Sunday, June 23, 2024

Thirteen Israeli hostages were released on Friday, with all but one of them having been abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz. This Israeli village near the Gaza border was the site of an attack by Hamas militants who took more than 70 people on Oct. 7.

Of the 12 hostages taken from the kibbutz and returned home to Israel, the family members expressed gratitude. However, the community’s relief was overshadowed by the fact that around 30 percent of the estimated 215 remaining hostages in Gaza are from Nir Oz, making it the most affected Israeli village by the Oct. 7 assault.

Roughly 100 Nir Oz residents were killed or abducted on that day, accounting for one quarter of the village’s prewar population.

The survivors felt some sense of salvation as 12 of their neighbors and relatives, ranging from 2-year-old Aviv Asher to 85-year-old Yaffa Adar, were driven to safety by the Red Cross through Egypt to Israel on Friday night.

However, this elation was tempered by a wider feeling of loss within the community.

The surviving residents describe their hometown as a left-leaning community that hoped for peace with the Palestinians across the border in Gaza. This was a sentiment embraced by many, including Larry Butler, a Vietnam War veteran from Philadelphia who moved to Nir Oz in 1974.

After the Oct. 7 attack, Mr. Butler’s commitment to peace had been shaken, especially as 30 of his friends were killed and 60 were abducted.

On Thursday evening, when uncertainty about the impending hostage deal was at its peak, Idan Cunio, 8, came up to his mother, Paula Cunio, 38, to announce that he heard on the news that his twin cousins were going to be released.

Irit Lahav, 57, who has spent most of her life in Nir Oz, said that being together in the hotel has brought the community together. “We already were like a family,” she said. “But now it’s more like a hugging family.”

However, the Nir Oz residents were recently warned that their time in Eilat is coming to a close, with plans to move them to an apartment complex in Kiryat Gat, a small city in central Israel, for a year. This news has unsettled many survivors who are uncertain about their future.

Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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