Father’s Captivity in Gaza Spurs Family’s Tireless Advocacy for Hostage Release

“I am now devoting all my time and energy to the hostage release cause. It beats sitting at home and worrying sick.”
April 17, 2024
Amiram Cooper and his family

Six months after the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, Hamas was presented with a ceasefire offer that included the release of 40 Israeli hostages. Among them, Israel requested that the released hostages include women and elderly men, in exchange for 900 Palestinian prisoners. However, Hamas informed the mediators that they did not have 40 hostages who fit this criteria.

For Rotem Cooper, whose father, Amiram Cooper, has been held by Hamas since October Oct. 7, this news was not surprising. “Given the grave situation, I realize it’s quite possible my father is no longer alive,” he said.

Rotem lives in San Diego with his family; he moved from Israel to the U.S. 34 years ago. Despite acknowledging the unfavorable odds for his father, he has not ceased his efforts. Since learning of the kidnapping, he has traveled to Israel four times. “Everyone reacts differently to something like that,” he told the Journal. “My sister was crushed. I invested my time in transferring medications to Gaza and then worked on a letter signed by families of the hostages to include our representative at the negotiation table.”

Rotem Cooper

Rotem learned of the Hamas attack on Friday night at 10:30 p.m. “I called my parents, and they told me that terrorists had broken into the kibbutz. I asked them if there was a way to lock the mamad (Israeli bomb shelter), and they said, no. They were worried but still didn’t understand how severe the situation was. Hamas was in the kibbutz for two-and-a-half hours, but oddly enough, they didn’t hear anything.”

Amiram Cooper, who turned 85 in captivity, was one of the founders of Kibbutz Nir Oz in 1955. He raised his three children there and, with his wife Nurit, remained there even after all three had moved out. One of them moved to a nearby kibbutz, Nir Am.

Rotem was in touch via WhatsApp with a group of 16 friends whose families live in the kibbutz. When they couldn’t hear back from their parents, they initially thought the communication tower had failed. “One of our group members, however, who still lives there, said that there is still Wi-Fi and no problem with the system. That’s when we started really worrying,” he said. “We didn’t sleep at all that night. We watched the news and saw that people were kidnapped. We weren’t sure if their phone battery was dead and that’s why we couldn’t get hold of them.”

IDF soldiers arrived at the kibbutz around 2 p.m., but by then, Amiram and his wife Nurit, 79, had already been kidnapped.

“By then, the entire kibbutz was looted,” Rotem said. “Many Palestinian civilians, including children, entered the kibbutz and stole everything they could — clothes, computers, TVs. By the time they left, there wasn’t a bicycle left there. They also took all the tractors.”

Rotem expressed frustration about the slow response of the IDF to reach the kibbutz. “We had more people, percentagewise, who were murdered and kidnapped than any other kibbutz in the area. Fifty people were murdered, 70 people were kidnapped and 40 of them were released. Hundreds of terrorists entered the kibbutz, and no soldier had arrived to help them. That’s why Kibbutz Nir Oz suffered the biggest loss.”

Rotem’s aunt, Amiram’s sister, is also frustrated and angry over her brother’s situation. Ora Cooper, an artist who resides in Los Angeles, spoke to her brother a few hours before he was kidnapped. “He didn’t feel good. He said he had diarrhea, and let’s talk on Sunday. I urged him to go and see a doctor, and he said he was going on Thursday.”

That was the last conversation they had. The next time she saw her brother was when Hamas released a short video of three of the hostages, her brother among them.

“It seemed like he had lost a lot of weight,” she said. “I could also tell he couldn’t see anything. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, and he has bad eyesight. He doesn’t see at all from one eye, and in the other, he sees better but needs his glasses. When I saw that image, I started crying. He looked exactly like my father did before he passed away.”

Ora feels that the hostages were abandoned by the government. She believes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have made bigger concessions earlier on. “The hostages’ families feel that the coalition doesn’t care about their loved ones,” she said.

Two days after his father was kidnapped, Rotem was on his way to Israel. The first thing he did was arrange for medication to be sent to the hostages, many of them elderly and sick. “Of course, we were unsure if they would ever receive the medications, but this is not an excuse to do nothing. At least we tried and indeed we learned three months later that our effort was extremely successful when the IDF found remnants of the medicines we sent in Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, close to where my father and many of the Nir Oz hostages were held. At the same time, we didn’t see any attempt by the State of Israel to get their medical records and transfer vital medication to the hostages.”

Seventeen days after she was kidnapped by Hamas, Nurit, 79 , was released. While the family was relieved to see her back home, they remained extremely worried about Amiram.

“She was held with my father throughout her captivity,” said Rotem. “She told us that Hamas broke their eyeglasses, so they couldn’t see much. My mother’s shoulder got broken when she was kidnapped. When they took her in a car through Gaza streets, someone reached in and punched her in the face. While in captivity, the conditions were harsh: high humidity and not enough air and food.”

Since her release from captivity, Nurit’s physical condition has improved, but she has a hard time remembering things from her time in Gaza. Rotem, an engineer and owner of a startup company, returned to L.A. a few weeks ago and is planning on going back to Israel soon. Despite being unsure as to whether his father is still alive, he remains committed to doing everything he can to help the efforts to release the hostages.

“We have drafted a letter to President Biden that was signed by close to 600 family members of hostages who represent 81 hostages still being held in Gaza,” he said. The letter is asking President Biden to intervene and put pressure on all sides, including the Israeli prime minister, to bring an end to the situation and to bring about the release of the hostages. He continued, “I am now devoting all my time and energy to the hostage release cause. It beats sitting at home and worrying sick.”

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