hear the attackers using automatic weapons.
“I love you,” he texted his family, but Levi could not say it back as she didn't want to accept that her brother would not be OK.
David Bar, holds a picture of his sister-in-law Naomi, during a press conference at Israel's Embassy in London, on October 24, 2023 (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images)
David Bar, a Leeds native who moved to Israel in 1981, said his life had been “turned upside down by hatred” after his sister-in-law Naomi was shot in the back and again at point-blank range in the head by Hamas terrorists.
But, he added, it is easier to bury loved ones than to go through the anguish of their kidnap.
The release of four elderly hostages by Hamas meanwhile, the three Israelis said, provided little relief. Hearing the news that some are due to be released and wondering who they are is “psychological torture,” Levi added.
The trio also agreed that the suffering of innocent civilians trapped in Gaza was deeply distressing amid their own sorrow.
“We have no quarrel with the Palestinian people,” Bar said. “My heart goes out to them… we won’t want to see bloodshed on either side.”