French president vows to work to release all hostages

‘We went through a pogrom’: Relatives of missing French-Israelis appeal to Macron

At press conference, parents, siblings and spouses weep over their loved ones, some of whom have been abducted by Hamas to Gaza

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

Families of French-Israeli citizens who are still missing in the aftermath of the massacre in Gaza border communities attend a press conference in Tel Aviv on October 12, 2023. (Courtesy)
Families of French-Israeli citizens who are still missing in the aftermath of the massacre in Gaza border communities attend a press conference in Tel Aviv on October 12, 2023. (Courtesy)

Bat-Sheva Yahalomi sat at the press conference table, erect and calm as she retold the harrowing ordeal endured by her family of five during Saturday’s Hamas massacre at Kibbutz Nir Oz.

On Thursday, six days later, she sat with her 10-year-old daughter and 20-month-old baby in Tel Aviv, but her husband, Ohad, is wounded and missing and her 12-year-old son, Eitan, is captive in the Gaza Strip.

“The kibbutzim, we went through a pogrom,” said Yahalomi. “We dreamed of peace with Gaza and there were entire families, babies killed.”

At a joint press conference of French-Israeli families whose loved ones are missing following the Hamas massacre in the Gaza border communities and at the Supernova desert rave, relatives demanded that French President Emmanuel Macron offer answers.

“I want my country to get back to what it was, I want my sister back and they all want their family back, all of us,” said Meitar Journo, whose sister Karine, 24, has been missing since the Supernova rave. “Macron, you have the power to bring them back home.”

In an address to the French nation later Thursday, Macron vowed that his country would do everything to ensure the release of the dozens of hostages held by Hamas after its attack on Israel.

“I want to say that we will do everything to ensure that these hostages, whatever their nationality, are released,” he said, adding that France would work to that end both with “our partners” and the Israeli authorities.

The families’ press conference, like two others arranged over recent days for captives with US or British citizenship, was put together to ensure French commitment and involvement in efforts to retrieve at least four citizens who are missing and may have been abducted.

Karine Journo, 24, a French-Israel citizen missing since October 7 when she was at the Supernova music rave. (Courtesy)

Dafna Posnaski, who works as a representative of French citizens in Israel, said the French embassy has been silent, and hasn’t handed over any information about any of the dual citizens thought to be in captivity.

Posnaski said that Macron was scheduled to speak at 8 p.m. Thursday about the French captives.

War erupted after Hamas’s Saturday massacre, which saw at least 1,500 terrorists cross the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing over 1,300 people and seizing 150 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — men, women and children. Entire families were executed in their homes and in some locations, the Palestinian terrorists mutilated their victims.

Four families addressed the press at the press conference, including those of two young women who went to the Supernova party and haven’t been heard from since the early morning hours of Saturday.

“We have a small baby,” said Ido Nagar, who hasn’t heard from his wife, Seline Ben David, since she took refuge in a shelter in an open field. “Please help me to return Seline home to her daughter.”

Seline Ben David and her baby; a French-Israeli citizen, she has been missing since October 7 when she was at the Supernova music rave. (Courtesy)

Ben David moved to Israel at age 16 and never served in the army, said Nagar. She went to the party in the early morning hours with another friend, but never got there.

The two women turned their car around when rockets began falling and ran to a field shelter on the outskirts of a community. Nagar eventually found out that there were others in the same shelter, who survived and told him that his wife had been alive and unharmed the last time she was seen.

“She was evidently captured alive,” said Nagar. “I can’t even believe I’m saying these words, but we believe she’s alive and will return to us.”

As Nagar stopped speaking, turning the microphone over to his brother-in-law, someone handed him his baby, who had started crying.

It’s a different kind of nightmare for Gaia Calderon, who named five of her missing family members, including her father, sister, brother, grandmother and cousin.

“They took half my family,” said Calderon, weeping uncontrollably. “My little 12-year-old brother Erez, Arabs taking him in their hands. He was born 12 years ago, he hasn’t had time to live.”

