Family pleads for ceasefire deal as Israeli hostage turns 84 in Gaza

Left-wing activist Oded Lifshitz defended Bedouins against expulsion from Rafah in the 1970s

Oded Lifshitz, 84, and his wife Yocheved, 85, were taken hostage from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7. Photo: supplied
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Every week before he was taken prisoner, Oded Lifshitz travelled 40km from his home in Kibbutz Nir Oz to the Erez checkpoint connecting Israel with Gaza.

It was here that the 84-year-old collected Palestinian cancer patients for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

The left-wing journalist, a longtime writer for the Al Hamishmar newspaper, is familiar with Gaza. In 1972, he led a movement to protect Bedouin residents of Rafah from Israeli expulsion to the Sinai.

His grandson, Daniel Lifshitz, has not heard from him in the seven months since he was taken hostage, with his wife Yocheved, into Gaza on October 7.

“My grandfather is 84 years old tomorrow, it will be 217 days,” he told The National from Paris on Friday. “It's unimaginable for such an old man, he should be unconditionally released. I can't understand why he's still there.”

Yocheved, 85, was released from Gaza in late October and said she went “through hell”.

Her family says she has now physically recovered but is unable to mentally recover while her husband is still being held.

“My grandmother thought she had been there for six months,” Daniel said. “The hostages will think they have been there for two years – it's been 217 [days], but it feels like 651 to them.”

“She only succeeded in recovering and gaining weight after six months. Mentally she's all the time thinking about her time inside the tunnels and the people that she's been with there.”

Still in captivity

Out of 250 hostages taken into Gaza on October 7, 128 are still being held in the enclave.

Several bodies of Israelis killed on October 7 are among this figure, and at least another 36 are presumed dead.

In October, the UK's National Union of Journalists called for Oded's release, saying he had worked “for decades” for peace, and was one of the first journalists to report on the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982.

“All his life, he helped minorities, starting with the Bedouins in Rafah in 1972,” Daniel said. “He prevented the army from sealing the wells, so their sheep would have water. In 1984, he went to Gaza to speak with [former mayor] Rashad Al Shawwa to talk about Gaza's education.”

Israel's southern kibbutz communities are known for being typically more left-wing than other parts of Israel, and several prominent peace activists were victims of the Hamas attack, which killed an estimated 1,200 people.

Among them was Vivian Silver, a resident of Kibbutz Be'eri, and founder of Women Wage Peace and the Arab-Jewish Centre for Equality, Empowerment and Co-operation.

“I have so many friends, so many people that were always people of peace. We have no information. Bring information – tell us who's alive. That is a big thing preventing this deal from happening: there is no information,” Daniel said.

Daniel, who has been active in Israeli rallies demanding a ceasefire deal, says the little information they have on his grandfather has come from hostages released as part of a brief truce in November.

“I don't know anything about my grandfather. I'm very worried about his health, if he's alive or not. We have no information.”

A female hostage who was released in November told the family she tended to elderly hostages, changing diapers they wore, and saw Mr Lifshitz faint.

“After that, they took him away, and we have no information on him.”

Mr Lifshitz is one of several elderly people being held in Gaza.

Shlomo Mansour, 86, is the eldest and is a survivor of the Farhud, a pogrom that took place against Iraq's Jews in 1941.

Fourteen people over the age of 70 are currently being held hostage, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum told The National.

Several families have demanded medicine and Red Cross visits for sick relatives, including Alex Dancyg, a Holocaust scholar at Yad Vashem who requires heart medication.

Daniel says his grandfather is in urgent need of medication for blood pressure and a lung infection.

“We know he hasn't got them, and I don't think he can survive without them.”

'End this situation'

Months of Qatari and Egyptian-led efforts to negotiate a ceasefire in Gaza have borne little fruit.

Hamas has said any agreement must include a complete end to the war – which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected.

Earlier this week, hopes of a temporary end to the bloodshed soared after Hamas announced it had agreed to a ceasefire deal, hours after Israel ordered some 100,000 Palestinians to leave eastern parts of Rafah.

Palestinians of all ages were seen celebrating in the streets, but a final deal has yet to be reached – with continued air strikes and larger number of Palestinians forced to flee north.

“We saw a lot of celebration in the streets in Gaza, which shows how much the Palestinians want the agreement,” Daniel said.

“I'm sure my grandfather is very sorry and very sad about the situation, which has so much suffering for both sides, and so much suffering for the Palestinians.”

All sides party to the negotiations must do more to secure the release of the elderly, sick and injured, including his grandfather, he said.

“How is it possible that we are still talking about this? Just release them and bring them back to their homes. End this situation.”

“Both sides have to take actions have to be reasonable have to understand how to change the situation – they have to have to sit at the negotiation table and not leave. The end of the war is downriver to the release of the hostages.”

He thanked the US, Qatar and Egypt for taking the lead in negotiations – but said they must also “do more.”

“They can't leave the negotiation table until they bring a deal that ends the war and releases all the hostages.”

Updated: May 11, 2024, 7:16 PM