From heaven to hell: Mother of two hostages reflects on seeing her worst nightmare on video
Siblings Yagil and Or Yaakov have been held hostage in Gaza since Oct. 7. Their mother commissioned an animated video to tell their hellish story
EILAT, Israel – There are two videos that depict the nightmare Renana Gome Yaakov has lived for the last six weeks: One is a short animated clip telling the harrowing story of how her two sons, Yagil, 12, and Or, 15, were brutally kidnapped from their home on Kibbutz Nir Oz by Palestinian terrorists on Oct. 7; the second is a haunting hostage video of her youngest child pleading to be returned home.
“Hello, my name is Yagil Yaakov, I’m [almost] 13 years old. I miss my family and friends a lot,” begins a pale, gaunt-looking Yagil in the video released two weeks ago. “I love you all and I want to thank everyone who was in solidarity with us in Tel Aviv and who are continuing to pressure the government to get us and all the prisoners back.”
The teenager speaks with calm confidence — even as he appears to be speaking under duress, forced to criticize the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and thank his cruel captors for treating him well. In another video, a masked PIJ terrorist claimed the group was willing to release Yagil and another, elderly hostage, Hannah Katzir, 77, who also appears in a video, for “humanitarian reasons.” Both Katzir and Yaakov are among the 70 hostages taken from Nir Oz and both have serious health issues. Yagil has asthma and a severe peanut allergy.
Largely viewed as part of the psychological warfare on Israeli society and a pressure tactic by the terrorist group to get Israel to agree to a cease-fire, the video was not shared by any Israeli and most international media outlets around the world.
Gome Yaakov recounted to Jewish Insider last week that she was not home on that fateful Saturday morning when Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups broke through the border fence from Gaza, abducting her sons, as well as their father, Yair Yaakov, and his girlfriend, Meirav Tal.
She said the last contact she had with the two boys was a desperate phone call, where she heard Arabic voices in the background and her youngest frantically yelling: “Don’t take me, I’m too young,” before the phone line went dead.
“This was not a war, this was a terror attack,” said Gome Yaakov, speaking from the hotel in Eilat where she and many others from Nir Oz are now staying. The kibbutz was one of more than 20 communities along the border to be brutally attacked that day and currently uninhabitable.
“No mother should have to hear her child say those last words,” she said.
Haunted by nightmares and unable to sleep since that awful day, Gome Yaakov, who works as a strategic advisor for another area kibbutz that was also attacked, recalled to JI how she contacted award-winning Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, best known for his Golden Globe-winning animated feature film, “Waltz with Bashir,” in a bid to release the horrors from her head by visualizing what happened.
Folman, who has been filming the testimonies of family members whose loved ones are being held in Gaza, put Gome Yaakov in touch with Yoni Goodman, another renowned Israeli animator who also worked on “Waltz with Bashir” and other award-winning films.
“Yoni really is a good man,” said Gome Yaakov, who worked with the filmmaker to bring her dream – or rather, her nightmare – to life on the screen.
The 80-second animated short, which is aptly called “Disaster” and which Gome Yaakov narrates in flawless English, recounts the final moments on the phone with her sons, as well as her fears of where they are now and how they are being treated.
Beginning with the wail of rocket sirens, the film quickly cuts to flocks of shadowy terrorists running across the kibbutz’s perfectly manicured community lawn. Gome Yaakov retells the story: her sons were alone, sleeping, and ran into the safe room.
“They called me, scared to death, they said someone is breaking into our home,” she narrates in the film. “Over the phone, I heard voices speaking in Arabic. Even though my son tried to hold it closed, the door to the safe room was pushed open.”
“The last thing I heard was my youngest saying, ‘Don’t take me, I’m too young,’” Gome Yaakov describes in one of the final tragic frames.
“We thought the kibbutz was heaven on earth,” Gome Yaakov told JI after screening it again last week for a group of visiting journalists. “But in a few hours, it became hell.”
Asked how she felt about being one of the few Israeli mothers to have seen some proof their child might still be alive, Gome Yaakov was measured in her response. “I was happy to see him alive and well,” she said. “He looked sharp and was well-dressed, but that is all I will say about that video.”
As news of a possible hostage deal between Israel and the Palestinian terror groups appears closer than ever, Gome Yaakov said she has no choice but to remain hopeful.
“Hope is what keeps me going,” she said. “I am very hopeful my sons will return soon and hopeful that all hostages will be released in the near future.”
With a sad smile, Gome Yaakov added: “My kids used to call me too much, they used to call me all the time and nag me about everything. Now, all I want is for them to call me again. I just hope my phone rings very soon.”