Noam Peri’s life-or-death mission to Washington 

Her father is in Gaza. Noam Peri is in Washington, begging for help

Haim Peri is a man who defines his life by the land he lives on — arid land he has cultivated, farmed, controlled, marveled at and called home for more than five decades. It is the land of Kibbutz Nir Oz, a small Israeli community near Israel’s border with Gaza that he helped found as a young man, inspired by Israel’s pioneering socialist ethos.

A metalworker by profession, Peri is also an artist who makes large sculptures that he displays in the wide-open fields of his kibbutz. Over the years, he has also showcased works created by artists representing the diversity of Israeli society: Arabs, Bedouins, Jews. It’s a characteristic move for a peace activist who for years drove sick Gazans across the border to Israeli hospitals.

Now, for more than two weeks, Peri has been separated from his land. He now stares not at the expanses of Nir Oz’s farmland but, based on the accounts of released Israeli hostages, at the walls of tunnels underneath Gaza, where Peri, 79, is a captive of the terrorist group Hamas. His daughter Noam did not even know if he was alive or dead until Monday, when Yocheved Lifshitz, an elderly hostage who was released this week, shared that Peri was still alive.

“She was my teacher in kindergarten. She taught us how to swim,” Noam, who grew up on the tight-knit kibbutz, said of Lifshitz, whose husband is still being held hostage by the terror group. “She was able to tell her son yesterday that she knows my father is alive. She was with him.” 

Noam spoke to Jewish Insider on Tuesday in a crowded cafeteria in the U.S. Capitol, where she had come to issue an urgent plea for Congress to do everything in its power to help free the more than 200 Israeli hostages who have been in captivity since Oct. 7. Dressed in a blazer and slacks, Noam, who works at Google in Tel Aviv and no longer lives on the kibbutz, looked like any other activist on the Hill for official business — until she pulled out a stack of posters that bore the names and photos of hostages from Nir Oz and other nearby communities close to the Gaza border.

“We are asking them to be our voice here,” Noam said of U.S. legislators, after a meeting with Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). “There are many countries that Israel is not in contact with that the U.S. can help pressure, and this is what we need. We can’t do it without the United States and the global leadership.” Her three-day visit to Washington will also include meetings with senior State Department officials and Jewish leaders. 

No one in Israel has been untouched by the Hamas terrorist attacks that took place on Oct. 7. But for the current and former residents of Nir Oz, the assault was more akin to a pogrom — a genocidal massacre that left a quarter of the kibbutz’s 400 members either dead or taken hostage. Nir Oz’s survivors have been uprooted and relocated to Eilat, several hours south; when many of them returned to the kibbutz last week for funerals, under the guard of a battalion of soldiers, they came under fire from Hamas fighters in Gaza.

“It’s such a beautiful place and for hours, they just burned everything. They ruined everything,” Noam said of the dozens of Hamas terrorists who entered Nir Oz on Oct. 7, gunning down Israeli civilians and burning people alive inside their homes. “They took 73 people of this community.” Before the attack, colorful flowers bloomed on the trees. Bikes were left unattended without fear that they would be stolen. Everything was growing, alive, vibrant. Now, no one and nothing is left.

Noam hosted her parents and her siblings’ families for a joyous Shabbat dinner to mark the end of Sukkot the night before the attacks. Early the next morning, Noam and her four siblings received texts from their parents: the red-alert siren had gone off, and they quickly hurried to the safe room in their house. It’s an unpleasant if often uneventful occurrence that they have gotten used to since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007. After the siren goes off, they have 15 seconds to reach the shelter.

“They thought it’s the same thing, that they’ll be in the safe room for a few minutes, and then they’ll go out. They never imagined what was going to happen,” said Noam. 

Hamas terrorists breached the border of Nir Oz, where a security team was defenseless in the face of dozens of Hamas fighters. They shot up everything in sight, including electrical wiring, sending the village into darkness. Soon, terrorists entered the Peri home and broke through the door of the safe room. 

Haim pushed the terrorists out of the room and tried to run away before they caught him. 

“My father, I think he felt — I hope I would be able to ask him this one day, but I assume he felt like this is the only thing he could do,” Noam said.

Speaking in English, the terrorists said they wouldn’t hurt him and told him to follow them. And he went. Because what the terrorists did not know was that Haim’s wife, Osnat, the chairwoman of the kibbutz, was hiding in a corner in the dark safe room. After the terrorists fled with Haim, Osnat (“my brave mother,” said Noam) quickly and quietly texted her five children to tell them of Haim’s abduction. Then, she turned off her phone and sat in fear in the pitch-black room for hours until Israel Defense Forces soldiers rescued her. 

Haim Peri, an Israeli peace activist now held hostage in Gaza, holds a pro-peace sign quoting Yitzhak Rabin.

“We now know that in those hours, dozens of terrorists invaded, maybe even 100, and they just went from house to house, burning everything and shooting everything, murdering people,” said Noam. “If they couldn’t unlock the safe room door, they burned the house.” The emerging stories were almost too painful for Noam to share; a close friend of her sister had been killed along with her husband and their three children. 

“Each and every one in this list of kidnapped people, I know them. I have some kind of connection with them,” Noam said. 

Now, Noam’s life has changed immeasurably. She has become an unofficial spokesperson for Nir Oz and for its dead and kidnapped. Last week, she wrote a letter to the Egyptian ambassador to Israel sharing that her father traveled to Alexandria two decades ago to help Egyptian farmers develop the land.

“I had a very happy childhood in this place, and these are wonderful people. Honestly, all they ever wanted is to live peacefully with their neighbors,” Noam stated.

Until now, Noam has never been an activist. It’s a role she desperately does not want, and one she never would have chosen for herself. But she came to Washington armed with the stories of her friends and family members to tell anyone who will listen about Israel’s hostages. 

Accompanied by Irwin Cotler, a human rights lawyer and the former attorney general of Canada, Peri has been pursuing multiple goals. One is getting the International Committee of the Red Cross to write back to her, after she shared with them information on medication needed by the Nir Oz members now being held in Gaza. Another is pressuring Qatar, with its ties to Iran and Hamas, to give up those ties — or pressuring Washington to use its leverage with Qatar, a key U.S. ally in the Gulf, to press for action on the hostages. 

“I’m asking their help in whatever they can,” said Noam, to “make sure the world is aware of this hostage situation, and who are those hostages, the fact that they’re elderly or kids, and that this is a humanitarian crisis, that needs the whole world to work together to solve.”

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