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Freed Hamas Hostage Describes ‘Spider’s Web’ of Tunnels Beneath Gaza

Janis Laizans/Reuters
Janis Laizans/Reuters

A hostage freed by Hamas described the nightmare she lived through after being abducted from her home in Israel and taken to a “spider’s web” of tunnels below Gaza.

Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, said Tuesday that she was beaten with sticks as she was taken by motorcycle from Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7. She was finally released along with her 79-year-old neighbor Nurit Cooper on Monday, making them just the third and fourth people of the more than 200 kidnapped by Hamas to be set free since the attacks began earlier this month. Lifshitz’s husband, 83, is still being held hostage.

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On Monday night, Hamas released a video appearing to show the moment Lifshitz and Cooper were released to representatives of the International Red Cross, according to the BBC. The footage shows Lifshitz confirming her age and name and, before leaving, turning to a masked Hamas militant, shaking his hand, and saying “shalom,” which means “peace.” Asked why she had extended such a gesture to one of her captors, Lifshitz said she did so “because they treated us very nicely.”

The pair’s release comes after American Judith Raanan, 59, and her 17-year-old daughter, Natalie, were freed Friday. The Ranaans say eight other members of their family are still being held by Hamas.

Speaking from a hospital in Tel Aviv where Lifshitz is now recovering on Tuesday morning, Lifshitz’s daughter Sharone helped to translate as Lifshitz told reporters she had been “through hell” over the course of the two weeks in which she was taken and held captive. “They went rampant in our kibbutz,” she said, according to Haaretz. “I was taken hostage. They laid me on a motorcycle and sped through a thicket.”

The Israeli grandmother said she was beaten along the way and struggled to breathe, adding that Hamas militants took her watch and jewelry. Lifshitz also criticized failures in security that allowed her abduction to take place. “They blew up the electronic fence, that special fence that cost $2.5 billion to build but didn’t help with anything,” she said. “Masses mobbed our homes. They beat people, took some hostage. They didn’t distinguish between young and elderly, it was very painful.”

She says she was taken to Hamas’ network of tunnels, which she likened to a spiderweb. “When we got there they told us that they are believers of the Quran, that they won’t harm us,” Lifshitz was quoted as saying.

Underground, Lifshitz said she first went through a tunnel into a large room containing about 25 people. After about two or three hours later, five people from her kibbutz were moved to a separate room. “They guarded us closely,” Lifshitz added.

According to the BBC, Lifshitz said there was a doctor and a paramedic underground in addition to her captors. She said the captives slept on mattresses on the floor in the tunnels below Gaza—which Lifshitz described as clean—and said a doctor visited them every two to three days. One captive who had been seriously injured in a motorbike accident en route to the tunnels was treated for his wounds, she said.

Lifshitz said hostages were given the same food as their captors: white cheese and cucumber. She also added that Hamas “took care of every detail” and even had women who knew about “feminine hygiene.”

Lifshitz’s daughter Sharone told reporters that her mother feels the “story’s not over until everybody comes back.” The scores of hostages still held by Hamas include Lifshitz’s husband, Oded Lifshitz, a journalist who has spent decades campaigning for the rights of Palestinians, according to the BBC. Together with his wife, Oded co-founded the kibbutz from which they were abducted and in recent years had volunteered for a group that transports sick Palestinians from Gaza to Israeli hospitals for treatment.

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Over a quarter of their kibbutz are considered dead or missing in the wake of the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, which claimed the lives of 1,400 Israelis in total, according to Israeli figures. The Israeli government—which continues to retaliate for the attacks with massive strikes that officials in Gaza say have killed more than 5,000 people—is now working to free the remaining hostages.

The U.S. has reportedly advised Israel to delay a ground invasion of Gaza to allow more time for hostage negotiations to take place and to allow humanitarian aid into the enclave, which is running desperately short of food, water, fuel, and medical supplies amid Israel’s siege.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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