A shaft of hope amid a bloody war fuelled by rage

Published by The Daily Mail (25th October, 2023)

It was a wondrous sign of hope after days of blood-soaked war. A frail old woman, freed after more than a fortnight being held hostage in dank underground tunnels, turning to shake hands with one of the terrorists who kidnapped her and saying ‘shalom’ [peace].

Yocheved Lifshitz is 85. She endured unimaginable horrors after being seized with her husband from a kibbutz that suffered terrible carnage at the hands of Hamas.

Yet after 16 days that she later described as hell, this grandmother being handed to Red Cross workers turned to a menacing black-clad gunman whose face was hidden by a balaclava, and surprised him with that simple gesture of shared humanity.

It was a powerful image of defiance: a dazed woman, in the twilight of a life dedicated to peace, showing extraordinary courage and nobility to the cowards who think their cause is boosted by atrocities and bloodshed.

Her daughter Sharone, an academic and artist in London, told the BBC her parents had worked hard to build bridges with their Palestinian neighbours.

The couple helped found Kibbutz Nir Oz near the Gaza border a decade after the Holocaust – where about one quarter of the 400 residents were either killed or kidnapped earlier this month in the Hamas rampage.

Like many victims, they were committed to the ideal of peaceful co-existence. ‘It’s a twist of history that these communities that were so peace loving sustained a horrendous massacre,’ said Sharone. 

She explained how her father Oded, 83, a retired journalist, spoke Arabic and spent time going to the border to drive sick Palestinians to hospitals in Israel. I met one of the beneficiaries of such activities in Gaza – a pro-democracy activist who had defied the Hamas fanatics to lead protests against their abusive misrule despite being imprisoned seven times in two years.

He hated the brutally oppressive group that has inflamed the misery of two million people trapped in that tiny enclave by the Mediterranean, telling me how he had witnessed Hamas execute rivals near his home. ‘I can’t endure to see another drop of blood spilled.’

Like most Palestinians, this man wanted the right to return to his historic terrain – but he did not seek the removal of Israelis from their homes and was grateful to their medics for his stomach surgery in Tel Aviv.

He was a testament to decent people such as the Lifshitzes, fighting like him to build a better future for everyone in this fiercely contested patch of the Middle East.

Rage is growing on both sides as death tolls mount, but Sharone rightly argues that the awful recent events should strengthen the determination to tackle toxic hatreds. ‘We have come out of the Holocaust,’ said Sharone. ‘I have many German friends.’

It is easy to despair in times of darkness. Yet as Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion once said, ‘in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles’ – a faith in the future writ large in the resolve of a remarkable grandmother escaping from hell.

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