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Former Hamas captive mourns husband as Israel celebrates freed hostages

Tami Metzger was freed from captivity by Hamas militants in Gaza but her husband Yoram died in their custody -- she blames Israel's government
Tami Metzger was freed from captivity by Hamas militants in Gaza but her husband Yoram died in their custody -- she blames Israel's government - Copyright AFP Sharon ARONOWICZ
Tami Metzger was freed from captivity by Hamas militants in Gaza but her husband Yoram died in their custody -- she blames Israel's government - Copyright AFP Sharon ARONOWICZ
Michael BLUM

Israel’s collective euphoria following the rescue of four hostages on Saturday stands in stark contrast with the anger of Tami Metzger, whose captive husband in Gaza was announced dead days ago.

“If the government had stopped the war”, her husband Yoram would still be alive, 79-year-old Metzger, who was also held hostage by Hamas, told AFP.

“I’m angry… they are heartless.”

The Israeli army announced on June 3 that four Israeli hostages held in the Palestinian territory had died, including Yoram Metzger, 80.

Days later on Saturday, the army said it had freed four other hostages, still alive, during a daytime operation in central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp.

Though Metzger shared the country’s joy at their liberation, she was equally expressive about her resentment towards Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who “ran quickly to congratulate them.”

“But when we were released… none of the ministers came” and nobody spoke to her, she said, referring to her own release from Gaza during a truce in late November.

On Saturday evening, Netanyahu visited the freed hostages in hospital near Tel Aviv and made statements to hail their return and congratulate security forces.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said 274 people were killed in Nuseirat during the Israeli military operation to rescue the four captives.

– ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow’ –

That same evening, Metzger’s daughter-in-law Ayala, a leading figure in the anti-government movement, protested in Tel Aviv like every other week to call for a deal to free the remaining hostages and “take down the government”.

Militants took Metzger and her husband hostage from the Nir Oz kibbutz community on October 7 during Hamas’s unprecedented attack on southern Israel. The attack resulted in the death of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli data.

The Metzgers were among 251 people kidnapped that day and taken to the Gaza Strip. Of those, 116 remain there including the bodies of Yoram Metzger and 40 others the military says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory military offensive has killed at least 37,124 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Metzger vividly remembers her period of captivity, in particular the day Hamas militants seized her. 

“A Gazan opened (the bathroom) and pulled me. He asked for money but I had none… he grabbed me by the arms and took me outside.”

Two men took her on a motorbike before she was thrown onto the bed of a pickup truck. With blood on her face, she was pushed into a tunnel and forced to walk for several kilometres, she recalled.  

She then lived underground for more than 50 days, with about 10 other hostages including her husband. As an Arabic-speaker, Yoram became an interpreter for their captors.

There was no hot water for showering, and there were health problems, Metzger said. 

Her meagre diet amounted to one-third of a pita bread, a piece of cheese and two dates in the morning. Rice came in the evening, she said, remembering in great detail the long days she spent in the hands of the militants.

She also recalled with a smile her husband’s attempts to lighten the mood with jokes. 

But as to her other feelings during that time, Metzger stayed reserved.

She recounted frustration, though, at the uncertainty around her release as others were freed. 

“Every morning, they were telling us: ‘Tomorrow it will be you, tomorrow, tomorrow,'” she said. 

“The days passed, and this tomorrow never came.”

Then suddenly, it did.

– No time to say goodbye –

Metzger did not have time to properly say goodbye to Yoram on November 28 when she was freed during the only truce this war has seen so far.

“They (militants) wouldn’t let me say goodbye to Yoram. I didn’t get to touch him, to hold his hand, to hug him,” she said.

She recalls that moment when she was leaving, Yoram “shouted ‘Go! Go home! The kids are waiting for you’. I had no choice but to leave… I never saw him again.”

On June 3, when the army told her of her husband’s death and that of three other hostages, she was not surprised.

In December, Hamas had broadcast a video showing her husband and two other hostages alive, asking for their release.  

“When I saw the video… I gradually understood that it was over”, Metzger said, referring to the state of physical exhaustion she saw the three men in.

Surrounded by her three sons and six grandsons, Metzger fondly remembers her peaceful life before October 7. 

“This is how it is”, she concluded with resignation.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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