Hamas has released two Israeli civilians held hostage in Gaza, 79-year-old Nurit Cooper and 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz, with the militant group saying they were let go for “humanitarian reasons and poor health grounds.” Hamas shared a video of armed fighters releasing the elderly hostages that shows Lifshitz reaching back to shake the hand of one of her captors and saying “Shalom” — the Hebrew word for “peace.” We feature comments from Lifshitz upon her release as she describes humane treatment by her captors and expresses criticism of Israel’s intelligence failure, and we get a response from Palestinian American journalist Rami Khouri. “She represents probably the essence, I think, of what makes Judaism such a special religion. It is based on ethics … and the pursuit of justice,” Khouri says. The struggle of Palestinians “is not with Jewish people. It is with the Zionist movement that became the state of Israel, which is widely recognized around the world as an apartheid system.”
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to something that just happened before the broadcast, and that is one of the hostages who was released speaking. Hamas has released two Israeli civilians held hostage in Gaza. On Monday, a Hamas spokesperson said 79-year-old Nurit Cooper and 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz had been let go for humanitarian reasons. Hamas shared video showing armed fighters releasing the elderly hostages to Red Cross officials. Just before the video ends, Yocheved Lifshitz reaches back to shake the hand of one of her captors, saying “Shalom” — the Hebrew word for “peace.”
Earlier today, Yocheved Lifshitz spoke to reporters in Tel Aviv. She describes the scene where she was kidnapped. She was very critical of the Israeli government, saying that the Hamas had released fire balloons, as she described it, that the fields were burning for weeks before. She was taken on a motorbike with two Hamas fighters, then walked for miles through what she called a kind of spider web of underground tunnels. Once in Gaza, Yocheved Lifshitz says her treatment improved. Her daughter Sharon, who flew in from London for her release, translated her remarks to reporters.
SHARON LIFSHITZ: My mom is talking about coming there. When they arrived, they arrived into a large hall in which about 25 hostages were gathered. And after two or three hours, those hostages, five of them, she among them, were taken into a separate room. My mom is saying that they were very friendly towards them and that they took care of them, that they were given their medicine — that they were given medicine, and they were treated. One of the men with them had been badly injured from a motorbike accident on the way, and the paramedic was looking after his wounds. He was given medicine and antibiotics. The people were friendly. They kept the place very clean.
YOCHEVED LIFSHITZ: [translated] We were very hurt by the fact that the IDF did not know. We were the scapegoats. They’ve warned us three weeks prior with people who came to the road and burned fields, sent incendiary balloons to burn our fields. And the IDF did not address this seriously. Suddenly, on Saturday morning, when everything was quiet, there was a heavy bombardment of the communities. And with that, the masses infiltrated, blew up the expensive fence, opened the gates of the kibbutz and entered in their masses. It was extremely difficult. I keep having those images in my mind.
TRANSLATOR: She’s asking, “Why did you shake the hand of the Hamas terrorist, individual?”
YOCHEVED LIFSHITZ: [translated] They were gentle with us. Our needs were supplied.
SHARON LIFSHITZ: My mom is saying that they treated them kindly and provided for them.
AMY GOODMAN: That was 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz, being translated by her daughter Sharon. Yocheved’s husband, Oded, is still a hostage. Last week, the legendary Israeli journalist Amira Hass talked about Oded Lifshitz on Democracy Now!
AMIRA HASS: I have no idea how many people, how many of the hostages. Some of them, I know their relatives. I know one of them who is 85 years old and a very brave journalist, who in — Oded Lifshitz is his name. I just realized it. He’s 85. In the ’70s, he exposed the Israeli — the expulsion of Bedouins in the northern of Sinai. He exposed it in a series of articles. I know some people that are relatives, as I said, of friends of mine.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Amira Hass, the legendary Israeli journalist, talking about Oded Lifshitz. He is still a hostage. His wife, as you can see, Yocheved Lifshitz, was just released. Rami Khouri, I was watching CNN earlier this morning just as this press conference was happening and the response right out of it. It was the host, Erin Burnett, who is in Israel right now, said clearly she’s voicing Hamas talking points. And when Yocheved said that the doctors came every two or three days and gave them medicine, and if they didn’t have the proper medicine, they would get some kind of replacement medicine, she said that proves that Hamas is hoarding medicine, because the Palestinians don’t have it. Your response to Yocheved Lifshitz, what she said? She is a peace activist in Israel who was one of the hostages just released.
RAMI KHOURI: Well, my response to her, but also to you, is, first, don’t watch CNN in the morning if you want news about the Middle East. That’s bad for your health, it’s bad for your mind, and it’s bad for your intake of serious, accurate news and analysis. There are many other much better sources around the world. Mainstream American TV is a catastrophe in this respect.
My reaction to Yahuda, I think her name is.
AMY GOODMAN: Yocheved.
RAMI KHOURI: Yocheved, yeah. She represents two things to me. And I’ve spent my whole life in the U.S. and around the world interacting with very, very close Jewish friends who I’ve known all my life and people in the Arab world and Europe and everywhere. And my reaction is that she represents probably the essence, I think, of what makes Judaism such a special religion. It’s based on ethics. It’s based on love. It’s based on truth. It’s based on respect for God. And it’s based on the quest as God told Moses to tell the Jews to tell the world. It’s based on the pursuit of justice. “Seek justice and only justice,” Moses said. So, that all echoes in what she said. She was honest. She was friendly. She said the truth, we assume. I don’t think she was, you know, orchestrated or taught to say any of these things. The fight that Hamas has, that we all have, is not with Jewish people. It’s with the Zionist movement that’s become the state of Israel, which is widely recognized around the world as an apartheid system.
The second thing I recognize about her comments is how the Israeli defense system in the south completely collapsed, was totally incompetent. And those towns, those settlements, the kibbutzim in the south, are mostly located on the ruins of Palestinian villages that were destroyed in 1947, '48. There was about 500 Palestinian villages that the Jewish fighters, before the declaration of the state of Israel — from late 1947 to May ’48, you had militant Jewish groups carrying out terrorism, pogroms, acts of great violence to get the Palestinians out, and they succeeded. About 750,000 Palestinians were driven out of Palestine before the declaration of statehood on May 15, 1948, Israeli statehood. And there was 500 villages, and they were destroyed, and people left. And many of them are where those kibbutzim are in the south. So I think that's another factor that we have to take into consideration.
And it raises the question of, you know: Where do you make a distinction between ordinary Israelis, people in the reserve forces, people in the active military? The problem is our battle is with the Zionist movement and Israel, which has done what it has done to us, and we are resisting and fighting back. But even in the heat of battle, you get human decency shown by both sides, because we are both humans and we are decent, but we are also in a state of active violent warfare that’s been going on for almost a century. Yeah, about a century, because, really, the fighting in Palestine between Jews and Palestinians started around the late 1920s, is when it — 1929 was the big first clashes in Palestine, and ever since. So it’s been almost a century that this war has been going on. So you can’t analyze any of this stuff in isolation. You have to look at the deeper context. And at the same time, don’t lose sight of the humanity of both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people.
AMY GOODMAN: Rami Khouri, we want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian American journalist, columnist with 50 years’ experience in the Middle East, senior public policy fellow at American University in Beirut. We’ll link to your article in Al Jazeera, “Believe it or not, justice will prevail in Palestine.”
Next up, we look at Israel’s endgame. Is it to push Palestinians into Egypt? Back in 20 seconds.