ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Be’eri community shouts for joy as kibbutz’s Gaza hostages make their way home

‘I was so happy when I was told last night that Amit was coming home, now I’m really impatient to see him,’ says grandmother of 16-year-old Amit Shani, released on Wednesday

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Simcha Shani, grandmother of Amit Shani, hugs her grandson’s other grandparents Musa and Dahlia Weissman after receiving news that Amit Shani has been released from captivity in Gaza, November 30, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)
Simcha Shani, grandmother of Amit Shani, hugs her grandson’s other grandparents Musa and Dahlia Weissman after receiving news that Amit Shani has been released from captivity in Gaza, November 30, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)

After hours of anxious waiting, dozens of members of Kibbutz Be’eri shouted for joy Wednesday night as they watched footage of six hostages from their kibbutz among 10 coming home to Israel after being held captive in Gaza by Hamas for the last 54 days.

Initial reports of a “technical delay” turned into an enervating wait, with many scrolling nervously on their phones for news as they waited in the Dead Sea hotel where they had been staying since their evacuation from the front-line kibbutz.

When the news finally came after eleven o’clock at night that the hostages were on their way home, the hotel lounge, where a giant screen was set up to show the broadcast, erupted in whoops, cheers and applause.

Of the 10 Israeli citizens released Wednesday night under the hostage release agreement with Hamas, six were from Kibbutz Be’eri, including Liam Or, 18, Yarden Roman, 36, Raaya Rotem, 54, Amit Shani, 16, and Gali Tarshansky, 13 and Raz Ben Ami, 57.

As the names of the six hostages were read out in the news broadcast, they each got a huge round of applause, with an especially loud cheer for Rotem who had been separated from her young daughter Hila in a breach of the agreement with Hamas, when the 13-year-old was released earlier this week.

Amit Shani’s three grandparents were watching along with everyone else in the hotel lounge, and hugged each other with delight when they saw their grandson had been released.

Members of Kibbutz Be’eri watch the news anxiously at the David Hotel by the Dead Sea where they have been evacuated, awaiting to hear if hostages, including six from their kibbutz, are on their way home to Israel, November 29, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon/The Times of Israel)

Simcha Shani, one of Amit’s grandmothers, said she was “so happy” to see her grandson on his way back to Israel.

“I didn’t believe we’d get to this moment. I was so happy when I was told last night that Amit was coming home and I’m really impatient to see him now,” she said.

“The last 53 days were very difficult, every day was so sad. At the beginning there was no talk even of negotiations. We were so worried, because he’s a very sensitive kid, he’s delicate and sweet.

“We didn’t know how he could survive something like this, and today I think to myself ‘what has he gone through mentally, where will he be.’”

Israeli hostages released on November 29, 2023: Top L-R: Raz Ben Ami, Yarden Roman, Liat Atzili, Moran Stela Yanai; middle: Liam Or, Itay Regev, Ofir Engel, Amit Shani; bottom: Gali Tarshansky, Raaya Rotem, Yelena Trupanov, and her mother Irena Tati. (Courtesy: combination image/Times of Israel)

Sharon Segev, one of those gathered to watch the release, said the nerve-racking wait had been “very difficult but worth it,” while castigating Hamas for what she said was its “psychological warfare” against the families and friends of the captives they had abducted.

Earlier, Omer Waiss, the son of Yehudit and Shmuel Waiss who were both slain by Hamas terrorists on October 7, said the mistreatment of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza meant they needed to be brought home “as quickly as possible” for the sake of their health and their lives.

Omer Waiss, his wife Zemer, and two-year old son Amit await news of the release of hostages from Kibbutz Be’eri, November 29, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)

“We are very worried. We know time is against the hostages because neither the Red Cross or anyone else is taking care of them, no one is seeing them, they’re not getting enough food, they’re not being treated properly, there are elderly people there and they’re not getting what they need, they don’t see the light of day,” said Waiss.

He described Hamas as “despicable monsters” and “subhumans” for the crimes they committed on October 7 and against the hostages, and describes the weeks since that date as “one long nightmare.”

Waiss’s father Shmuel was murdered on October 7 and his mother Yehudit was taken captive. Waiss said the family believes Yehudit was taken hostage alive, but her body was discovered during the IDF ground invasion close to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

“It is impossible come to terms with the fact that I am now an orphan, that I will never see my parents again or friends that I love.”

Racheli Benacot, whose sister was murdered during the terror assault and whose brother was killed fighting the Hamas terrorists on the kibbutz, said she and the Be’eri community were incredibly happy that some of the kibbutz’s hostages would be coming home.

But she said that happiness was marred by sadness “for those who are no longer, and for those still in Gaza,” who they are still waiting, hoping and expecting to come home.

“This is a deal with Satan,” Benacot said of the hostage release agreement with Hamas. “But in the end they are our people and we sanctify life and not death, so we want them back with us alive.”

Racheli Benacot and her daughter Geva at the David Hotel in Ein Boqek, November 29, 2023 (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)

Benacot said that she would oppose any permanent ceasefire, saying the kibbutz members would refuse to return to their home “unless Hamas is wiped out” and they can live in security.

“None of the southern towns could go back. It would mean giving up on our home, our roots, our history, giving up on part of the country, it would be to give up on Zionism.”

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