'My father is Nir Oz and Nir Oz is my father,' says son Rotem

Musicians read, sing and strum to poems of hostage Amiram Cooper, 84, as worries mount

Kibbutz Nir Oz family invites singers Ehud Banai and Micha Shitrit to Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square event for their relative, hoping to raise awareness of worsening plight

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Ehud Banai at an event for hostage Amiram Cooper of Kibbutz Nir Oz, on January 1, 2024 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Ehud Banai at an event for hostage Amiram Cooper of Kibbutz Nir Oz, on January 1, 2024 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

In 2018, musician Ehud Banai performed at the barn at Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel, where he delightedly rode in on a tractor. He returned the following year.

Those performances deeply touched him, which he wrote about in a personal obituary for Aviv Atzili, a Nir Oz mechanic and artist who had arranged Banai’s tractor ride. Atzili was killed in the devastating Hamas onslaught of October 7, which ravaged Nir Oz, about a third of whose residents were either murdered or abducted to the Gaza Strip.

On Monday afternoon, Banai stepped up on one of the cement platforms at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square, guitar in hand, and read and strummed along to the poems of Amiram Cooper, 84, one of the two oldest of the hostages still being held by terrorists in Gaza after 88 days.

“I really don’t forget those performances. There’s something emotional and strengthening about them, inside a garage,” Banai said, speaking to a crowd of several hundred people. “It was after one of the performances that Amiram Cooper came to me and gave me his book of poems, inscribed by him.”

Cooper’s family — including his wife of decades, Nurit Cooper, also taken hostage and then released after 17 days of captivity in Gaza — was in the audience, along with Nir Oz friends, neighbors and other supporters who gathered to surround and empower the family as their agonizing wait continues.

The Coopers were brutally taken from their Nir Oz home on the morning of October 7, and held together in an underground room with five other kibbutz members for the first 17 days of the war.

When Nurit Cooper arrived home and later when dozens of other hostages were freed in a weeklong pause in fighting, the family learned that the couple had been kept together with others, and that Cooper had tried to converse with the Hamas guards.

They also found out that Cooper, who suffers from high blood pressure, thyroid issues and ulcers and had been having stomach pains before October 7, was suffering in captivity.

Screen capture from undated propaganda video released by the Hamas terror group on December 18, 2023 shows (L-R) Amiram Cooper, Chaim Peri, and Yoram Metzger, three Israelis held hostage since October 7 in the Gaza Strip. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Then a Hamas propaganda video was released on December 18, showing three older Israeli hostages, and Cooper was one of them.

“He looked weak and it took me a second to even recognize him,” said his son, Rotem Cooper. “[Fellow hostage] Chaim [Peri] was speaking and I did a double take when I realized it was my father next to him.”

Seeing Cooper alive helped the family, which was told the video was made a week before it was released, several weeks after the last testimonials they had had about him.

“It’s Hamas admitting, ‘we’ve got him and he’s alive,'” said Rotem Cooper. “But emotionally, it’s extremely hard to see your father in this state. He’s like a pawn in a cruel game.”

Rotem Cooper, an engineer, lives in San Diego and was born and raised in Nir Oz. He’s been traveling back and forth to Israel to support his mother and family, while also liaising with the US government.

“The whole goal is to keep the hostages front and center. It must be the number one issue, every hour, every day and you can’t normalize the situation,” he said. “That’s why we do things like this,” pointing at the makeshift stage.

Amiram Cooper was taken captive by Hamas terrorists to Gaza from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

His father Amiram — or simply “Cooper,” as he is known — is an economist and a poet, “a romantic, a man of ideas,” said Rotem Cooper, as he introduced the performance and spoke of his father, who has written three books of poetry and one for children.

Cooper is a grandfather of nine and father of three who always writes rhymes and verses for his loved ones’ birthdays and special moments.

He is also an economist who worked for many years as the chief economist of the Ma’on region settlements, and a Haifa native who has always seen the establishment of Nir Oz and the settlement of the Western Negev as his life’s mission.

“My father is Nir Oz and Nir Oz is my father,” said Rotem Cooper.

The family has set up a table in the Tel Aviv square with Cooper’s books, some handed out for free with a suggested donation, and others for a fee, all funds going to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. It was one of Cooper’s books of poems that Banai read from onstage, including a love song addressed to Nurit Cooper.

Banai was followed by singer Micha Shitrit, who composed music to another one of Cooper’s poems and sang it, along with another of his own ballads.

Cooper’s daughter and grandchildren read his poems as well.

Family members of hostage Amiram Cooper, including his wife, Nurit at the microphone, of Kibbutz Nir Oz at a Hostages Square event on January 1, 2024 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“He makes me happy when I feel sad, makes me feel better when I’m alone,” said one grandson, reading from the book.

“I like to sleep at Saba’s and drink warm milk, and on birthdays he writes rhymes,” read Cooper’s granddaughter, while Cooper’s daughter recited a poem about the tawny cat that her father was inspired by while babysitting one of his grandchildren.

Nurit and Amiram Cooper were taken hostage to Gaza on October 7, 2023 — here they’re pictured with a grandson before the October 7 attacks, and a photo of Nurit and her grandson after she was released following 49 days of captivity (Courtesy)

The surviving Nir Oz residents were evacuated to Eilat on October 7 and are moving this week, temporarily, into a new neighborhood in Kiryat Gat.

Nir Oz was “ground zero” on October 7, said Rotem Cooper, with at least 38 residents killed and at least 78 kidnapped to Gaza out of a population of 400.

“The number one worry of hostages is that we’ve forgotten them,” said Rotem Cooper, “and the other is that they’re going to get bombarded.”

“It’s been 87 days, so it’s very different from one, two or three weeks — now it’s three months,” he said. “I’m sure my father is in a very difficult mental state right now.”

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