On Saturday, October 7, at 6:30 a.m., Ofri Levy received a series of text messages from her brother Yarden Bibas. Bibas lived with his wife Shiri in the Israeli kibbutz Nir Oz; her 4-year-old son, Ariel; and her 9-month-old son Kfir. He told Levy that he was scared and that the family of four hiding in their home could hear it Hamas fighters There was shooting and shouting outside. At 9:34 a.m. Bibas Levy wrote: “They are coming into the house.” It was the last message she received from her brother. Residents of Nir Oz say a quarter of its 400 residents were killed or kidnapped in the brutal Hamas attack. Levy’s brother and his family were among the hostages. On Sunday, October 15, Levy spoke to the Cut about her family.
That Saturday morning, my brother texted me and told me they were going to the safe room of their house. “Here we go again,” he wrote. They’re just so used to the bombing. Yarden and his family had been living in Nir Oz for four years. They no longer wanted to live there. Instead, they wanted to live next door to us, up in northern Israel, near Syria and Lebanon, and planned to visit next month to look for houses.
I turned on the news and realized it was more than just a bombing. Terrorists broke into settlements. So I texted my brother to ask him what was going on. He told me that he was very scared and that it “felt like the end.” He said they heard gunshots outside his house – automatic weapons – so I begged him to stay quiet so the terrorists couldn’t hear him. He wrote to me that it was difficult to silence the children, but they tried.
Around 9:30 a.m., Yarden said he heard Hamas shouting in Arabic outside. At 9:34 a.m. he texted that they were coming to the house. That was the last message I received from my brother.
Three hours later we saw a picture of Shiri and the children circulating on the internet. They were surrounded by terrorists and taken to Gaza. After another two hours, friends from England told me that they had seen a video on X in which Shiri was recorded. She had both children in her arms, she looked really, really scared and kept saying in Hebrew, “Stop! To stop! To stop!”
Yarden wasn’t with them. My brother was reported missing from Saturday until Tuesday morning – his birthday. The day Yarden turned 33, we saw the first picture of my brother in captivity on an Arabic news website. In the picture he was surrounded by Hamas terrorists. He was alive but bleeding from his head.
We later found three more pictures of Yarden. In one of the pictures, the terrorists can be seen strangling him with one hand and holding a hammer in the other. I don’t know if they hit him on the head with the hammer. In each picture my brother’s face looks worse and worse – he’s bleeding more and you can see he’s scared. In the last picture they are leading him somewhere and he just looks defeated.
In one of the photos of Bibas that Levy found online, her brother can be seen in the middle, bleeding from his head.
Photo: Hatem Ali/AP
I can’t get these images out of my head. I wake up with them. I’m going to sleep with them. I try not to think about them, but they keep popping up.
So we know they were taken to Gaza alive, but we don’t know if they are together. We don’t know whether they are alive now, whether they are dead or whether they are being tortured. I don’t know if my brother was treated for the bleeding on his head. I don’t know if 4 year old Ariel is eating or being fed properly. I don’t know if they give the baby formula.
My brother is three years younger than me, but has always looked after me and ensured my safety. Although I have always thought of Yarden as a big, strong man, deep down he is the gentlest and most compassionate person there is. As a father, he is constantly worried about his children. We always laughed at him because his son Ariel is a red-headed boy full of energy – he’s always climbing and jumping on things. Yarden was filled with worry and shouted, “Stop, it’s dangerous!” Ariel, don’t do that! We would remind him that it’s OK – he’s a boy, that’s what they do. He was just always worried about his babies.
Ariel is energetic, loves working in the family garden and, like his father, is obsessed with anything with an engine and wheels. My sweet 9 month old nephew Kfir is just a smiling, always laughing baby. Shiri is the head of the family and is forever in control and managing things. She is a great mother – she always does the best for the children and gives everything for them.
It’s been over a week since we’ve seen these pictures and videos and I’m really tired and worried and scared. I have two younger children, one about to turn four and the other two, and they sense our tension. You know something is wrong. My daughter is Ariel’s best friend. The other day she was playing on her father’s phone and a picture of Ariel and Kfir appeared on the screen. She started screaming, “I found her! Mom, look, I found her! I helped!” It broke my heart.
If they are dead, Hamas has stolen two parents and two children who just wanted to live their lives. I don’t think they would make a big change in the world, but they deserve to live a quiet and peaceful life, just like any other family.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the kibbutz where Yarden Bibas and his family were abducted. They had lived in Nir Oz.