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The day life froze for hostages’ family

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“I want you to think of her like a little child who was taken from her bed still in her pyjamas on 7 October,” said Sasha Ariev, speaking about her younger sister, Karina Ariev, a 19-year-old who is one of the 239 Israeli hostages who have been held in Gaza since 7 October.

She and Yuval Bar-On, the son-in-law of South African-born Adrienne and Keith Siegel, spoke on a South African Zionist Federation webinar on 13 November about loved ones who were forced across the border to Gaza and have been held for almost six weeks.

Ariev gave a blow-by-blow account of what she knew happened to her sister. “She called me early in the morning and said rockets were being fired towards Israel, but that she was okay and in the bomb shelter,” she said.

“After a few minutes, she called and said something was wrong, and there was a terrorist raid,” Ariev said. In the background of the call, Ariev could hear Arabic dialect and the shooting of weapons. The last message that she received from her sister was, “If I don’t make it out alive, please be happy in your life. Take care of mom and dad. Don’t think in sorrow, please live.”

Ariev said all she could think of at the time was that “this is my little sister who I need to protect. She’s the one telling me these harsh words from far away, and I cannot help her.”

That evening, Ariev saw a video on a Telegram channel and immediately recognised her sister in a vehicle with some terrorists. Karina’s face was covered in blood, but the family had confirmation that she was alive,” she said.

“All we know is that she was kidnapped to Gaza. It has been so long, and we’re in complete darkness. We’re aching every second of every day not knowing what’s going on with them. We don’t know anything, just that they were kidnapped to Gaza.

“We don’t know if they are getting medical attention or if they are above or below ground,” said Ariev. “We’ve lost so much since 7 October so for us as a nation to be able to bring them home is our opportunity to build ourselves and become strong again,” she said.

To the deniers of the attacks, Ariev said, “If you want to know the truth, ask us, the people who have to live through it every day. It’s not about countries or religions anymore. It’s about pure souls who were taken and murdered.

“This is a crime against humanity. Hamas terrorists didn’t just shoot and kill people, they continued to do horrific things to the bodies of the deceased. They committed atrocious things, they put a baby in an oven while its mother watched,” she said. “It’s cruel, evil, and inhuman. Who can think about doing these things? Yet, it was done, and it was filmed for the world to see,” Ariev said. “Please don’t forget her name. Please don’t forget that there’s a girl named Karina. I cannot be the only one to remember my sister,” she said.

Bar-On said that on the morning of 7 October, he and his wife, Shir, were also woken up by a phone call to say that rockets were being fired from Gaza. “They were updating us every 15 to 20 minutes that everything was okay and that they were in the safe room. This lasted for about two hours, and then at 10:15, we lost communication with them,” Bar-On said.

He was hopeful that they were silent because of a dead cellphone battery and/or a lack of signal, and that they were okay. Bar-on and his wife kept hoping that the Siegels were in their safe room waiting to be rescued. Stories started coming in of neighbours and other people in the kibbutz being rescued while Bar-On and his family were waiting on tenterhooks. After pulling some strings with the military, Bar-On was able to speak to an officer, and was told that they had arrived at the house, but no-one was there, even in the safe room.

“We were told by someone that they were seen by a neighbour being taken at gunpoint. We also received a message from the Israeli authorities confirming that they had been kidnapped based on eyewitnesses and other means, including a video from Hamas’ Telegram channel.

“For a few seconds at the end of the video, you can see them being taken in a car crossing the Gaza border,” said Bar-On. “This video gave us hope. They were seen taken alive and not wounded. But this was more than five weeks ago. We’re in complete darkness. We don’t know their status, where they are being held, or if they are alive. It’s a nightmare. We thank G-d every day that they weren’t slaughtered, but at the same time, we don’t know how or where they are,” Bar-On said.

He said that more than half of the people present at the webinar could have been taken by Hamas. The state of Israel, Bar-On pointed out, was founded on the premise of “Never again” so Jewish people could be secure. “The Jewish people have nowhere else to go, nowhere to be completely safe except for Israel, but on 7 October, that trust was broken, and many people don’t feel safe in their home country. They are still there, and we can be saved. This thing is binary, either they are here, or they are not. If they are not it feels like we’re failing them. We’re doing everything we can to bring them back and to do it quickly,” Bar-On said.

While on the call, Bar-On was on his way home from visiting the Knesset, at which a group of hostages’ family members had said that their biggest fear was that Israel would go back to routine and the hostages wouldn’t be a priority. “For us and many others, life froze on 7 October. It’s our obligation to make sure that the world doesn’t go back to normal until all the hostages are back home,” he said.

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