Warning: This story contains distressing details.
In the early moments that Hamas militants were storming onto their communal farm outside of the Gaza Strip last weekend, 33-year-old Adi Vital-Kaploun — a dual Israeli Canadian citizen with close ties to Ottawa — was sheltering in her family’s home with her two sons, a four-year-old and a 4½-month-old.
She told her father and her husband to stay where they were, and not to come to them.
It was an act that “certainly saved their lives,” said her cousin-in-law, Aaron Smith, in a Thursday morning interview with CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning.
“And however she was able to convince the terrorists that murdered her to take her kids to her neighbour — she saved their lives as well. She’s a hero.”
Smith said the details, contained in an article published Wednesday in the Globe and Mail, are graphic.
Family friends Moshiko Bengiat and Dina Zaslacksi told the Globe that Vital-Kaploun was shot in front of her children, and that the four-year-old remembers everything. Later, when Hamas militants entered the neighbour’s house, they dragged her into the living room and thrust Vital-Kaploun’s children at her, asking if she knew them.
Smith told CBC the neighbour and the children were then used as human shields “to convince other friends and family in the kibbutz to come out” of hiding.
Chosen as a propaganda tool
The neighbour and children were taken through the Negev Desert toward Gaza Strip and released. Smith said they were “chosen as this propaganda tool” to show Hamas’s good will.
Grainy video footage from Hamas shows the neighbour and Vital-Kaploun’s two children near a fence close to Gaza, and Hamas fighters walking away from them. Conflicting information from some media outlets described them as a mother and her two children being released by Hamas, or a woman and two children being released.
Vital-Kaploun’s family is outraged.
“There’s no good will that these murderous terrorists have. That’s propaganda,” Smith said. “Adi is the mother of those children. Adi is dead.
“The kids went through just unimaginable suffering, but are miraculously with us and are safe with their father.… One of the children was shot, had shrapnel in his leg and shot in the foot. That doesn’t sound like people that are trying to save women and children,” he said.
LISTEN | Aaron Smith’s full interview with Ottawa Morning:
Ottawa Morning11:28Ottawa family of woman killed in Hamas-Israel conflict speaks about their loss
Burial to take place in Israel
Smith said Vital-Kaploun’s family in Ottawa and Israel are in constant contact, and that they’re “as close as a family can be.”
She spent her summers in Ottawa with her cousins and family, attending summer camps and travelling the country — “a normal Canadian life for a lovely Israeli girl,” Smith said.
“There’s no words to describe how our family’s doing. It’s just hard. It’s unimaginable, the pain and suffering that we’re going through and all our people are going through.”
Vital-Kaploun will be buried in Israel, but with the Canadian government currently trying to airlift its citizens out, her family in Ottawa don’t know how they can attend.
“We all want to be there,” Smith told CBC. “We all want to be there always, to be with our family, to be in our own land, to celebrate our Jewishness. Some of us contemplated [going], but it’s hard to know if you go there how you get back. It’s hard to know how you willingly fly into a war zone. But we’re all there with her in spirit and in our minds.”
Andrea Freedman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, told Ottawa Morning Thursday that what the family is enduring is “absolutely heartbreaking,” and that they are one family among 1,300 dealing with the same grief.
Mayor spoke to family
Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said Wednesday that he had been in touch with a family in the city who’d lost a loved one to the conflict in Israel.
“It breaks my heart to see what’s happening there,” Sutcliffe told reporters during a scrum at� city hall. “My thoughts are with all of the victims and all of the families in Ottawa who have been affected by what’s been happening.”
Sutcliffe later posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, that Vital-Kaploun was the granddaughter of longtime ByWard Market shop owner Irving Rivers.
The Irving Rivers store, located at the intersection of York Street and ByWard Market Square, has been in business for more than 70 years.
I was devastated to learn of the murder of Adi Vital-Kaploun, the granddaughter of longtime ByWard Market shop owner Irving Rivers, during the terrorist attacks in Israel. I spoke with Adi’s mother and family members today to offer my support and my deepest condolences on behalf…
Two Canadians are confirmed dead, and a third is presumed dead as a result of the conflict, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly.
Global Affairs Canada has not confirmed Vital-Kaploun’s identity.
Currently, 4,227 Canadians are registered in Israel with the federal government’s registry of Canadians abroad, and another 475 are registered in the Palestinian territories, according to Global Affairs Canada.
Joly’s comments came after the Palestinian militant group Hamas staged an attack on Israel last weekend, firing rockets, killing civilians and taking hostages.
The attack prompted Israel to declare war on Hamas with attacks of its own. Israel has also ordered what it has described as a complete siege of Gaza, blocking everything from electricity and fuel to food and water from entering.