White House officials said on Tuesday that 14 American citizens were killed and 20 or more were missing after the brazen attack on Israel, which President Joe Biden condemned as an act of “pure unadulterated evil.”
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters Tuesday that it remains unclear how many of the missing were in the hands of Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza and carried out the attacks that began Saturday morning and have killed more than 1,000 people in Israel.
Sullivan said the government was in regular contact with the families of the missing, some of whom have pleaded with authorities in the United States and Israel to help find and bring back their loved ones.
“I have no higher priority than the safety of Americans being held hostage around the world,” Biden said in his speech from the White House on Tuesday.
U.S. officials had not shared identities of any of the missing or dead Americans, but based on media and family reports, many appeared to be dual U.S.-Israeli citizens, with family in both countries, at least some of whom lived in small agricultural communities near the border with Gaza that came under attack from Hamas.
The Missing: Family Members Plead for Help
At a news conference in Tel Aviv, Nahar Neta fought back tears as he described being on the phone trying to calm his 66-year-old mother, Adrienne Neta, who was born and raised in California but living in a kibbutz near the border with Gaza as Saturday’s attack unfolded.
His siblings were on the phone with her as attackers broke into her home in Be’eri, he said. They heard screaming, he added, and have not heard from her since.
Rachel Goldberg said she woke up Saturday in Jerusalem to the sound of sirens warning of incoming rocket fire. Her 23-year-old son, Hersh Golberg-Polin, was at a music festival near Gaza’s border. When she turned her phone on 10 minutes later, she saw two consecutive text messages from him that read “I love you” and “I’m sorry.”
Goldberg — who moved with her family from California to Jerusalem in 2008 — has not heard from her son since. She said the only thing the police could tell her was that his last known cellphone signal was near the border with Gaza.
Also among the missing Americans were a mother and daughter from Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, who were visiting relatives in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz less than a mile from the Israel-Gaza border. Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, the executive director of Chabad of Evanston, said Judith Raanan and her teenage daughter, Natalie, who recently graduated from high school, had not been heard from since Saturday.
“This was a woman that was full of hope,” Rabbi Klein said of Judith Raanan. “And I know she has a resilience to overcome her tormentors.”
The Lost: A Mother Shielded Her Son From Bullets
In her final moments, Deborah Martias, who was born in Missouri and whose father is a longtime professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, covered her teenage son with her own body to protect him, her relatives told several news outlets Tuesday.
In the moments before she and her husband were killed by the assailants who burst into the family’s home, Martias was on the phone with her father, Ilan Troen, he recounted in a televised interview, saying that she heard glass breaking, gunshots and people speaking in Arabic.
In an email to The New York Times, Troen, who also teaches at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said that he was heading to a hospital in Israel to visit his 16-year-old grandson, Rotem, who had been shot in the stomach but survived, hiding until he could be rescued.
Troen described his daughter and son-in-law in the interview with MSNBC as “idealists.” They lived at Kibbutz Holit, a small community just over a mile from Gaza, and had sent their children to a school that taught both Hebrew and Arabic, he said, “in the hope that somehow Jews and Arabs would learn to understand more about each other,” and “change the course of history here.”
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