'It's a nightmare. It's bits and pieces and rumors'

Waiting for official help, relatives scan graphic videos from Gaza to find missing

Videos published by Hamas as propaganda devastate some Israelis awaiting news from loved ones, but inspire others to stay strong

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Palestinian terrorists kidnap an Israeli civilian, center, later identified as 85-year-old Yaffa Adar, into the Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023 (AP/ Hatem Ali)
Palestinian terrorists kidnap an Israeli civilian, center, later identified as 85-year-old Yaffa Adar, into the Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023 (AP/ Hatem Ali)

When images of the abduction of 85-year-old Yaffa Adar surfaced on social media, friends of her family gently asked her relatives whether she had dementia.

In a video filmed Saturday, a bespectacled Adar could be seen sitting upright in the backseat of a car, her chin held up high.

She looks around, grinning politely and calmly. Three young men are seated around her, including the driver and the person filming the surreal interaction, who is laughing and making light of the situation.

But those who know Yaffa Adar know that there is nothing wrong with her grasp of the situation, according to her granddaughter, Adva Adar. “She’s putting on a brave face, taking charge of the situation and showing her captors a glimpse of the unbreakable resolve we all know her to have,” said Adva Adar of her grandmother, who was abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz.

The video, and a photo showing other men transporting Adar in a golf cart, are part of a stream of images that are being circulated on social media from the shocking and devastating cross-border onslaught into Israel on Saturday, in which hundreds of Hamas and other Gaza terrorists killed over 700 Israelis, wounded over 2,000, and abducted an unknown number, which is estimated to be about 100.

The videos, many of them graphic and bloody, are being shared on X by pro-Palestinian users who seem to treat them as means of psychological warfare aimed at demoralizing Israelis and their supporters.

But Adva Adar said the video of her grandmother achieves the opposite.

“I want people to see it, and I want them to draw inspiration from her strength and composure. May we all find the strength to show those who wish to harm us this steel-willed aspect of our resolve,” Adva Adar said.

Asked whether she expects to see her grandmother again, she broke down in tears. “I don’t know how to answer that question. I pray that I do,” she said.

A mother and son check for updates from a missing relative outside the police missing persons unit near Tel Aviv, Israel on October 8, 2023. (Times of Israel/Canaan Lidor)

The only proof

Some of the videos – especially the dozen-odd showing children, who are believed to be among the Israelis being held by Hamas — emerging from Saturday’s attacks have elicited devastating emotions from those who have seen them. Hundreds of families and friends have been scanning the pictures and videos for signs of their loved ones, missing since Saturday morning’s onslaught.

One of the most shocking stories is of Yoni Asher, who believes his two daughters, aged 2 and 4, and his wife and mother-in-law, were all taken during the attack on Nir Oz, one of the kibbutzim around the Gaza Strip.

“I saw my wife’s phone in [Gaza city] Khan Yunis,” he told the Kan public broadcaster. “I contacted the police, the Home Front Command, and I don’t know what’s going on. I need your help so that I can contact my wife, my daughters, and my mother-in-law.”

Uri Ravitz, a theater actor, shared a photo Sunday of his 84-year-old mother, who was last seen in the kibbutz of Nachal Oz. The photo, taken from a video distributed by Palestinians on social media, shows his mother sitting on a motorcycle with another woman sandwiched between two armed and bearded men facing each other.

“This photo is the only proof of where she is right now,” wrote Ravitz, who believes his mother is in Gaza. “No one is in charge. Nobody’s giving us addresses, support, briefings. Advice. The abandoning of the people living around the Gaza Strip continues even after the worst of all has happened.”

Uri Ravitz’s mother, second from left, with another abducted woman following their kidnapping in Kibbutz Nachal Oz, Israel by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. (Facebook, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Like many other images of abducted, wounded or dead Israelis, the photo that Ravitz posted on his Facebook page on Sunday with a Hebrew-language text attracted a torrent of gloating reactions, many of them in Arabic. Some commenters posted smiling emojis, others posted memes showing people bursting into laughter.

