Interview

Widow of dead hostage says he would be alive if ‘heartless’ government had ended war

Tami Metzger, who was also abducted, assails ministers for not visiting after her release in November truce, while Netanyahu showed up at hospital to meet hostages rescued Saturday

Former hostage Tami Metzger poses for a picture with a portrait of her husband Yoram who was declared dead in captivity on June 3, during an interview at her residence in the southern city of Kiryat Gat on June 9, 2024. (Sharon ARONOWICZ / AFP)
Former hostage Tami Metzger poses for a picture with a portrait of her husband Yoram who was declared dead in captivity on June 3, during an interview at her residence in the southern city of Kiryat Gat on June 9, 2024. (Sharon ARONOWICZ / AFP)

Israel’s collective euphoria following the rescue of four hostages on Saturday stood in stark contrast with the anger of Tami Metzger, whose captive husband in Gaza was announced dead days ago.

“If the government had stopped the war,” her husband Yoram would still be alive, 79-year-old Metzger, who was also held hostage by Hamas, told AFP on Sunday, arguing that all the hostages could be released in exchange for a deal that ends the war.

“I’m angry… they are heartless.”

The military announced on June 3 that four Israeli hostages held in the Palestinian territory had died, including Yoram Metzger, 80.

Days later, on Saturday, the army rescued four other hostages, still alive, during a daytime operation in central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp.

Though Metzger shared the country’s joy at their liberation, she was equally expressive about her resentment toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who “ran quickly to congratulate them.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with rescued hostage Andrey Kozlov at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024 (Maayan Toaf / GPO)

“But when we were released… none of the ministers came” and nobody spoke to her, she said, referring to her own release from Gaza during a truce in late November.

On Saturday evening, Netanyahu visited the freed hostages at Sheba Medical Center in central Israel and made statements to hail their return and congratulate security forces.

‘Tomorrow, tomorrow’

That same evening, Metzger’s daughter-in-law Ayala, a leading figure in the anti-government movement, protested in Tel Aviv like every other week to call for a deal to free the remaining hostages and “take down the government.”

Terrorists took Metzger and her husband hostage from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7 during Hamas’s devastating onslaught, when 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed.

The Metzgers were among 251 people kidnapped that day and taken to the Gaza Strip. Of those, 116 remain there including the bodies of Yoram Metzger and dozens of others. Hamas is also believed to be holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 37,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far. Of these, some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals or through self-reporting by families, with the rest of the figure based on Hamas “media sources.” The tolls, which cannot be verified, include some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and ninety-five soldiers and one police officer have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

Metzger vividly remembers her period of captivity, in particular the day Hamas terrorists seized her.

“A Gazan opened (the bathroom) and pulled me. He asked for money but I had none… he grabbed me by the arms and took me outside.”

Tami (left) and Yoram Metzger, taken captive from their Kibbutz Nir Oz home on October 7, 2023. Tami was freed on November 28, 2023. (Courtesy)

Two men took her on a motorbike before she was thrown onto the bed of a pickup truck. With blood on her face, she was pushed into a tunnel and forced to walk for several kilometers, she recalled.

She then lived underground for more than 50 days, with about 10 other hostages including her husband. As an Arabic speaker, Yoram became an interpreter for their captors.

There was no hot water for showering, and there were health problems, Metzger said.

Her meager diet amounted to one-third of a pita bread, a piece of cheese, and two dates in the morning. Rice came in the evening, she said, remembering in great detail the long days she spent in the hands of the terrorists.

She also recalled with a smile her husband’s attempts to lighten the mood with jokes.

But as to her other feelings during that time, Metzger stayed reserved.

She recounted frustration, though, at the uncertainty around her release as others were freed.

“Every morning, they were telling us: ‘Tomorrow it will be you, tomorrow, tomorrow,'” she said.

“The days passed, and this tomorrow never came.”

Then suddenly, it did.

Tamar (Tami) Metzger, 78, is helped by Egyptian medical staff at the Rafah Crossing after being released from Hamas captivity, November 28, 2023. (Screenshot)

No time to say goodbye

Metzger did not have time to properly say goodbye to Yoram on November 28 when she was freed during the only truce this war has seen so far.

“They [terrorists] wouldn’t let me say goodbye to Yoram. I didn’t get to touch him, to hold his hand, to hug him,” she said.

She recalls that moment when she was leaving, Yoram “shouted ‘Go! Go home! The kids are waiting for you.’ I had no choice but to leave… I never saw him again.”

On June 3, when the army told her of her husband’s death and that of three other hostages, she was not surprised.

In December, Hamas had broadcast a video showing her husband and two other hostages alive, asking for their release.

“When I saw the video… I gradually understood that it was over,” Metzger said, referring to the state of physical exhaustion she saw the three men in.

Surrounded by her three sons and six grandsons, Metzger fondly remembers her peaceful life before October 7.

“This is how it is,” she concluded with resignation.

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