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Seeking the Faces of the Dead
Children, parents, grandparents murdered in Israel—their stories must be told.
AS THE WORLD REELS from the enormity of Saturday’s terrorist attacks on Israel, and takes in the realization that Israel’s war with Hamas and other terror groups may not end quickly, stories about many of the victims of the horror are coming to light. So far, some 900 people have been killed on the Israeli side, most of them civilians and at least 11 of them U.S. citizens; more than 2,150 people have been wounded.1 Behind these numbers there are faces and stories, and it’s important not to lose sight of them.
So far, little is known about the vast majority of these victims. In most cases, even the ones who have been identified have been described only by name, age, and in some cases occupation (mostly for police, soldiers or border guards, and first responders). The task of bringing those names to life is complicated by the fact that in many cases, it’s still difficult to sort the dead from the missing, the abducted, those held hostage.
Thus, the family of Shani Louk, the young woman seen motionless and nearly naked in one of the invasion’s most memorable and horrific images, is reportedly still clinging to hope that she may have been unconscious, not dead. Louk’s body, stripped down to her underwear, was paraded on the back of a pickup truck, mocked and spat upon by a group of jeering, hooting armed men; she is widely presumed to have been murdered.
Louk, a striking woman in her early twenties, a tattoo artist and a fashion/lifestyle influencer with a passion for travel and dancing, was a German citizen—not a tourist but an Israeli resident with a German passport. She was among the hundreds of young people attacked at the Supernova music festival, where some 260, about a quarter of the attendees, were gunned down in cold blood and others were kidnapped.
Some sources have described the event as a “peace festival.” In fact, the rave in the desert was billed as celebrating “friends, love and infinite freedom” and did not have a specific peace-oriented theme. But Louk does appear to have been a peace activist; her aunt told Der Spiegel that she was a conscientious objector who refused to serve in the military and was able to get an exemption thanks to her German citizenship.
AMONG THE U.S. CITIZENS who died in the attack is Deborah Matias, 50, a musician whose father described her as “child of light and life,” a woman who could have had a more lucrative career but chose music because it was “in [her] soul.” She also died for someone she loved, shielding her 16-year-old son Rotem from the terrorists’ bullets with her own body. Heartbreakingly, she was on the phone with her parents when the shots rang out; her father, Ilan Troen, a Brandeis University professor emeritus who now lives in Tel Aviv, stayed on the phone with Rotem for more than 12 hours while the boy hid from the terrorists and tried to stem the bleeding from his own stomach wound. He is expected to recover. Matias’s husband Schlomi died by her side. A widely circulated undated photo of the family shows all three—wife, husband, and son—grinning happily at the camera.
Roy Idan, a photographer for the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronot and the Ynet website, is missing and feared dead after Hamas raided his kibbutz, Kfar Aza, turning it (in the words of another resident) into “something between a warzone and pure hell.” A professional to the last, Idan ran outside when the assault began to snap photos of the descending paragliders and the rocket barrages; he then raced home in an apparent effort to get his family to safety. It was too late for his wife Samdar, who was shot dead in the family’s living room. Two of the couple’s children, 9-year-old Michael and 6-year-old Amalia, reportedly saved themselves by hiding in a closet. According to neighbors, Idan was outside their house holding his youngest daughter, 3-year-old Abigail, when he was shot by gunmen. Neither he nor Abigail have been seen since the attack.
Very little is publicly known about Hana Ben Artzi, a 69-year-old woman from the Kfar Aviv agricultural community near Ashdod, twenty miles north of Gaza. She was a mother of three, a grandmother of six, and a member of the community’s emergency team; when the rocket attacks began, Ben Artzi left her house to open the public bomb shelter for those who had no shelters in their homes. One of the rockets killed her.
Not all the Israeli victims massacred on October 7 were Israeli Jews. Ten residents of two Bedouin Arab communities in Negev were reportedly killed in rocket strikes, among them brothers Malek Ibrahim Alkra’an, 14, and Jawad Ibrahim Alkra’an, 15, as well as two of their cousins, aged 11 and 12.
AMONG THE MANY VICTIMS of Russian Jewish background was 34-year-old firefighter Yevgeny Galsky in the town of Netivot; a three-year veteran of the fire service, he was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant. Galsky’s Facebook page, which has a smattering of Russian along with Hebrew, shows that he was fond of biking and loved dogs, often sharing posts about owners searching for lost pets. A post with Galsky’s new profile photo a little over a year ago has a Russian-language comment from a woman who is probably his mother: “Our handsome boy”; and then, further down the thread, “Be healthy and happy for us, it’s the only thing that matters.”
On October 7, a Facebook friend posted a series of photos of Galsky with a bike—and a text that, auto-translated from Hebrew, reads like a devastating free-verse poem:
Amazing man with a wide heart and smile...
You will be missed always
My heart is broken
To me you have always been a real hero, beloved among friends
Bring with you a lot of light and warmth to those around you.
We miss you already.
Yes, there are also tragic innocent deaths from Israeli retaliatory strikes in Gaza, deaths for which Hamas also ultimately bears the responsibility; but keeping the focus on the victims of the initial assault on Israel seems appropriate for now, particularly given the extraordinarily barbaric and grotesque nature of the attack.