On Sunday, police set up a situation room near Ben Gurion Airport where relatives of the missing may stay and get counseling, as well as any information the police see fit to divulge.

“It’s not much,” Kobi Kimchi, 49, said of the information on offer. His 23-year-old son Ofek has been missing since Saturday morning, when he joined dozens of other young Israelis at an all-night rave party in nature near Kibbutz Re’im.

“I’m just trying to find out whether he’s dead or abducted. Those seem to be the options right now. But police don’t seem to have that kind of information,” he said.

Kimchi said he is trying not to watch videos from Gaza.

“It’s a nightmare. It’s bits and pieces and rumors.”

An as yet unknown number of participants of all-night outdoor raves held in the northwestern Negev area on Friday night are believed to have died at the hands of the terrorists, who attacked them in open areas during their uninterrupted incursion into Israel early on Saturday morning. Some were also kidnapped and taken to Gaza.

One partygoer, later identified as 23-year-old Shani Louk, appeared in a gory video that has sparked a debate on social media about its own circumstances.

Louk, a German-Israeli dual citizen, was filmed lying face down in the back of a pickup truck in a state of undress. One man is pulling her hair, while another puts his leg on her buttocks and legs, which appear to be lying in an unnatural angle. Men are shouting “Allah hu akbar,” Arabic for “Allah is the greatest,” ecstatically in the van and around it. They shake their fists as the truck moves forward.

Ricarda Louk, the woman’s mother, posted a video in which she pleaded for more information about her daughter’s fate.

Her daughter, Louk said, “was kidnapped by Palestinian Hamas. I was sent a video where I could clearly see my daughter unconscious in a car with Palestinians,” she said in German. “Please send any help or news.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Brigadier General Gal Hirsh to be in charge of dealing with abducted and missing persons, Netanyahu’s office said on Sunday. Netanyahu in a statement Sunday said Israelis are “praying” for the return of those who have been abducted and warned that anyone who harms them will be “reckoned with.”

It might take months

Shelly Haroush, a police commander tasked with liaising with the families of the missing, said police are devoting “significant resources to the task of identifying the missing and determining their whereabouts.” But, she added at a press conference Sunday, “it’s going to take long. Days, weeks. Maybe months. We need the patience necessary for this.”

Iris and Eliran Zarbailov on October 8, 2023, search at a police station near Tel Aviv, Israel for information on the whereabouts of their mother, Michal, from Ofakim who went missing the day before near the Gaza Strip. (Times of Israel/Canaan Lidor)

Outside the police’s information center for the relatives of the missing, brother and sister Iris and Eliran Zarbailov started weeping as they watched a video of a woman who bore a resemblance to their mother, Michal, who went missing near Gaza on Saturday.

“I can’t watch, are those mom’s flipflops?“ Iris Zarbailov asked her brother, Eliran, as he examined yet another video shared online and purporting to show Israelis who were abducted to Gaza. Eliran said that they were not.

He recalled seeing the pots of food that his mother made for Shabbat before she went to the Dead Sea from her home in Ofakim. Terrorists may have abducted her and a friend as they drove through the area held by the terrorists, Elirav Zarbailov said.

Three women smoke and talk outside a police missing persons unit near Tel Aviv, Israel on October 8, 2023. (Times of Israel/Canaan Lidor)

“I don’t know why I’m suddenly thinking of these pots, which we put in the fridge so the food keeps,” the son said. “We have bigger problems now than leftovers.”

But his sister Iris corrected him. “You’re thinking of the pots because it’s one small expression of how mom would do anything for us, how lovingly she’s taken care of us,” Iris told her brother before hugging him and weeping together in front of the police station.

Like many of the few dozen family members who came to the police center at Airport City on Sunday for updates about their missing loved ones, Eliran Zarbailov moved back and forth between expressions of love for his mother and anger toward the terrorists Palestinians generally. “We need to level Gaza. Level it. I want it to become a parking lot,” he said.

Kimchi said he was “drawing encouragement from being with other parents in the same situation.”

“We’re not getting new information for now, but at least we support each other,” he said. “And coming together here beats climbing the walls at home.”

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