In Israel, one woman still searching for news of six missing family members

October 12, 2023 - 3:03 PM
Israeli mourners attend the funerals of people who were slain in the assault on Israel by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip, at Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, October 11, 2023. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

Yifat Zailer wishes she could travel back in time to Friday.

On that day, the Tel Aviv resident was happy. Members of her close extended family were at their homes in the Nir Oz kibbutz, near the Gaza border.

Then Saturday came, and Hamas militants swarmed over the border.

Zailer started texting her family – her aunt, uncle, cousin, cousin’s husband and their two small children – to see what was happening. But after about 9 a.m., their messages stopped.

Nir Oz is one of the places attacked by Hamas fighters on Saturday morning. They breached the border fence enclosing Gaza, killing civilians in nearby Israeli towns and villages and abducting others to take back to Gaza as hostages.

Israeli forces pushed back, besieging Gaza, pounding it with air strikes and fighting militants still inside Israel.

Once they had taken back Nir Oz, the Israeli military went through the houses to look for survivors – but none of Zailer’s family has appeared.

She believes they are all being held in Gaza. A video shared with Zailer that Reuters has seen but not verified appears to shows Zailer’s cousin and two children being led away by armed men.

“Time is rushing,” said Zailer, who has her own baby close in age to her cousin’s. “There’s a 9-month-old baby and a 3-year-old child. And my aunt has Parkinson’s disease.”

“I don’t know if the baby was fed,” she said, tearing up. “I don’t know if he got his diaper… I really, I want to go back to Friday. You know, I want to close my eyes, and this was all a nightmare.”

“I want them back. We all want our family back.”

Reporting by Thomas Holdstock in Gdansk; Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Cynthia Osterman