Freed hostage describes abduction, entering ‘spiderweb’ of tunnels; speaks warmly of her captors

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, speaks to reporters at Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv after being freed from Hamas captivity on October 24, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)
Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, speaks to reporters at Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv after being freed from Hamas captivity on October 24, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)

Her voice barely a whisper, released Hamas hostage Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, describes at a widely attended press conference outside Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital how the terror organization took her by motorcycle from Kibbutz Nir Oz to the Gaza Strip on October 7 and into a “spiderweb” of tunnels.

“I went through a hell that we’d never imagined. They rampaged through the kibbutz,” she says. She derides Israel’s costly border fence, which the terrorists “blew up… It was no help at all… A mob converged” on the kibbutz. Some 180 of the kibbutz’s 400 residents were killed or abducted, according to the New York Times.

“I was taken, with my legs on one side and my head on the other” of the motorcycle, the wheelchair-bound woman says, and her abductors “flew through the fields” back toward Gaza. En route, she says, she was beaten with sticks, “not breaking my ribs” but “hurting me badly and making it hard for me to breathe.”

The terrorists removed her watch and jewelry and then forced her to walk through fields before reaching a tunnel network, which she described as similar to “a spiderweb.”

Her daughter Sharone kneels next to her to help make her voice heard, repeat some of her remarks and translate her account into English.

Once in captivity, Lifschitz says, she passed through a tunnel and arrived in a large hall where about 25 other hostages were gathered. (Some 220 hostages are believed to be held in Gaza in total.) “They told us they believe in the Quran and would not harm us, that they would give us the same conditions as they have in the tunnels,” she says of her captors.

After about 2-3 hours, she and about 4 other hostages from Kibbutz Nir Oz were taken into a separate room.

“A medic and a doctor came,” she says. They were put on mattresses. The doctor returned every couple of days, and the medic arranged for medicines. “The treatment towards us was good,” she says, describing how the medic treated another of the hostages who was injured. She says her captors made sure the conditions were sanitary. “They cleaned the toilets, not us,” she says. “They were afraid of contagion.”

Asked about conversations with the captors, she says “they tried” to converse; “we told then, no politics… We didn’t answer them [on politics]. They talked about all kinds of things. They were very friendly to us.”

“They took care of all of our needs; this must be said to their credit,” she repeats. “We ate what they did,” she says, describing meals with pita, cheeses and cucumber.

She says “the lack of knowledge by the IDF and Shin Bet” about what Hamas was planning “hurt us badly. We were the scapegoats.” The signs were there ahead of the onslaught, including balloons flown over the border to set fire to kibbutz fields. “And the IDF, somewhere, didn’t take it seriously. And suddenly on Shabbat morning, when everything was quiet, there was very heavy shelling on the communities, and along with the shelling, the mob burst in, [easily] burst through the [border] fence… opened the gate of the kibbutz and broke in en masse. It was very unpleasant, very hard. My memory keeps replaying those pictures.”

She is asked why she shook hands, apparently with one of her captors, when she was transferred to a Red Cross ambulance, and repeats again that they was treated with “sensitivity.”

The organizers of the press conference are now trying to bring it to a close, but Lifshitz speaks some more.

She said her captors had plainly prepared long ahead for holding hostages, and even had shampoo and conditioner for them.

She says, incorrectly, “Israel announced that it has 900 dead, but they have 1,000 or more.”

Lifshitz’s husband Oded, 83, remains in Hamas captivity. Channel 12 says Yocheved has indicated that she does not know his status or condition.

Her daughter Sharone says “it’s wonderful” to have her mother back.

“My mom is very much hoping that all the people who were with her will come back,” Sharone adds.

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