“There are terrorists attacking, they caught me”: the story of a young Israeli kidnapped in Gaza | International

“There are terrorists attacking, they caught me”: the story of
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Shirit Yerushalmi holds a sign featuring the image of her daughter, Eden Yerushalmi, last Tuesday at her home in Tel Aviv.Luis De Vega Hernandez

“Shani, they caught me,” Eden Yerushalmi whispered to her older sister over the phone on the morning of October 7 as she was captured by militants during the unprecedented attack carried out that day by Hamas. They were the last seconds of nearly four hours of conversations in which the young woman told her family live about the hell she was experiencing at the Supernova festival, where 260 people were murdered and several dozen were kidnapped. One of them is Eden Yerushalmi herself, whose incredible adventures have been reconstructed by her mother, Shirit, and her uncle, Guy Izhaki, in the family residence in Tel Aviv. They have not heard anything about her since then, not if she is injured, not who is holding her, not where. There are 43 days of absolute silence.

Several thousand people, including relatives of those hostages, arrived in Jerusalem on Saturday afternoon after five days on foot from Tel Aviv to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a speech delivered to the country at the last minute, the president, increasingly questioned by the war, said that there will be an agreement to free them.

The 49-year-old mother has perfectly numbered the days without her daughter, who turned 24 on October 14, already captive somewhere in the Strip. Shirit visualizes the moment when she walks through the door of the house again, so she maintains hope. Although there is a team of volunteers that looks after the needs of the families of the around 240 hostages held by Palestinian militiamen, the process in the midst of so much uncertainty is being “long and hard.” It is difficult for her to relive her last conversation with her daughter, that day when a young waitress saw how two of her friends were murdered, she tried to hide and ended up kidnapped.

On Saturday, Eden was to work alongside Dorin and Lior as waitresses at the event, which was held over the weekend in Reim, about five kilometers from Gaza. The three traveled on Friday afternoon to enjoy the music and stay there. At half past six in the morning, Shirit received the first phone call. “Mom, they are attacking with missiles and this is suspended. I'm coming home,” she warned. An hour later, the second. “There are terrorists attacking,” she described through tears. The shots were constantly heard in the background while her mother tried to calm her down, she told her that she was sure they were soldiers who had come to her rescue. Quite the opposite.

The three friends managed to reach the car and hide inside. In the midst of that horror, the attackers riddled the vehicle. Dorin and Lior died, while Eden was left unharmed under their bodies. She was narrating everything through her cell phone, until she ran out of battery. She then continued to communicate, almost all the time with her sister Shani, 25 years old, thanks to one of the phones of her murdered friends. “I feel the blood dripping on me,” she said between her whispers, not daring to escape.

Eden Yerushalmi, in an image provided by her family.
Eden Yerushalmi, in an image provided by her family.

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After an hour and a half, someone opened the car door. She thought they were coming to rescue her, but no, it was another festival goer looking for shelter. They both decided to run away, each one on her side. Eden ended up crouching among a grove of trees. The family, on the phone, followed every movement from home. The young woman described what she could see: armed men everywhere, shooting everyone they could. She said that some were dressed in uniforms like those of the Israeli army, but she had no doubt that they were attackers. Around 11:00, the siege tightens on her and the militiamen discover her, as recorded in the recording that her sister Shani made of her and that she provided to EL PAÍS.

That's where the life of the whole family stopped. They cling to the young woman's courage and determination, trusting that she will manage to return home and regain the rhythm of her life. They know that she fell into the hands of her captors without having been injured and that, to a certain extent, reassures them, although they do not have any proof of life since that abrupt end of the telephone conversation. They don't even know if it is in the hands of Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Palestinian civilians. If she is with Hamas, the family wants to think she will be with other hostages. If she is guarded by civilians, it will be easier for her to be alone.

