'He didn't make it to Israel alive... but he beat Hamas'

Mother of hostage killed by troops: ‘I wasn’t angry at the IDF for even a minute’

Iris Haim, whose son Yotam was accidentally slain by soldiers as he tried to escape captivity, says when she heard brigade morale was low, she sent a message to boost spirits

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Yotam Haim, left, and his mother, Iris Haim. Yotam was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, to Gaza. (Courtesy)
Yotam Haim, left, and his mother, Iris Haim. Yotam was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, to Gaza. (Courtesy)

Iris Haim, the mother of Hamas hostage Yotam Haim, who was shot dead by the IDF as he tried to reach freedom after troops mistook him and two others for Hamas operatives, said Monday that she bears no anger toward the military for his death.

“When they came to tell us the news… the truth is that I wasn’t angry at the IDF for even a minute, truly not, and my husband wasn’t either,” she told Channel 12 news in an interview.

“Not for one minute. There was pain, there was sadness, there was huge sadness about the fact that Yotam isn’t here, and we were in shock, total shock, but we weren’t angry.”

Yotam Haim and fellow Israeli hostages Alon Shamriz and Samar Talalka were shot dead by IDF troops who mistakenly identified them as a threat, on December 15, in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, when they emerged from a building shirtless and waving a white flag.

The incident is still under IDF investigation.

Haim said that many IDF soldiers and officials visited their home during the week-long shiva mourning period, as did wives and mothers of those fighting in Gaza, “and they told me, they whispered to me, that their morale was very low” after the accidental shooting.

Iris Haim, whose son Yotam was one of three hostages mistakenly shot dead by the IDF in Gaza on December 15, speaks to Channel 12 news on December 25, 2023 (Screenshot used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

“It was very hard for them, because of the incident, and I said immediately that I needed to say something to them.”

So Haim recorded a voice message sending love and support to the soldiers of the Bislamach Brigade’s 17th Battalion, who were involved in the tragic incident: “I know that everything that happened is absolutely not your fault, and nobody’s fault except that of Hamas,” she said in the message. “And don’t hesitate for a second if you see a terrorist,” she urged. “Don’t think that you killed a hostage deliberately. You have to look after yourselves because that’s the only way can you look after us.”

Iris, Raviv and Tuval Haim, at the funeral of Yotam Haim, a hostage mistakenly killed by the IDF in Gaza, in Kibbutz Gvulot, December 18, 2023. (Screenshot used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

She also invited the soldiers to come and visit the couple’s home so she could express similar sentiments in person.

“They came, and they told us what happened, and they cried together with us,” she said. “They’re young guys, wonderful, sweet, and I said the same things to them: ‘We don’t have any anger.’ Yotam, as far as we see it, went out on his own decision… He likely knew that he wouldn’t be greeted with a bouquet of flowers.”

Haim said the soldiers told her that they saw three figures, “and they couldn’t have known in one moment that they were hostages, they had no idea.” But she said she did not press for more details, “because to deal with what happened in the past doesn’t interest us.”

As far as she sees it, she said, “Yotam went free. He left Hamas captivity. Even if he didn’t make it to Israel alive, he was freed, and therefore he beat Hamas. And this was also important for me to tell the soldiers.”

“Maybe, I can even say, maybe, that Yotam chose deep inside him, that it would not be Hamas that killed him,” Iris suggested on TV. “It gives us some sort of closure.”

Haim recounted that she had been at the Channel 12 studio on December 15, ready to be interviewed, her makeup already done, when she was called to come home, and there received the news that her son had been killed.

Heavy metal drummer Yotam Haim was abducted from his home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7, 2023; the IDF Spokesman said he was killed in error by IDF forces in Shejaiya, when trying to escape, on December 15, 2023. (Courtesy)

She said that throughout all 70 days that Yotam was held in Hamas captivity she was certain that he was alive. She added that it took her and her family around 36 hours to understand that what had happened was “something that Yotam chose.”

Iris said they did not allow “what if?” questions about Yotam’s fate during the shiva period, “because we said, what difference would it make? The ‘what if’ is no longer relevant. If I stay in the ‘what if,’ what will I have left?”

Iris’s sentiments are not necessarily shared by the family members of all three hostages. Ido Shamriz, the brother of Alon Shamriz, said at his funeral: “You fled against all odds, and you did what you had to do in order to come home. My poor brother, what did you go through in those moments, when you had already seen the light, and it turned into darkness? The ones who abandoned you also murdered you, after you did everything right.”

His brother, Yonatan Shamriz, echoed the same sentiment in his own eulogy: “You came out of the tunnel to the open air, you could already see freedom, you did everything right, in the face of a ridiculous [IDF] chain of command, an irresponsible government, and a barbaric terror group, you overcame everything and you didn’t need anyone. You did everything right.”

Shamriz’s father Avi has said the IDF murdered him.

(From L-R) Hostages Yotam Haim, Samar Talalka and Alon Lulu Shamriz, who were killed mistakenly by IDF troops in Gaza on December 15, 2023. (Courtesy)

A relative of Talalka told the daily Haaretz that Samer “could have returned alive. I’m sure there was no intent to kill him, but they should have used better judgment… It’s not that he was murdered during the [October 7] massacre; he survived for 70 days and that wasn’t easy. I’m sure he was also hoping to return home.”

A military investigation into the accidental killing of the three escaped hostages found that one of them was recorded, on a camera carried by an IDF dog, days earlier shouting for help during a gun battle between troops and Hamas terrorists at a site where they were being held.

The new details from the probe, released last week, were the latest indication of how far hostages Shamriz, Haim and Talalka went to signal their identities to the IDF after they managed to escape captivity. Ultimately, they approached a group of soldiers, seeking to be rescued, but the soldiers fired as they came near, killing two of them; the third, apparently Haim, fled back into a building but was killed when he reemerged.

It is believed that 129 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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