Freed Hamas hostages return to destroyed homes and a community in pain

Trupanov’s husband, Vitaly, was killed in the Oct. 7 attack on the kibbutz, and her 28-year-old son, Sasha, and his girlfriend, Sapir Cohen, were also taken hostage. Cohen was later released, but Sasha remains in captivity in Gaza.

Their pain is shared by many in this small community.

Nir Oz, less than 2 miles from the fenced-off border with Gaza, was one of the areas hit hardest when Hamas militants stormed through southern Israel two months ago.

About a quarter of the 400 residents who lived here were killed or kidnapped, and more than 30 are still believed to be in Gaza.

A small post office at the center of the kibbutz has become a makeshift memorial and record of the lives upended. Individual mailboxes for each resident are tagged with a red mark for those who were killed, black for those who were kidnapped and blue for those who have returned. It’s a powerful visual that shows black marks far outnumbering the blue.  

Among the other Nir Oz hostages who have been freed is Yocheved Lifshitz, 75, who was held in Gaza for just over two weeks. Her husband, Oded, 83, a human rights and peace activist, is still listed among the captives.

A lush, green cactus garden stands outside the Lifshitz residence, while the inside of the house is charred, with nothing resembling a home or a life recognizable in the ashes.

Rita Lifshitz, 59, the couple’s daughter-in-law, came to live full-time in Nir Oz in 1988 and calls it her “paradise.”

Standing outside the ruins of her in-laws’ home, she said, “Our whole kibbutz were peace fighters, and we are the ones that they destroyed.”

From the Lifshitzes’ backyard, you can see the chain-link and razor-wire fence marking the border with Gaza. In the near distance, you can hear the constant sound of Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire on Gaza, retribution for the attacks that took place here.

“Why should we have this war?” Lifshitz asks. “We don’t want war with the Palestinians. We want peace.”

Another longtime resident, Carmelit Paoka, 81, said many people are also angry at the government for failing to protect them on Oct. 7.

“They tell us to live here and the army will keep us safe,” she said. “It’s not true.”

She thinks the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has neglected Nir Oz because of its liberal-leaning political views.

“I think that the prime minister don’t like us,” she said. “We are from the left.”

For Tati, and many others, life froze on Oct. 7. Even after she returned to Nir Oz from captivity in Gaza, without her community and her beloved Sasha, there’s no home to go back to.

“I see that now it’s impossible to live here,” she said. “I don’t know what will happen next.”


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