'They keep them in hell': An Israeli mom's anguish as Hamas holds her children hostage

‘They came with cameras. Two big, big terrorists take him and his face is terrified and so confused and helpless’

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It is a monstrous shade of horror when news that your children were kidnapped by men who murdered, pillaged and burnt half your village brings you joy.

“I was kind of happy because it meant they hadn’t been murdered,” said Hadas Calderon, an Israeli mother who survived the Hamas terror attacks on her kibbutz last month only to discover two of her young children had been grabbed and taken into Gaza as hostages.

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More than a month later, with her children still missing and a war raging in Gaza, she struggles to hold hope as she fights for the release of her children, and the others, kidnapped during the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

Her daughter, 16-year-old Sahahr, and son, Erez, who is 12, were taken hostage, along with their father, her former husband, Ofer Kalderon.

Two other members of her family, her 80-year-old mother and her 12-year-old niece, also went missing. Their bodies were later found just inside the Gaza border.

Calderon knows two of her children and their father were chased by Hamas gunmen because she received frightful messages from them as they fled.

She also knows her son was taken alive.

“They came with cameras, you know, with photographers and cameras. And we saw a movie that they take of my boy. Two big, big terrorists take him and his face is terrified and so confused and helpless. So helpless.”

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Residents of Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel weep together in the ruins of the home of Carmela Dan, 80, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. Photo by Maya Alleruzzo /THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Calderon told her story to the National Post in the hope the world will push for the release of the hostages before it is too late.

She and her family lived in Nir Oz kibbutz, an agriculture village of about 400 people in southern Israel, less than three kilometres east of the Gaza border.

Her day began early on Oct. 7, when the sound of bombs woke her. She knew the sound and went to a shelter in her house.

“My children were with their father in another shelter. He was in contact with me,” she said.

”I started to get some messages about terrorists coming over, all over.

“And at about 8:30, I got a message from him that terrorists came into their house. They jumped from the window (to escape) and were hiding in the bush. And this was the last message I got from him.

“The last message I got from my young boy was: ‘Mom, keep quiet. Keep quiet. I love you.’”

Calderon, who was speaking in a strong voice, abruptly stopped and silently wept.

“This was the last message,” she squeezed out. Then, after a moment more, she continued.

“He’s 12. He’s 12 years old. And that day, his worst nightmare came true. They came and they take him, they force him from the house, from their safe place, from his bed in his pyjamas. It was Saturday morning, they’re all in pyjamas, without shoes, without anything.”

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She could do nothing to help.

“I have to hold the door because I didn’t want the terrorists to get inside my shelter. And they tried to come, they tried from the window, and they tried from everywhere, from everywhere, and they broke into my house.

“I could hear them. From behind the door, I could hear them breaking my house. Smashing and hitting. Shouting and screaming and shooting, a lot of gunshots, a lot of shooting. It’s unbelievable. For eight hours I hold the door shut.

“After the last message (from her son), my phone went black. I couldn’t get any messages anymore. I couldn’t charge it. It was dark because there was no electricity, no air conditioning. I was in the dark for eight hours. No water, no phone, no information.

“The army came and took me out and when I went outside, I was shocked. I look around, I can’t recognize my village. It was a peaceful place before, nice, green, quiet. And now? It’s all burned. They burned the cars, they burn the houses, they even shot dogs and cats.

“On this hell of a day, a dark day, my kibbutz was put through a massacre, a pogrom, a holocaust,” Calderon said.

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“The terrorists came — an army of terrorists, not just a few, but an army, very well trained, very brutal and cruel. And they went through, house by house, and murdered and butchered, and then burned the houses.

“I couldn’t see my family. Five members from my family weren’t there. I was sure they had been murdered. I was terrified. And then we got the messages, that some of them had been kidnapped. I was happy.

“When you kidnap, you can make a negotiation. I wanted to believe, and I still believe, that when children are kidnapped and babies and elderly, you must get solutions quickly.”

It has now been more than a month.

“This breaks my heart. This breaks my heart when I think what tragedy they go through.

“Who is going to be there to help my boy when he has his panic attacks — and probably now he has more than ever. Who is going to help him sleep? Who is going to help calm him? I can’t even imagine. And he’s a boy that likes to run and play football, ride a bicycle and ride the horse. He loves to move a lot. What is he doing now, one month underground in a tunnel?

