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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Rachel Sharp

Mother who died saving son, pro-peace academic and man missing at rave: Americans killed or missing in Israel

Chen Family, Hannah Katsman Facebook, Jewish Studies/Facebook)

The mother who died saving her son from Hamas terrorists.

The Washington University graduate who longed for peace.

The 23-year-old missing after celebrating his birthday at a desert festival.

These are just some of the Americans killed, kidnapped or feared missing following the attacks launched by Hamas militants on Israel over the last four days.

The State Department confirmed the death toll of US citizens had risen to 22 people on Wednesday. An unknown number are believed to have been take hostage by Hamas militants.

“We also know that American citizens still remain unaccounted for, and we are working with Israeli officials to obtain more information as to their whereabouts,” Biden said in a statement on Monday, when the confirmed toll was at 14.

“While we are still working to confirm, we believe it is likely that American citizens may be among those being held by Hamas.”

The president said that finding the Americans and bringing them to safety is a “top priority” as he condemned the attacks on Israel by the designated terrorist group.

Amid the Biden administration’s efforts, families and friends have spoken out about their loved ones who have been tragically killed – and pleaded for information about the whereabouts of those missing.

Here’s what we know so far about some of the Americans caught up in the unprecedented attacks.

Mother who sacrificed life for her son

US citizen Deborah Matias, 50, died sacrificing her own life to save that of her child.

Ilan Troen, professor of Israel studies at Brandeis University in Boston, said that his daughter Deborah, her husband Shlomi and their son Roten, 16, were in their home when Hamas militants stormed across the border, broke into homes and killed those inside.

Professor Troen said that Deborah threw her body on top of her son’s in order to protect him from the gunfire.

She and Shlomi were shot and killed while Roten was shot but survived.

Ilan Troen (centre), Brandeis University professor, with daughter Deborah Shahar Troen Matias and her husband Shlomi Matias
— (Sourced)

“They made sure to fall on him and thereby saved his life. Although a bullet actually entered his abdomen, but he was saved,” he told WBZ-TV.

Professor Troen said he rushed to hospital to be reunited with his grandson who is recovering from his injuries.

The devastated father told CNN that “Deborah was a child of light and life.”

“She, rather than becoming a scientist or a physician, she said to me one day, ‘Dad, I have to do music, because it’s in my soul,’” he said.

Washington graduate who dreamed of ‘peace’ found dead in home

Dr Hayim Katsman – a University of Washington graduate who hoped for peace in the Middle East – was found dead inside his apartment in Israel after Hamas terrorists tore through the community.

Hayim’s family last heard from him on Saturday morning when they received chilling messages from him saying that Hamas terrorists had entered Kibbutz Holit in southwest Israel where he lived.

The family never heard from the 32-year-old again.

Hayim’s friend Avital Alajem told CNN that they both hunkered down together inside a shelter’s closet to hide from the Hamas militants. But they broke in and fired through the door.

Ms Alajem survived but Hayim was shot and killed.

Hayim Katsman
— (Hannah Katsman Facebook)

“He was murdered,” she said. “I was saved because he was next to the door and they shot him.”

Hayim’s sibling Noy Katsman told CNN the family spent hours desperately trying to get in touch with him before learning of his murder.

Hayim was born in the US and studied at the University of Washington where he earned a PhD in international studies in 2021.

His parents were originally from Israel before locating to the US more than three decades ago and so Hayim had moved there to carry out research.

Noy Katsman said that Hayim had longed for peace and supported “a solution for this bleeding conflict” between Israel and Palestinians.

Man, 23, missing after celebrating at festival rave

Hersh Golberg-Polin, 23, has not been seen or heard from since early Saturday morning when he was partying with hundreds of other ravers at the Supernova festival in northern Negev.

During the celebrations, Hamas militants carried out a surprise attack, killing and kidnapping dozens of people from the site.

The Israeli rescue service Zaka said on Sunday that more than 260 bodies had since been found at the music festival site, with the death toll likely to climb higher.

Hersh’s father Jonathon Polin told The Jerusalem Post that his son was among those partying at the rave.

The 23-year-old’s birthday was just days earlier and he was also celebrating his release from Army service at the end of April, he said.

Hersh Golberg-Polin, 23, has not been seen or heard from since Saturday
— (The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies/Facebook)

At around 8am local time on Saturday morning, the 23-year-old sent a couple of heartbreaking final messages to his parents.

