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Israel’s Shiri Bibas: unwitting face of hostages

A relative of Shiri Bibas, an Israeli woman kidnaped during the October 7 attack, holds a snapshot of her and one of her two boys
A relative of Shiri Bibas, an Israeli woman kidnaped during the October 7 attack, holds a snapshot of her and one of her two boys - Copyright AFP Jalaa MAREY
A relative of Shiri Bibas, an Israeli woman kidnaped during the October 7 attack, holds a snapshot of her and one of her two boys - Copyright AFP Jalaa MAREY
Delphine MATTHIEUSSENT

Poignant images of an anguished Shiri Bibas clutching her two red-headed boys as she was kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 have turned her into the face of the Israeli hostages seized that day.  

But friends and relatives of the 32-year-old say the unassuming woman they know and love would have been ill-at-ease at being thrust into the spotlight, in footage shot and aired by Hamas militants.

Five months later, Bibas’s fate and those of her baby boy and young son remain unclear.

“If she knew she was so well-known, it would be very hard for her. She is a very reserved person,” said Dalit Ram Aharon, one of her best friends and a fellow resident of Nir Oz kibbutz, where around 100 people were killed or abducted. 

The only news to date of Bibas and her children, four-year-old Ariel and now one-year-old Kfir, has not been verified. Israel has not confirmed an announcement by Hamas that the three of them were killed in Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip. 

Bibas’s husband and the boys’ father, 34-year-old Yarden Bibas, was also among the roughly 250 hostages abducted by the Palestinian militants.

He is being held separately from his family. Israel says about 130 hostages are still being held, with 31 presumed dead.

Bibas’s parents, Yossi and Margit Silberman, respectively from Argentina and Peru, were left-wingers who believed in co-existence with Palestinians. They died in the attack when their Nir Oz house was set ablaze.

Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, relatives like Yossi Shnaider, a cousin of Shiri Bibas, deplored a “lack of mobilisation” on the part of groups that stand for the rights of women and children. 

“Why are the women who are so active in the #MeToo movement silent when a mother and her two children, including a baby, have been held hostage by a terrorist organisation?” he asked. 

– ‘Simple kibbutzniks’ –

Hamas’s unprecedented attack in the early morning of October 7 on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of at least 1,160 people, the vast majority civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures. 

The retaliatory Israeli military campaign to destroy Hamas has killed more than 30,600 people, mainly women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

Kfir Bibas is the youngest of the hostages — just nine months old when the attack occurred.  

He and his brother Ariel are the only two minors among the 130 who remain captive in Gaza, according to Israeli officials.

Back in Nir Oz, Shiri Bibas worked as a childminder and accountant. She and her welder husband Yarden lived “a quiet, family life of simple kibbutzniks”, said Shnaider, Bibas’s cousin. 

“Their 40-square-metre house was devoid of any embellishment, with toys that passed from one generation to the next, and a swing outside made of car tyres,” he recalled. 

“You could see right away on Shiri’s face something sincere and good.” 

Bibas’s sister-in-law, Ofri Bibas Levi, described how children gravitated to her. 

“She was … she is really a mother, not just for her own children,” she said, adding that she “no longer knows” whether to speak of Bibas in the present or the past tense. 

“In Nir Oz, all the children ran to her when they saw her.” 

– ‘Mama wolf’ –

Despite the charms of their life in Nir Oz, the Bibas couple had plans to move this year to settle in northern Israel. 

“Shiri was anxious about the alerts,” said Bibas Levi, referring to sirens announcing rocket fire coming from Gaza. 

“It stressed Yarden a lot too and they didn’t want to transmit this anxiety to the children.” 

Bibas Levi can relate, having relocated with her family from Reim, near the Gaza border, to northern Israel last August. 

Family photos show Shiri Bibas looking serious and shy, with a gentle smile. 

A rare glimpse of her publicised last month was more alarming. 

On February 19, with the family’s consent, the Israeli army released footage captured by street cameras in the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, which has seen heavy fighting in recent weeks. 

It shows Bibas holding Ariel as they are escorted by armed men in the hours after their kidnapping by militants.

Kfir is not visible, perhaps held in a baby carrier on his mother’s chest, covered with a sheet. 

“Shiri is a mother wolf, with a very strong maternal instinct,” her friend Ram Aharon said. 

“I’m sure she held her children in her arms all this time, despite the weight, from the kibbutz to protect them.”

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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