‘The question is, which is worse?’
‘Is it worse that he would be resting in peace or is it worse that he’s being held by these terrible people who have attacked and killed babies and raped women?’

“We can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t concentrate. We are always trying to find information, find out if there’s any news, if there’s anything that we don’t know yet, hoping that somebody will call about the last time they saw him,” Simon Nemtzov, 65, says.

It’s one of the many voices in Israel who are haunted by the tragic attack on the Nova festival on October 7, where they lost a loved one.

Simon and his family are still awaiting news of his nephew Ben Binyamin Cohen, 27, who attended the music festival and never returned home.

The worst part is, they don’t even know if he is alive.

“We last heard from Ben on Saturday, the morning of the attack,” Simon tells Ronjita V Kulkarni/Rediff.com.

“The attack began at 6:30 in the morning. He contacted his parents and told them there was shooting and missiles going on and his parents had said, better get out of there. He called them again at about eight o’clock and said, I am at the car with my friends and we should be home in about an hour. Then he said there was another shooting and that was the last we heard from him.”

The attack

Ben had gone to the festival with five friends.

When the shooting started, two of the women in the group died.

One of the friends survived and he managed to give a few details.

“The three of them were together and they left the car and ran away. One of them hid in a garbage dumpster, and he’s the one who survived,” Simon says.

But Ben and his friend Dror Toar are still missing.

“We don’t know if he was killed. We don’t know if he was taken hostage. The uncertainty is probably making it so much harder,” Simon adds.

“We keep thinking what kind of situation he is in — if he’s being held by these terribly brutal and aggressive terrorists or if he was killed and they haven’t finished identifying all the bodies. There were over a thousand bodies collected from the area, and they’re still going through the identification process.

“The question is, which is worse? Is it worse that he would be resting in peace or is it worse that he’s being held by these terrible people who have attacked and killed babies and raped women? Who knows what kind of torture or terrible things they could be doing to the people they abducted.”

‘This terrible attack has changed everything’

The week was a significant one for the Cohen family.

Ben’s brother Tal was to get married on Tuesday, October 10.

“We were all supposed to be together with the extended family for a big wedding. We didn’t know what was happening with Ben, so we had a small ceremony with just the rabbi and a few close relatives. Hopefully, Ben will come home safely and we’ll have the bigger wedding celebrations then,” says Simon.

“The whole country had plans for this week. The school year was just starting. Everybody had plans and now this terrible attack has changed everything for us.”

‘The tragedy has brought Israel’s people closer’

“I live in an area which is about 20 km from Gaza, and it’s near an air force base. So jets are constantly taking off all day and all night and there’s a lot of noise. In the distance, we hear the booms of the bombardment and the artillery in Gaza. It’s shaking the house even though we’re 20 km away!” Simon says.

But the tragedy has brought Israel’s people closer.

“Israel is a very small country. We’re less than 9 million people and the military, they’re all our family. So there is a great deal of unity to try and support the soldiers.

“For example, where my community is, we’re right on the main highway that leads south, towards Gaza. We have set up a stopover at the gas station, so when the military is heading south, they can stop and get a hot drink and something to eat.

“The community is also taking care of families that had been living near Gaza and had been moved because the place has been bombed. We’ve taken in some of these families and people are providing food, clothes and shelter.

“The Jewish community has always been very strong and helping each other and working together.

This feeling has become stronger now, this feeling of helping each other and helping the military to feel that we are all in it together,” he adds.

‘They have started doing lessons online, like they did during COVID’

The supermarkets, Simon says, are still functioning, even though “many things are missing from the shelves”.

The schools are closed, but online lessons have started.

“They have started doing lessons online, like they did during COVID. The schools had got the systems all set up for distance teaching and they started just yesterday.

“In my area, almost all the businesses are closed but further north, outside of the missile range, the shops are open and businesses are still open,” he says.

‘How did they even think that this would be for the good of the Palestinian people?’

“Every town in Israel has an air raid system. As soon as you hear it, you know missiles or something is coming. So at 6:30 in the morning (on October 7, 2023), the sirens woke us up. We have about 60 seconds to get into the safe room,” Simon says.

“We weren’t fully awake but we quickly went into our safe room. We didn’t know why there was an attack or what was going on, but as soon as you hear it, you don’t ask questions, you just go to the safe room,” he says.

Missiles are shot at Israel every few months.

Hamas, he says, has been doing this for 20 years.

“There is no Israeli presence in Gaza, but Hamas took over Gaza with no intention of doing anything other than shooting at Israel and hurting Israel. They have their own land, they have their own place, they have their own people. But all they’ve been doing is attacking Israel for no reason.

“They are shooting missiles directly at the civilian areas.

“Hamas has a clear goal that they want to destroy Israel and kill Jews. To be honest, I don’t understand why they think this attack is good for their cause. I don’t see how this could possibly help the Palestinian cause.

“I don’t see how it leads to better peace. I don’t see how it leads to a better solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. Even somebody wants to promote a conversation finding a peaceful solution, if they do this kind of attack, all it does is set everything back.

“Now there’s retaliation and bombing on both sides. How did they even think that this would be for the good of the Palestinian people?

“I can’t understand anybody supporting Hamas. They’re not representing Palestinian interests. They are terrorists who are only interested in killing.”

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