“I love you,” one of the messages read. “I’m sorry,” read another.

No one has heard from him since, with the family now desperately trying to find out what happened to him.

In a heartbreaking press conference on Tuesday, Hersh’s mother Rachel Goldberg said that they had seen a picture of him taking cover in a bomb shelter with other festivalgoers.

She said witnesses had told the family that his arm had been “blown off” from the elbow down.

The Hamas terrorists then told the group “anyone who can walk, stand up and walk out” and so Hersh walked out “completely calm”, she said.

He was then reportedly put on a pickup truck and driven away by Hamas, with his cellphone signal last pinging on the Gaza border.

Hersh was born in Berkeley, California, and moved with his family to Jerusalem when he was seven.

He went on to join the Army, training as a medic and tank driver in the 7th Armored Brigade.

On completion of his Army service, Jonathon Polin said his son got a job as a waiter and was saving up for his lifelong dream of travelling to India.

“He is a smiley, fun-loving guy and people of all ages just gravitate towards him... he’s the guy that is just fun to be around and makes people have a good time,” his father said at the press conference.

Midwife who brought thousands of babies into world – and was last heard screaming on phone

California-born Adrienne Neta has brought thousands of babies into the world as a midwife.

She was last heard screaming down the phone to her adult children as Hamas terrorists stormed into her home.

Her son Nahar Neta said at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday that he and his siblings had been on the phone to their mother on Saturday trying to keep her calm as the attacks unfolded and she hunkered in a shelter.

They were still on the call when they heard gunfire in the background.

“We were on the call with her when the terrorists barged into her home. We heard a little bit of screaming and that was our last contact with her,” he said.

Mr Neta said that they did not hear shooting on the call after the terrorists breached the building so they are hoping that she is being held hostage.

Desperate family members hold press conference to plead for help in finding missing Israeli-American loved ones
— (YouTube)

“It’s our hope – it’s ridiculous to say – our optimistic scenario is that she is being held hostage in Gaza and is not dead in the street,” he said, breaking down in tears.

He said that their mother “devoted her life to helping people of all races and genders” in the hospital where she worked.

“My mother is an exceptional human being. She spent most of her life in the community and then as a midwife in a hospital,” said her daughter Dayana Neta.

“When she walked into the delivery room she saw a human being in front of her. Not a religion, not a race, not a hijab, not an orthodox Jew – it was always the human being she saw. We once calculated our mother brought thousands of lives into this world.

“When Hamas walked into my mother’s room... they did not see a human being.”

New Yorker turned Israeli soldier missing in action

Itay Chen was born and raised in New York before his family later moved to Israel.

Around a year ago, Itay joined the Israel Defense Forces as a corporal.

He was based along the Gaza border when Hamas terrorists breached it on Saturday morning.

His father Ruby Chen said at a press conference on Tuesday that he last heard from him then when Itay said they were “under attack.”

“Since then silence,” he said.

Now, the 19-year-old is feared to be among the hostages kidnapped and held by Hamas terrorists.

Itay Chen
— (Chen family)

Israeli officials have designated him missing in action.

Mr Chen said that they believe his son could be being held as a prisoner of war as “no one has been able to physically locate him, identify him… he’s not in a hospital … not on a deceased list.”

“Please think of us not just as a headline, we are people, we are family,” he said.

“We want to go back to becoming family, hopefully as soon as possible.”

Itay’s family joined a protest outside the US embassy in Israel on Monday.

Dressed in t-shirts that read “Help Find Itay” and holding up photos of the missing 19-year-old, they begged President Joe Biden to help bring him home.

Father expecting third child now believed to be in Gaza

Sagui Dekle-Chen is a married father who was last seen on Saturday in his Kibbutz close to the Gaza border.

His father Jonathan Dekel-Chen said in a press conference on Tuesday that “hundreds of heavily armed, well-organised terrorists” entered their community of around 400 with an intention to “kill, maim and destroy civilian life.”

Mr Dekel-Chen, a Hebrew University academic who previously held positions at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and Rutgers University, said he believes his son has been taken to Gaza by Hamas militants and is being held hostage there.

“He is an arm’s length away from me in Gaza, but couldn’t be farther from me and my family right now,” he said.

“Sagui is the father of two beautiful daughters and his wife is pregnant right now.”

“Sagui is the kind of son everyone would want,” he said of his son.

Mr Dekel-Chen said only 160 of the 400 community members have survived.

“The rest died or are prisoners or are missing,” he said.

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