Stories of grief, love and longing

“They were brutally killed. There were so many dreams, they were only 22 years old,” said Delegation member Tali Kizhner.

Iris Haim, mother of hostage Yotam Haim, listens as Eilon Kotler tells how his beloved kibbutz Kfar Aza was decimated at the BringThemHomeNow: Hear Their Stories event in Melbourne last week. Photo: Peter Haskin
Iris Haim listens as Eilon Kotler tells how his beloved kibbutz Kfar Aza was decimated, at Mount Scopus College last Wednesday. Photo: Peter Haskin

A hotel ambush by an anti-Israel mob was not enough to dampen the spirits of an Israeli delegation who visited Australia last week to tell the stories of their loved ones who were murdered and kidnapped by Hamas.

The demonstrators were waiting inside the Crowne Plaza in Melbourne’s Docklands as the Israelis returned from an event at Mount Scopus Memorial College last Wednesday, in an incident Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said “goes beyond the right of people to peacefully protest”.

“There is no excuse, no circumstances where people should organise a demonstration against grieving families. None,” he said.

Sky News revealed this week that Victoria’s Police Minister had refused a request from Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon for police to be present at the hotel.

Delegation member Tali Kizhner, whose son Segev was murdered at the Supernova festival, told reporters at Sydney’s Bondi Beach the next day, “I’m sorry for these people … because it is so inappropriate.

“Getting inside the hotel of guests of Australia and insulting them, I do not know how anybody can react to that.”

Speaking at at the Bring Them Home Now: Hear Their Stories event hosted by Zionism Victoria, Embassy of Israel and Zionist Federation of Australia on Wednesday evening, Kizhner remembered her 22-year-old son as a “very talented, very funny, clever guy”.

“They went out from our home at 2am,” she said. “I woke up at eight in the morning and I started to get the news. At 8.30 I was texting him, already he was not there, he was not with us.

“They were brutally killed. There were so many dreams, they were only 22 years old,” she said.

“I hope each and every one of you never experience this kind of pain and grief that we have.”

Ofir Tamir and Amit Parpara spoke about their friend Noa Argamani, 26, who was kidnapped by Hamas. “I knew Noa was at the party, I texted her back and forth. And she told me there’s dead bodies, shootings everywhere – it’s like a war zone inside of a festival,” Parpara said.

Following her live location, he saw her starting to move.

“I thought she was running, maybe that she was hiding somewhere else. But it moved closer and closer to the border of Gaza.”

From left: Elad Levy, Lior Vizental, Amit Parpara, Tali Kizhner and Ofir Tamir at Bondi Beach. Photo: Gareth Narunsky

Argamani’s mother has stage four brain cancer. “Noa is an only child, she took care of her mother,” he said, adding her mother’s last wish is to see her daughter one last time. “We’re full of hope. We will do anything to get her back,” he said.

Elad Levy recalled how his niece Roni Eshel, 19, who was killed by Hamas, “loved Taylor Swift and Harry Styles”.

“In this situation, there is no balance. There is no two sides,” he said.

“There is no context for raping a 19-year-old teenager … there is no context to taking families, females and young kids and an 85-year-old grandmother to hold her in captivity for 55 days underground.”

At the emotionally charged event with 800 members of the Melbourne Jewish community last Wednesday, Mika Shani, the sister of Amit Shani, 16, who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri, movingly described effect it has had on her family. “My mother begged ‘take me instead’. My two younger sisters were obviously hysterically crying. I always knew in my heart that he’s alive and he’s fine … We hope he will come back soon,” she said. She got her wish, as Amit was released the next day.

Iris Haim, mother of Yotam, 28, who was kidnapped by Hamas, said it is important people outside Israel hear from people like her.

“We need the help of our community in the Diaspora … to understand what is going on in Israel. It was very important for us, for my family, that our voices will be heard in the world,” she said.

Kfar Aza survivor Eilon Kotler also joined the discussion, which was moderated by AJN head of content Rebecca Davis.

Earlier last Wednesday, the group met state MPs at an event hosted by the Parliamentary Friends of Israel at the Victorian parliament. On Thursday they met the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel. On Sunday, they spoke at a communal event hosted by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies at North Shore Synagogue. It follows their visit to Canberra last Tuesday.

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