newsOctober 7

Family in despair over father in Gaza captivity

“I devote all my time and energy to the hostage release cause. It beats sitting at home and worrying myself sick,” says Rotem Cooper.

Amiram Cooper, now 85, and his family. Credit: Courtesy.
Amiram Cooper, now 85, and his family. Credit: Courtesy.

Six months after the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, Hamas was presented with a ceasefire offer that included the release of 40 Israeli hostages.

Israel requested that the freed hostages include women and elderly men, in exchange for 900 Palestinian terrorist prisoners. However, Hamas informed the mediators that they did not have 40 hostages who fit these criteria.

For Rotem Cooper, whose father, Amiram Cooper, has been held by Hamas since Oct. 7, this was sadly 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 United States 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 Jewish 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.”

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, 79, remained there 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 Nir Oz. When the family didn’t hear back from their parents, they initially thought that communications had failed. “One of our group members, however, who still lives there, said that there was WiFi 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.”

Israeli soldiers eventually arrived at the kibbutz, but by then, Amiram and Nurit had been kidnapped. 

Rotem expressed frustration with the slow response of the Israel Defense Forces to reach the kibbutz. “We had more people, percentage-wise, 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 soldiers arrived to help.”

Rotem’s aunt, Amiram’s sister, is also frustrated and angry over her brother’s situation. Ora Cooper, an artist who lives in Los Angeles, feels that the government abandoned the hostages. She believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have made bigger concessions early on. “The hostages’ families feel that the coalition doesn’t care about their loved ones,” she said.

Rotem Cooper
Rotem Cooper. Credit: Courtesy.

Nurit was released 17 days after she was kidnapped. While the family is relieved to see her back home, they remain 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 was smashed 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: not enough air and food.”

Since her release from captivity in late October, Nurit’s physical condition has improved, though she has a hard time remembering the traumatic events in Gaza.

Rotem, an engineer and owner of a startup company, returned to California a few weeks ago and is planning on going back to Israel soon. 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 asked 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.

“I devote all my time and energy to the hostage release cause. It beats sitting at home and worrying myself sick.”

Originally published by Jewish Journal.

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