“And my daughter, Sahahr, she’s so beautiful and a teenager. She likes to dress and put on jewelry, and she likes to play bass guitar. She loves to dance, and she loves animals. And we all love to laugh.

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“I can’t imagine what they’re going through. It’s very tough. It’s really like a big nightmare that we’re going through. We don’t know when they will come back — if they will come back. If they are still alive. If they eat, if they drink. If they get medicine, we don’t know nothing, no information.”

It occurs to her a lack of information goes both ways.

“They don’t know when it’s going to end. They don’t know if they’re going to see me again. They don’t even know if we’re still alive, because they probably saw all this murder and dead people. They don’t know when this nightmare is going to be finished.

“More than 33 days after, they’re still there, they keep them in hell.”

Two weeks ago, Calderon returned to her kibbutz, to the charred home from where her children and their father were taken.

Officials said more than 100 residents and 15 foreign agricultural workers were killed at the kibbutz in the attacks. Perhaps another 80 were taken. The killed and captured account for half the villagers. A reporter for the Times of Israel said the walls of what remains of Ofer Kalderon’s home were splashed with graffiti of the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing.

Calderon’s mother, Carmela Dan, and Calderon’s 12-year-old niece, Noya, were taken by Hamas as well.

Noya had slept over at her grandmother Carmela’s house the night before the attacks. They too were kidnapped but did not last long on the journey back to Gaza.

Calderon was told the news of their deaths the day after a melancholy celebration for her mother’s 80th birthday.

“We just celebrated it and the day after we got the message she was murdered. I don’t even have time to grieve. I don’t have time to feel the pain because I have to save my children and their father,” she said.

Calderon’s niece, Noya, who had autism, was a huge Harry Potter fan. While she was missing, a photo of her dressed in a Harry Potter costume circulated on social media, prompting Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling to post: “Kidnapping children is despicable and wholly unjustifiable. For obvious reasons, this picture has hit home with me. May Noya and all hostages taken by Hamas be returned soon, safely, to their families.”

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Next door to where Calderon’s children went missing is the home of Yocheved Lifshitz. She is the 85-year-old grandmother who made headlines after her release from captivity on Oct. 23. Lifshitz was a peace activist who, along with others in the kibbutz, helped sick Gazans get to Israeli hospitals for treatment.

Now Calderon begs for her children.

When she hears of incidents in Canada and other countries of people tearing down posters of the kidnapped victims, it brings anger.

“I feel very bad for everyone, but when we get to the point that there’s children there, and babies, it’s timeout. They don’t belong to this game. You understand what I mean? It’s not their game. They are victims. It’s not a political fight. It’s a human fight.

“So, when these people go and take these kidnap posters down, it means they don’t understand the situation. They don’t know the facts.

“And, if they do know the facts, then they are not fully human, because I can’t believe any mom or any father in the world can imagine children being kidnapped from their bed in their pyjamas in such a cruel way.

“Innocent children, innocent, pure, fragile …”

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Her voice broke again as she spoke the word fragile.

Calderon’s niece, Noya, left a phone message for her mother that morning.

“She said: ‘Mom, mom. I hear them. They’re coming. I’m afraid. I’m afraid,’” Calderon said. “You can’t be human if you don’t understand that.”

Sharone Lifschitz and her father Oded Lifshitz
Sharone Lifschitz and her father Oded Lifshitz are pictured in this undated photo in London. Oded Lifshitz has spent his life fighting for Arab rights, but that didn’t prevent him from being abducted by Hamas militants who raided Israel on Oct. 7. 2023. Yocheved and another elderly woman, Nurit Cooper, were freed last week. Oded remains in captivity. Photo by Courtesy of Lifshitz family /THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

She called on the international community to push for the release of young, sick and elderly hostages, and then for quick negotiations for everyone else.

“It’s not easy. It’s very complicated. It takes time, so first you must release the children. And then make solutions. To make a ceasefire, to make exchange.

“It’s very sensitive and complicated. But they must find a solution, they must. It’s not my job. If it was my job, probably I would find a way to do it, but it’s not my job.

“My job is to be a mom.”

• Email: [email protected] | X: AD_Humphreys

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