Gaza hostages deal: ‘Until I see them with my own eyes I won’t believe anything’


Hen Avigdori is a well-known Israeli television comedy writer who says his mission has always been to make people laugh. But for the past 48 days, that has changed to a campaign to get “my girls back.”

The last contact he had with his family – wife Sharon, who’s 52, and their 12-year old daughter, Noam – was on 7 October, at 10am, when they said they were going to the safe room and everything was going to be okay.

“They had gone to visit a very peaceful kibbutz in the south of Israel. Nothing would have prepared us for the awful situation that followed,” says Hen.

“We were all supposed to go to Kibbutz Be’eri to visit my wife’s brother, but at the last minute the boys decided to stay at home and the girls went away. The next thing we knew there was a big mess in the south, and they were declared as missing – for the first two weeks – and then we got the ‘kidnapped’ status.”

For Hen Avigdori’s family and the vast majority of the hostages, there has been no proof of life. With a hostage release deal announced on Wednesday, he is hopeful that his wife and daughter will be among those released.

“Hope has been the only thing that kept us going over the past 48 days,” he says. “But I am also very cautious, I don’t get my hope too high. As I explained to my 16-year-old son and all the family, till the day I see the girls with my own two eyes, we won’t believe anything.”

Hen says he has been trying not to think about the conditions in which they’re being kept. Hamas says it has hidden the hostages in “safe places and tunnels” within Gaza.

“I try not to imagine,” he says, “I try not to think about that because I have a mission and the mission is to get them out. The more I think about their condition, the more depressed I get.”

Avigdori family

Meanwhile Hen has met senior figures in the Israeli government, the Red Cross, and what he calls a “very senior member of the Qatari negotiating team”.

And, he says, he has put a lot of pressure on the Israeli government to prioritise hostage release over military victory.

On Monday, during a heated debate between Israeli politicians and the family members in the Israeli Knesset, Hen pleaded with parliament members to “stop talking about killing Arabs and start talking about saving Jews.”

Hen says he always believed that in the end there was no way to get his family out without a deal. A military option to get 240 people out of Gaza is not feasible, he believes.

But he adds that “there’ll be no good feeling about the deal even after all the hostages are released, until Hamas feels the Israeli boots on the ground.” Hen says that it means “bringing an end to the existence of Hamas and releasing every single hostage from captivity are interlinked.”

Sagui Dekel-Chen, 35, is an American-Israeli citizen who has been missing since Hamas’s attack on Kibbutz Nir Oz. His father, Jonathan, says the deal might be seen as a sign of things to come, but, like Hen, he says he will only believe it when he sees the first group of hostages cross into Israel.

“My son is a peace-loving civilian who has two daughters and his wife is eight months pregnant. I, my Kibbutz Nir Oz and the whole country will of course welcome the women and children back into our community – if the deal actually happens. Up until that moment we’ll be cautious, we’re talking here about negotiating with a barbaric organisation.”


Others hostages’ families expressed the same caution, that at the last minute the deal might be jeopardised by new demands.

Abigail, a three-year-old Israeli-American, was taken hostage by Hamas on 7 October after both her parents were killed.

“We’re hoping and praying that she is one of the first groups,” her great aunt Liz Hirsh Naftali told CBS, the BBC’s US partner. Abigail’s cousin Noa Naftali added they were “cautiously hopeful, every daFamily of child hostage ‘cautiously hopeful’ for release

The deal is only “the beginning of a journey that needs to end with the release of all of the hostages,” says Ruby Chen.

His son, Itay, 19, is an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier who was on active duty with a tank unit on 7 October when he was taken.

After hearing the news of the deal, Ruby said he was joyful that the hostages, all of whom he described as “the extended new family members”, would be coming home.

Chen knows that his son will not be among the 50 to be released, but the deal is like “a framework”, and it is in place. It can be a sign of hope for other deals to happen in the near future, he says.



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