Tue. May 28th, 2024

The family of Ditza Heiman has taken hope from the release of four hostages who were being held by Hamas in Gaza (Picture: Family of Ditza Heiman)

The British family of a great-grandmother being held hostage by Hamas has spoken of their hope that a ‘pathway’ can be used for her release after two of her neighbours were freed.

Ditza Heiman, 84, is among around 220 people still being held by the militant group following the release of four people since Friday.

Those freed include peace activist Yocheved Lifshitz, who is a neighbour of Ditza’s at Kibbutz Nir Oz, which lies 1.4 miles from Israel’s border with Gaza.

While the freed hostages have so far not publicly given any news of Ditza, her British family is hoping that the same ‘pathway’ can free more people being held in the Palestinian enclave ‘as a matter of urgency’.

The retired social worker, who has lived in the kibbutz for decades, was taken as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched the mass incursion on October 7. Her family described her as a ‘woman of compassion’ who, like her 85-year-old neighbour, wants people of different faiths and backgrounds to live in peace and dignity.


MORE : Number of Brits killed in Hamas attacks on Israel rises to 12 while strikes on Gaza escalate

Ditza Heiman is described by her family in the UK as a much-loved great-grandmother (Picture: Family of Ditza Heiman)

Ditza’s great niece said: ‘The release of the four hostages has given us an amount of hope for Ditza’s return.

‘Yocheved did not share any information specifically about Ditza but she did say she was with a number of other people from their kibbutz and was able to share some information about the conditions.

‘We have taken hope from this and from seeing a pathway whereby our loved ones can be safely released.

‘The imperative must now be on securing the release of all those who are still being held and on the preservation and sanctity of human life.’  

Ditza, who needs regular medication, had tried to seek safety in her mamad, or safe room, before she was seized during the surprise attack. The last time anyone from her family managed to get through to her phone after she was seized it was answered by a man speaking Arabic who said ‘Hamas, Hamas’.

The former child carer’s family later spotted her home and identified her walking to a car in a video released by Hamas.

Ditza with her late partner, Zvi Shdaimah, who came to the UK on the Kindertransport (Picture: Family of Ditza Heiman)

Ms Lifschitz, whose husband Oded, 79, is still being held captive, described being held in a ‘spider’s web’ of tunnels under Gaza, but said she had been treated well by her captors.

Her London-based daughter, Sharone Lifschitz, spoke of her relief and re-iterated her intention to secure the release of her father and the remaining hostages, who are predominantly Israeli but are also thought to include other nationalities, including Americans and Thais.  

The releases come ahead of an expected large-scale ground offensive in Gaza which is being prepared by the Israel Defence Forces.

Ditza’s British relatives, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Metro.co.uk that all parties involved in the hostage crisis should ‘do everything they can to save innocent lives’, with the brokered releases showing how this might be achieved.

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‘We know that a number of people from Ditza’s community are in the same position and while we are very anxious about her we don’t see this as being over until it’s over for everyone,’ the great niece said.

‘The hostages must be central to any plans about how to move forward in this dreadful situation and the release of the hostages provides some hope and a pathway to how this might be achieved.

‘We are desperate that the situation is resolved as a matter of urgency,

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‘Ditza is a very elderly lady and a number of people she is with are either very elderly or very young. Being held for 17 days underground is an extraordinary situation for anyone to be in, let alone a frail 84-year-old woman. This isn’t something that can be allowed to drag on for days, weeks and months. Every party involved in this situation must do everything they can to save innocent lives at this time.’

The great-grandmother with her children (from left): Yasmin, Gidon, Neta and Dafna (Picture: Family of Ditza Heiman)

Ditza prepares chicken soup which her UK family has been making as a way of connecting with her (Picture: Family of Ditza Heiman)

Ditza is the widow of Zvi Shdaimah who came to the UK on the Kindertransport, the organised rescue of predominantly Jewish children from Nazi-controlled territory before the Second World War.  

Her great niece, 26, from London, and niece, 58, from Hertfordshire, described her as a ‘woman of compassion’ who would be trying to help the other hostages.  

Her niece said: ‘Ditza is 84 and she has health conditions and needs regular medication, so it’s imperative that her needs are taken care of.

‘She has already been held for a very long time away from all the normal conditions of her life. She is a very strong, resilient and determined person but she is in enormously challenging conditions for an elderly person with health needs.

Ditza Heiman with her children who are doing everything they can to ensure her safe release (Picture: Family of Ditza Heiman)

‘There are also babies and children there in the most unnatural situation and we know that she would be trying to think of and care for those around her if she could in any way. Ditza is a woman of peace and compassion of all humanity who cares for the wellbeing of everyone.’ 

Ditza’s common cause with people of different backgrounds can be traced through to one of her daughters, Neta Heiman, who is a member of the Women Wage Peace group.  

The non-partisan movement is aimed at empowering women to work across the Israeli-Palestinian divide with the shared aim of ending the conflict.

‘The kibbutz was founded very much in the belief of shared humanity and good neighbourly relations,’ the great niece said.

‘At the time, members of the community would go to the beach in Gaza or to restaurants in Gaza City. The binary divide has not been here forever, and not even in Ditza’s lifetime. She has a strong belief in the goodness and humanity in everybody and, even in these unimaginable times, she would only want the best for every innocent person.’  

Yocheved and Oded Lifshitz were taken hostage by Palestinian militants on October 7 before she was later freed (Picture: via REUTERS)

Yocheved Lifshitz speaks to the media outside Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv after being freed by Hamas (Picture: Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Two US citizens, Judith Tai Raanan and her daughter Natalie, were freed by Hamas on Friday after negotiations overseen by Qatar.

They were followed on Monday by Ms Lifshitz and Nurit Yitzhak, who is also a member of Nir Oz, with the pair being airlifted from Gaza to a hospital in Tel Aviv. Ms Lifshitz said she had been through ‘hell’ but had been treated humanely and was shown on video shaking the hand of one of her captors.

She described being taken to a hall in the tunnels along with around 25 hostages before she and four other people from Nir Oz, who she did not name, were held in a different room.  

The latest release took place in a deal brokered by Qatar and Egypt, according to The Independent.

In a statement, Ms Lifshitz’s daughter said: ‘While I cannot put into words the relief that she is now safe, I will remain focused on securing the release of my father and all those – some 200 innocent people – who remain hostages in Gaza.’


MORE : British family’s ‘devastation’ after Hamas seizes great-grandmother, 84, from kibbutz

Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact josh.layton@metro.co.uk

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