Israeli mother of Gaza hostage: 'I try to keep my thoughts on her'

By Joseph Campbell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Even among the blizzard of mobile phone footage from the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, brief shots of 19-year-old Naama Levy being bundled into a jeep in Gaza, her grey tracksuit pants stained with what looked like blood, have stood out.

The footage, posted by Hamas and circulated widely on social media, showed Levy bruised and cut, with her hands tied behind her back as she is pushed into the vehicle while bystanders chant "God is Great!" in Arabic.

"You can't go around not seeing that footage somewhere because they kept showing it in a loop," said her mother, Ayelet Levy Shachar, occasionally fighting back tears.

The teenager, who had just begun her military service, was one of more than 240 hostages seized by Hamas gunmen who broke through the security barriers around Gaza and stormed through communities in southern Israel, killing more than 1,400 people, according to Israeli authorities.

"I try to keep my thoughts on her coming back and how she comes back to me," said Levy Shachar, who said she talks to her daughter continuously in her mind, imagining her situation, perhaps held in one of the web of tunnels built by Hamas that run beneath Gaza.

"Where does she lie down? Where does she put her head? What is she eating? Is she sleeping? Does she have water? Does she have fresh air? Does she have air at all?" she said.

Israel has mounted a relentless assault on Gaza, bombarding the enclave from the air and attacking by land and killing more than 9,000 Palestinians, including thousands of children, according to Gaza health authorities.

Israeli leaders have vowed to crush the Islamist movement Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip and bring back the hostages, pressured by the families, torn between thoughts of their loved ones and horror at the memory of what took place on Oct. 7.

"Look at the films that are out there," said Levy Shachar, referring to the footage of the attack that floods social media. "They came in and this is what they wanted to do, they came in to do evil. And this can happen anywhere, it could be anyone's daughter," she said.

Only four hostages have so far been released while another one was rescued by Israeli troops. But Qatari-backed efforts to negotiate a release of others have gone quiet and increasingly world attention has turned to the victims of the bombardment, pressing Israel for a halt.

Levy Shachar said she occasionally attends rallies to call for the hostages to be brought back but mostly she just thinks of her daughter.

"I just want this all to be over. I don't want to speak to cameras anymore, I don't want to be in crowds. I just want to be back home and have Naama back home. That's it".

(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Conor Humphries)