It’s been more than 24 hours since British Columbia’s Rutie Mizrahi learned her elderly aunt — taken hostage by Hamas after its initial attack on Israel — had been set free and returned home.
In that time, 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz has taken visits from family and received medical treatment. Mizrahi reached her by phone Tuesday morning and described her as “tired and exhausted, but her spirit is still there.”
“It was just great telling her how happy I am and how much I love her,” the Vancouver resident told Global News.
“I did not talk to her about what happened to her when she was in Gaza … I’m sure she talks about it so much and she really needs to recover.”
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Lifshitz is one of just four hostages released by Hamas since its Oct. 7 incursion on Israel, which killed some 1,400 people, most of whom were civilians. The militant group — designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the European Union, Canada and others — has kidnapped more than 200 people, including Lifshitz’ husband and Mizrahi’s uncle, Oded.
The condition and precise whereabouts of the 83-year-old, a veteran journalist and peacekeeper, are unknown.
Lifshitz, who requires both medication and overnight oxygen, was released along with another elderly woman to Red Cross in Egypt on Monday. In an interview from the hospital after her release, translated into English by her daughter, Lifshitz recounted being taken on the back of a motorbike and “hit by sticks.”
“They shot at our homes, hit people. They kidnapped some of them, like me,” Lifshitz said in Hebrew. “To tell you the truth, I’ve been through hell.”
After her capture, Lifshitz said she was taken to a “large hall” containing 25 other hostages, whom she described as “friendly.” She was brought into an underground network of tunnels, akin to a “spider web,” somewhere in Gaza.
That’s when she and four other hostages were separated from the rest of the group, which contained her husband, she added.
Lifshitz and the others lived off of cucumbers and cheese and were treated relatively well in captivity, she said, reportedly receiving access to medical care from paramedics and doctors.
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Reports in the Israeli press have since suggested that Hamas is willing to release 50 of its prisoners if Israel agrees to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, especially fuel. As of Tuesday afternoon however, the Israeli government was standing firm, refusing to do so unless all of the 220 or so hostages are let go.
Israel’s retaliation to Hamas’ bombings has killed more than 5,000 Palestinians to date, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to “crush and destroy” Hamas in response to the incursion. Hamas leaders, meanwhile, have said Israel’s crackdown on militants in the West Bank, its ongoing blockade of Gaza, thousands of prisoners in Israeli jails and the continued construction of settlements, which the UN and many international nations consider illegal, pushed it to attack.
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Mizrahi, meanwhile, said her family is focused on Lifshitz’ recovery and getting back her husband, Oded.
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“I’m calling on the whole world and the governments to work really hard to bring those people home,” she said in an interview.
“Again, there are children, there are babies, there are young moms, there are young moms, young ladies, old ladies, old men — so many different people, and nobody knows what their condition is.”
Lifshitz remains in the hospital, Mizrahi added, having lost “tons of weight” since her abduction and with “very low” blood pressure. While “she has a long way to heal,” Mizrahi is confident that her aunt will recover.
“I know she’s very strong and optimistic, she’s always been,” Mizrahi said. “I know she will be okay … she always tries to find, and usually succeeds in finding, the good in any situation.”
Mizrahi said her aunt is likely still processing everything that happened, and may not be aware of everything else that’s happened since her capture.
“I’m not even sure that she knows exactly how many people were murdered, butchered, the whole horrible, horrific situation,” Mizrahi explained.
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Mizrahi grew up in Israel, but moved to Vancouver in 1998.
Her aunt and uncle, however, lived in a collective community called a kibbutz, where income — traditionally generated from agriculture — is shared among residents. Their kibbutz, not far from the Gaza Strip, was burned down in the Oct. 7 attack.
“She has no home to return to,” Mizrahi said. “I believe she will stay probably with one of her children or somebody from the family.”
Mizrahi said she’s proud of her aunt, whom she considers a role model.
“I wish everyone will have her courage to not only survive situations but also to speak her truth and not bend. I really appreciate this in people.”
Mizrahi, who comes from a line of peace and Palestinian rights advocates, encouraged everyone in Canada and abroad not to be silent in the face of hatred, racism, discrimination or antisemitism, wherever and whomever it comes from.
“Please don’t keep quiet. Speak up against it. Just help people and children and women around the world.”
At least 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza have fled their homes since the conflict, nearly 580,000 of whom are sheltering in United Nations-run schools and shelters, the UN said Monday.
— with files from Global News’ Jeff Semple and The Associated Press
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