newsIsrael at War

‘Now is the time to close a deal that includes everyone,’ hostage’s mother pleads

"It’s the worst nightmare,” says Anat Angrest.

Matan Angrest. Credit: The Hostages and Missing Families Forum.
Matan Angrest. Credit: The Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

“Matan is going through the torments of hell, through torture. I don’t have a way to help him. I can’t even know whether or not he is alive,” Anat Angrest, whose son Matan is held by Hamas in Gaza, lamented in an interview with JNS on Wednesday.

“We are powerless. It’s the worst nightmare of every mother,” she added. 

On Oct. 7, Matan, 21, a tank soldier in “Team Perez,” IDF Capt. Daniel Perez’s crew, was stationed at the Nahal Oz base facing the Gaza Strip.

When the Hamas terrorist onslaught began, the outnumbered crew engaged the enemy to protect the residents of the nearby kibbutz, also called Nahal Oz. Eventually, they were overcome by an anti-tank missile.

“We were informed that Matan was badly injured, that he had lost consciousness, and had been kidnapped,” Angrest recounted.

Matan was taken wounded, but alive, together with the corpses of his comrades Perez, 22, from Yad Binyamin, and Staff Sgt. Itay Chen, 19, from Netanya. A few days later, the body of Sgt. Tomer Leibovitz, 19, from Tel Aviv, was recovered inside their tank.

“We know that he suffered. He went through some abuse but he was also provided some care so that he wouldn’t die from his wounds,” Angrest said.

“Those who came back [in a hostage exchange] in November saw him in the tunnels and told us what he went through and that he was being held in terrible conditions,” she added. 

About a month ago, Angrest was called in by the IDF to watch video footage found by soldiers in Gaza.

“We see Matan in raw, unedited footage. It’s clearly him. He says that he doesn’t understand how this happened and how he ended up there and he tells [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that he trusts him and asks him to get him out,” Angrest related. 

“It’s very hard for a mother to see her son on a screen, in this condition. He doesn’t look good; we can see on his face everything he went through. But this video is old, I don’t know what else they put him through since,” she said. 

A resident of Kiryat Bialik, one of Haifa’s bayside suburbs, Matan enlisted as a combat soldier after graduating from high school. He was due to be released from army service in April.

“Matan kept telling us not to worry because a tank is the safest and the most secure place in the army,” Angrest said.

“Somehow, he found himself in the middle of hundreds of terrorists without any backup. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It’s not something that he’d ever trained for. It was a failure of so many systems all at the same time,” she continued.

Matan Angrest (rear left) with his parents, sister Adi, 18, and brothers Roi, 9, and Ofir, 16. Credit: The Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

“I can’t seem to realize that my son is there. He is the eldest with three brothers and a sister. He couldn’t wait for leave from the army to come back to his room. Suddenly, he disappeared through hell and in the worst possible nightmare,” Angrest said. 

“Matan is a modest and very quiet boy who loves being at home. He goes to Maccabi Haifa soccer games with his sister, Adi, 18. He loves to play on a PlayStation with Ofir, 16. He was writing to Ofir that Friday night, telling him to wait for him and that they’d play soon. He would even come to surprise our little one, Roi, 9, at school in his uniform,” she said.

While campaigning for her son’s freedom, Angrest will also likely be facing a new challenge as Adi prepares to enroll in the IDF, also as a combat soldier.

“We had lots of conversations, we tried to change her mind but she had spoken to Matan before he was kidnapped. At first, he tried to talk her out of it but he understood her motivation and told her that if this is what she wanted to do, she would succeed,” Angrest said.

Roi Angrest holds a poster depicting his brother Matan at a protest. Credit: The Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

Angrest said her son’s motto, “We don’t leave the wounded in the field,” has never been so relevant. “Suddenly, Matan found himself in the field, wounded and alone, in enemy territory. It became his reality.” 

As mediators work to revive the phased ceasefire outline President Joe Biden presented in May, which calls for an initial “full and complete” six-week truce during which dozens of Israeli hostages—women, the elderly and the ill—would be exchanged for hundreds of Palestinian terrorists, Angrest said she feels the ground has been laid and is ready for a deal.

“Morally, everyone needs the return of the hostages so that our tears of sadness can turn into tears of hope, we can’t miss this opportunity,” she said. 

“We need to bring back everyone; my son is a soldier who fought for his country, other soldiers will not continue to fight unless they know that Matan and all the rest of the hostages are back.

“They see Matan as their brother in arms and they will not abandon him there. Now is the time to close a deal, a comprehensive one that includes everyone,” Angrest said.

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