Gaia Calderon’s 80-year-old French-Israeli grandmother, Carmela, missing since October 7 along with Calderon’s father, two siblings and cousin. (Courtesy)

Calderon wasn’t at home with her father, Ofer, and her siblings Sahar and Erez in Nir Oz. Her grandmother Carmela was at home down the street with Calderon’s cousin Noya, who is also 12 and has special needs.

The last message Calderon received from her sister was that they were trying to hide outside. Her grandmother and cousin have also disappeared without a trace.

“The terrorists burned down the houses, we don’t have a house to return to,” said Calderon.

Her grandmother Carmela is a French citizen.

“My dad brought me up, he’s my best friend, I have no one to talk to,” said Calderon. “I’m the big sister who’s supposed to protect them, my hope is that they’re alive. These are little kids who slept at home and woke up to Hamas kidnapping them.”

Yahalomi, also of Nir Oz, recounted the chilling hours after her family of five first hunkered down in their sealed room against the early morning rocket attacks. Her husband, Ohad, then sat outside the sealed room door with a handgun, engaging in battle with the terrorists when they forced their way into their home.

Ohad Yahalomi was injured, and the Hamas gunmen hurried Bat-Sheva and the three children out of the house and onto mopeds, along with a foreign worker from the kibbutz. Bat-Sheva, her ten-year-old and baby sat on one moped with a terrorist, while 12-year-old Eitan and the foreign worker sat on the other moped.

Bat-Sheva Yahalomi, holding a photo of her 12-year-old son, Eitan, who she believes was taken captive into Gaza on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

As they drove toward Gaza, leaving the kibbutz that was in ruins, said Yahalomi, there were hundreds of Hamas terrorists at the gate.

“They were grabbing everything they could,” she said, “tractors and TVs and everything they could take.”

They left the kibbutz with the terrorists, just as two IDF tanks appeared up ahead. The two mopeds veered away from one another, and Yahalomi lost track of Eitan on the other moped. At some point, Yahalomi and her two daughters were able to run away, and even when two unarmed terrorists found them, and tried to convince them to come into Gaza, they didn’t come after her.

“We got lucky with our story, we got the ‘soft’ terrorists,” she said.

Yahalomi headed back toward the northern end of the kibbutz.

“We were sure that Ohad would be there, but he wasn’t,” she said.

Now her injured husband and 12-year-old are missing.

“Help us, French government, give us some information,” she said. “We expect Hamas to let the children out, the elderly, the kids, the women.”

Journo, whose sister Karin attended the rave with a broken leg, was quietly furious about what she said was a complete lack of attention from Israeli or French authorities.

“I really think that if she weren’t a French citizen, we wouldn’t even be here,” said Journo, who was there with her father. “We haven’t even had a phone call from anyone.”

Macron condemns ‘unprecedented barbarity’ of Hamas onslaught

In his address Thursday evening, Macron condemned the “blind murderous hatred” and “absolute cruelty” of Hamas in its attack on Israel early on Saturday.

“Hamas implemented a plan that in its scale, barbarity and human toll has no precedent.”

He said that Israel had the right to defend itself “by eliminating terrorist groups, including Hamas, with targeted actions but preserving the civilian population,” adding that the “only response to terrorism is one that is… strong but fair.”

A photograph of a television screen shows French President Emmanuel Macron during a televised address to the nation on the topic of the conflict between Israel and Palestinian terror group Hamas, made from the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on October 12, 2023. (Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

He said France remained committed to a two-state solution to the conflict.

“We cannot resign ourselves to an endless war in this region. The fight against terrorism cannot replace the search for peace. The conditions for a lasting peace are known.”

With tensions rising in France, which has large Jewish and Muslim communities, Macron said 582 religious and cultural facilities in the country were receiving stepped-up police protection.

“Those who confuse the Palestinian cause and the justification of terrorism commit a strong moral, political and strategic error,” he said.

French anti-terror prosecutors on Thursday said they had opened a terrorism probe into the attack by Hamas on Israel, into murder, attempted murder and kidnapping, including of minors.

AFP contributed to this report.

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