TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — One of those taken hostage is a grandmother who learned Arabic in hopes of building bridges with her neighbors. Others include 10 members of an extended family, one an elderly man in a wheelchair who requires hospital care. Still another is a nurse who delivered thousands of babies over the years to parents both Israeli and Palestinian.
All are among roughly 150 people abducted by Hamas militants early Saturday during sweeping raids on Israeli towns and villages near the heavily fortified border with the Gaza Strip. They include citizens of Brazil, Britain, Italy, the Philippines and the United States, as well as many Israelis. The number of hostages, provided by Hamas and Israeli officials, has not been independently confirmed.
Militants have vowed to start killing hostages if Israel’s airstrikes target civilians inside Gaza without first providing a warning allowing them to flee. It has placed the families and friends of those taken in a terrifying and desperate situation, with little they can do but wait.
Noam Sagi, a psychotherapist who lives in London, believes his mother, Ada, who turns 75 next week, is among those taken hostage. He hasn’t heard from her since early Saturday morning when she called him from a panic room at Kibbutz Nir Oz, a communal settlement near the southeastern border with Gaza.
Ada Sagi, the daughter of Holocaust survivors from Poland, was born in Israel in 1948. As a member of a kibbutz built on the ideals of equality and humanity, she learned Arabic and taught the language to others in southern Israel as a way to improve communication and build a better relationship with Palestinians living nearby, her son said.
Sagi hopes his mother’s language skills will help her negotiate with the hostage takers. But she has severe allergies, and has recently had a hip replacement. He is desperately worried.
“The only hope I have now is almost like for humanity to do something for me to see my mother again and for my son to see his grandmother again,” Sagi told The Associated Press.
Nir Oz is also home to Sagui Dekel-Chen, 35, a married father of two daughters who is awaiting the birth of his third child. Neighbors reported that he helped fight off the militants who stormed the kibbutz, but he hasn’t been heard from since, according to his father, Jonathan.
About 240 of the community’s 400 residents are dead or missing, Jonathan Dekel-Chen said at the press conference in Tel Aviv called to appeal to the U.S. government to rescue the hostages.
Rachel Goldberg told the story of her son Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, who was born in Berkeley, California, and was saving money to see the world.
Hersh was attending a music festival where at least 260 young people were killed. When militants threw grenades into the shelter where a group of festival goers had taken refuge, Hersh and a friend picked them up and threw them back outside, witnesses reported. He lost an arm in the fighting.
He hasn’t been seen since the militants loaded him into the back of a pickup truck and drove off. His cell phone signal was lost at the Gaza border.
His mother said she got two texts from him, then nothing: “I love you” and, moments later, “I’m sorry.”
Born in California, Adrienne Neta has lived in Israel since 1981. During a long career as a nurse and midwife, the race and religion of her patients were irrelevant, her family said.
Adrienne Neta called her family as the militants burst in at her home in Kibbitz Be’eri, where at least 100 people were later found dead. Then the line went dead.
“The optimistic scenario is she is held hostage and not dead on the street,” said her son Nahar Neta.
Others presumed taken hostage include a family with both Italian and U.S. citizenship who were living in the same southern Israeli community of Be’eri.
Their number include Eviatar Moshe Kipnis, 65, and Lilach Lea Havron, 60, and their health care aide, who were last heard from Saturday morning sheltering in their safe room, after militants began storming the village.
Their son, Nadav Kipnis, told The Associated Press that in addition to his parents and the aide, eight members of Havron’s family are also missing, including three children.
The family believes all 11 were taken hostage because their bodies weren’t recovered and some of their cell phones have been traced to Gaza. The family fears especially for the father, who uses a wheelchair, takes several medications daily and needs regular hospital care for a severe autoimmune condition.
Italy’s foreign minister travelled to Egypt on Wednesday to try to enlist regional Arab support to liberate hostages, including Kipnis’ parents and family.
For now, all the family has to go on are the messages and videos contained in a “nightmarish” group chat of Be’eri neighbors who described in real time as the militants went door to door, flushing people from their safe rooms, sometimes by setting their houses on fire, Kipnis said.
The chat described “people jumping off windows because their safe rooms are starting to fill with smoke and they were choking and they broke their legs trying to run to different houses, people being dragged out of their homes by terrorists…” Kipnis said, summarizing the chat.
“We’re like lucky we just read this instead of being there.”
Kirka reported from London. AP journalist Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.