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Freed SA hostages grapple with the reality back home



One of the first things Channah Peri, 79, insisted on doing after her release from Hamas captivity was to visit her beloved son, Roi’s, grave.

Peri, who grew up in South Africa before making aliya, sat by her son’s graveside for the first time earlier this week and wept. Roi Popplewell, 54, was buried while Peri was a hostage in Gaza with no idea that her son had been brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists near her home on Kibbutz Nirim.

She spent the time in captivity not knowing whether he had managed to escape the terrorist attack, and heard upon her release from captivity that he had been shot and killed.

Peri who was born Denise Adele Levy in Johannesburg, but grew up in parts of the Cape, is one of two elderly South African-born hostages released this week by Hamas. Their release follows almost two months in captivity since they and 238 others were taken hostage into Gaza following a deadly massacre on 7 October that took place in the south of Israel killing 1 200 innocent civilians and wounding thousands of others.

The other hostage, released two days later on 26 November, is Aviva Siegel, 62, born Adrienne Kuritzky. She grew up with her twin sister, Fiona Wax, and their younger sister, Sandy Feldman, in Randfontein on the West Rand before making aliya.

Her American born husband, Keith, remains a captive.

The two women were released as part of a temporary ceasefire deal brokered by Qatar and the United States between Hamas and Israel.

Peri continues to weep for her other son, Nadav Popplewell, 51, who was taken hostage with her and remains in Gaza. Both Keith and Nadav’s names haven’t yet appeared on the list of names of those due to be released. The two women, who until now only had their birthplace in common find the tapestry of their lives woven with a shared thread of tragic and worrying circumstances as they wait for the names of their loved ones to be placed on a list.

“My mom is ok. She’s very weak,” said Peri’s daughter Ayelet Svatitsky. Both her mother and her brother, Nadav, have diabetes.

“She wasn’t fed well. Mentally she’s with us 100% and has a good memory. Emotionally, it’s very complicated. Her one son has been murdered, her other son is kidnapped. It’s overwhelming, it’s very difficult,” she told the SA Jewish Report.

Though Svatitsky is immensely relieved and grateful for her mother’s return, she said their lives have been turned upside down.

“Everything is so hectic. There’s so much to take care of. My mother needs physiotherapy, her diet is important now as she was fed really small amounts of food and given no medication while she was being held. This needs to start again to stabilise her. Her house is ok, but it’s not as if you can just drive there, the area is closed off. She has nothing. She was given a pair of shoes at the hospital, but she needs a whole new wardrobe.”

Svatitsky is relieved to know that her mother was with Nadav the entire time.

“They were together in a tunnel. We’re hoping my brother will be released soon,” she said.

In Siegel’s case, the couple were seen being driven out of Kibbutz Kfar Aza in Keith’s car.

It’s understood they were together during their captivity.

Aviva’s sister-in-law and close friend, Sheli Siegel, who also grew up in Johannesburg, told the SA Jewish Report this week that the family was elated about Aviva’s release.

“It’s amazing to see Aviva, she’s so strong,” she said. “On the one hand, we’re so relieved to have Aviva with us, but it’s hard as well because my husband’s brother is still being held hostage. It’s an emotional time.”

She said close family members played musical chairs at the hospital, taking turns to hug and embrace her.

“They have emptied out a whole ward for hostages, and people have been amazing. It has been traumatic on all of us. It’s just going to take time,” she said.

She said the family’s hearts sink when they don’t see Keith’s name on the list of names of potential hostages to be released.

“We’re just going to have to wait and hope that it’s not going to be a long wait,” she said.

Aviva’s first cousin, Bev Solomon, who lives in Johannesburg, told the SA Jewish Report that all Aviva wanted to do was hug her family and hold them close.

“That’s all she wants to do,” said Solomon.

“We’re so happy to have Aviva home. I can’t imagine what she and Keith went through wondering if their one son who lives on their kibbutz managed to escape or not. Fortunately, he did, and she was overwhelmed to see him. She’s doing well. This isn’t a quick fix. This is going to take a long time,” she said.

The Siegels have four adult children and five grandchildren. The family have taken turns at her bedside during her hospital stay.

Israeli social workers have asked members of the hostages’ families to not ask too many questions but rather allow the victims to talk in their own time.

Telfed Chief Executive Dorron Kline told the SA Jewish Report that from what he could tell, both Peri and Siegel were relieved.

“Telfed is elated with their return. We’re in touch with both families. Telfed provided assistance to the two families during the terrible period of Hamas incarceration, and we’ll continue our close contact with the families now that Channah and Aviva have returned home. We still await Nadav and Keith. The saga isn’t yet over.”

So far, 81 hostages held in Gaza have been released. Sixty Israeli women and children were freed as part of the ceasefire agreement, while a Russian-Israeli man not included in the deal was also freed by Hamas. Nineteen Thai hostages and one Filipino were released as part of a separate deal between Hamas and the Egyptian government.

Prior to the deals struck with Hamas, a further four Israeli hostages were released and another was freed by Israeli forces.

On Tuesday, 28 November, 10 Israeli and two Thai hostages were freed by Hamas.

Under the exchange, 180 Palestinian prisoners have been released from Israeli jails plus hundreds of trucks of humanitarian aid, medical supplies, and fuel have been allowed into Gaza.

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