That October 7, radical Islamists killed around 1,200 people in Israeli territory and kidnapped around 240 to Gaza in the worst attack suffered by Israel in its 75-year history. Immediately, the current war broke out. The Israeli military operation by land, sea and air that has already cost the lives of more than 12,000 people in the Palestinian enclave on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Sitting on a sofa, Shirit, a petite woman who smiles from time to time when remembering her daughter, keeps glancing at the poster with Eden's photo that she has left on the table. The young woman worked as a waitress while she was training to be a Pilates instructor. At the same time, she enjoyed life. She went to the beach, she partied, she traveled. On Sunday the 8th she had tickets to visit Greece for a few days. This year she had spent a month in Mexico and next March she planned to travel to India for a few weeks. The photo of the poster that her mother looks at so much was taken during a visit to the Sinai desert (Egypt). “She was not someone who wasted time,” her uncle emphasizes with a smile.

The mother barely eats, barely sleeps. The person who tells it is Liat Blumenfeld, a 27-year-old lawyer. She is just three more than Eden. The lawyer is part of the 400 volunteers who work for a control center that the Israeli Government launched after the attack to provide assistance to the families of those kidnapped and missing and which brings together three branches. “One for intelligence, which collects information about the hostages and is responsible for transmitting it to the families; one on social affairs and media, which provides information to the media and supports families; and a legal one.” Blumenfeld belongs to this. She is the liaison with the Israeli Executive. She fills out forms, she takes care of the bureaucracy, she will try to get them access to a benefit for people affected by war. This is not the case, but there are households that even need a roof, after their house was damaged during the attack. The goal is for each family to always interact with the same team: two soldiers, two social workers, a lawyer.

The lawyer Liat Blumenfeld, photographed in Madrid.
The lawyer Liat Blumenfeld, photographed in Madrid. Santi Burgos

On October 16, the army went to Eden's mother's house to inform them that the young woman was considered missing. Three days later, they returned to consider her kidnapped. “We understand that they do not offer us any details at the level of intelligence, nor the conditions in which she may be, nor the place, nor anything,” comments the young woman's uncle, Guy Izhaki, 51 years old. The family has preferred to remain isolated, they do not investigate social networks, they do not watch the news. But they do know that Eden's circle of friends has been looking for any trace of the young woman. Other hostages do appear in videos that were recorded on October 7. Here, nothing.

Hope and uncertainty

Blumenfeld explains that, precisely for this reason, the case is very difficult. Although in reality they all are. The lawyer traveled to Madrid for personal reasons, but she decided to contact the Israeli Embassy to tell Eden's story. She remembers the first time she saw her parents, she says they give her hope. “The father is a builder, the mother is employed at the Israeli postal company. But now they can't work. They are constantly thinking about the moment when they will see their daughter again. “They have bought the things that they think she may need when she returns home,” says the lawyer.

In Tel Aviv, every Friday, members of the army come to the family home. There are weeks when they visit them twice. Nothing can put an end, however, to this uncertainty that weighs so much that it crushes. Although Shirit always tries to think positively. She understands that her daughter must be very scared, but, at the same time, she wants to think that Eden knows that her family is constantly thinking about her, that he does not leave her alone and that she waits for them to come and save her. . There are families of hostages who have been very critical of the Israeli Government and its campaign of air strikes in Gaza. Shirit trusts the Executive and the military to bring her daughter back home. Her brother Guy understands that “both are doing the best they know how” in the face of the apparent contradiction of the need to put an end to Hamas and, at the same time, free the hostages.

In Shirit's mind, images of her daughter coexist with the families of Eden's friends who were murdered. Shirit was able to accompany Dorin's mother during the mourning ceremony that, according to Jewish tradition, takes place a week after her death. But in this time she has barely left her family home. Except for Thursday. Thanks to a permit from the army, Shirit went with Eden's father, Nador, and her other two daughters to the exact point in that forest near where the Supernova festival was held and where the young woman was kidnapped. “I want to go to that place, feel my daughter,” she explained before making the visit. Eden sent them the location with the Google Maps application through the phone. There they heard it for the last time. They just hope to hear her voice again.

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