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'My baby symbolizes the 9 months that have passed,' says sister, aunt of Bibas family still in Hamas captivity

Ofri Bibas Levi, whose brother Yarden was taken hostage with his wife Shiri and 2 children, Kfir and Ariel, looks at a picture of them on a t-shirt, during an interview with Reuters, in Geneva, Switzerland, November 13, 2023. (Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

The sister of Yarden Bibas has been living a nightmare, with her brother and his entire family taken hostage into Gaza by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.

Now, Ofri Bibas-Levi is grappling with a new range of emotions to add to the mix, as she gave birth to a baby boy, almost exactly 9 months after her family was snatched away from her. 

Yarden is still in captivity in Gaza but is being held separately, with no information about his wife and children. The terrible scene of his wife Shiri trying to protect her redheaded children, Ariel (4) and Kfir (then-9 months old), has become so famous that their little orange heads have become a recognizable symbol of the ongoing hostage crisis.

Because Yarden’s sister has been without her brother and the family for nine months, many have noted that nine months is the length of an entire pregnancy.

Bibas-Levi discovered she was pregnant just two weeks after the terrible events of Oct. 7 which left the whole nation of Israel in deep shock and trauma.

“It was like a horror movie,” she recalls, “something unimaginable that you can't believe is happening in real life.”

“As a relative of an entire hostage family and as a new mother. My baby symbolizes the nine months that have passed,” she said at the Mother's March, three weeks after the birth.

As concern for the women held hostage continues to rise, Bibas-Levi cradles her new baby, Afik, distraught that her family is still missing. Apart from video footage from Oct. 7, there has been no sign of Shiri and the children after they were kidnapped with more than 240 others on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah last year.

Having seen Hamas footage of her brother in captivity, a form of “psychological terror,” Bibas-Levi says at least she knows her brother is still alive. Many found the video too hard to watch, but she said, “I had to see it, I needed it, I had to hear his voice.” 

In January Hamas announced that Shiri and the children were dead but the IDF was not able to confirm the information. Because the Bibas family members are some of the most recognizable victims of the Oct. 7 attack, rumors have circulated and stories have been fabricated.

While Bibas-Levi was in the delivery room, an announcement from National Unity Leader Benny Gantz seemed to imply the Israeli government had information about Shiri and the children. Gantz said that "the State of Israel is aware of their fates," a comment that Ofri condemned as “irresponsible.” 

“We hold on in this uncertainty, and we try to keep the hope that there is still a chance,” she said. “Until we know something for certain, we’ll continue to fight for them as if they were alive. No one gives up on their family.”

“This pregnancy, as moving, miraculous and joyful as it was, has accompanied me throughout this period,” Bibas-Levi told ILTV news. “I never had the chance to announce it to Yarden and Shiri,” adding, “The joy is never complete, the sadness is always present.”

When asked how she coped during the time leading up to the birth, Bibas-Levi responded, “It’s not about me. They’re the story, they’re still there, they are the ones suffering, not me. They are the ones suffering and must be saved.” 

Bibas-Levi said she had “too much time” to think about everything, as the conditions of captivity and the fate of the hostages were overwhelming.

“I thought a lot about the women whose husbands are hostages and who gave birth during this period,” she said, “I can’t even imagine what they’re going through and how they’re coping.”

“Meanwhile, we know the hostages are dying, we know the conditions in which they have to survive… it’s not life there. Being nine months in a tunnel is not life.”

Bibas-Levi said she wished she could be more involved with the protests to bring the hostages back to Israel, noting: “We’re constantly living between hope and despair.”

“It’s moving to see all these initiatives that people take so that we don’t forget them, it could be two little orange candles lit for Shabbat,” she said during a recent interview.

“People think of them all the time. I’m really grateful for everything people are doing but I also want to scream: Stop! Bring them back!”

Jo Elizabeth has a great interest in politics and cultural developments, studying Social Policy for her first degree and gaining a Masters in Jewish Philosophy from Haifa University, but she loves to write about the Bible and its primary subject, the God of Israel. As a writer, Jo spends her time between the UK and Jerusalem, Israel.

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