Sixty-one-year-old Liora Argamani, also known as Li Chonghong, facing imminent death with stage four brain cancer, has just one wish — to see her daughter Noa, who remains in Hamas captivity in Gaza, one last time.
More than four months after the militants abducted Noa Argamani, a 26-year-old half-Chinese university student, along with scores of others from a music festival on October 7 in southern Israel, her family is still hoping to bring her home.
In January, Hamas released two videos over a two-day period showing three hostages, including Noa. In the first of the two videos, she, along with two male captives — Itay Svirsky and Yossi Sharabi — implored Israel’s government to bring them home. The undated, heavily edited clips ended with the caption, “Tomorrow we will inform you of their fate.”
Israel’s government condemned the video as psychological warfare propaganda.
The second video featured Noa describing the deaths of Sharabi and Svirsky, “killed in Israeli airstrikes,” and included footage of what appeared to be the dead bodies of both men.
“While we are still alive, bring us home,” she implored on camera.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed the hostages’ deaths, but its spokesperson, Daniel Hagari, rejected the claim that its airstrike killed the two male captives.
“We know it’s psychological warfare meant to pressure [Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, but it was a horrific psychological game,” lamented Noa Argamani’s cousin, Moshe Cohen, who has taken on the role of family spokesman.
“When we saw in the video that she’s alive but the other two aren’t, we felt horrified sadness for their families,” Cohen tells VOA. “But there was relief that Noa is still alive.”
He says Noa’s father, an Israeli named Yaakov Argamani, is too overwhelmed with emotion and his frequent travels making appeals to decision-makers, to engage with the press.
Liora Argamani, who was born in Wuhan China, is mostly unable to communicate because she’s “heavily medicated, physically weak, and her speech is slurred,” says Cohen.
She has struggled with brain cancer for years and in 2023 suffered a relapse when the cancer stopped responding to chemotherapy or radiation. The Washington Post reports her doctors are resorting to experimental drugs.
In a video plea released in December, Liora Argamani implored, “I don’t know how long I have left. I wish for the chance to see my Noa at home.”
She has issued several appeals for her daughter’s release, including to U.S. President Joe Biden.
She also granted interviews in Mandarin, hoping her Chinese heritage might influence China’s policymakers to appeal to Hamas for her daughter’s release.
“Noa is level-headed, determined, and stubborn,” Liora Argamani shared in Mandarin in October, saying she believes those attributes will protect her daughter from harm. She said her daughter partially derived those characteristics from her Asian heritage.
But the family soon realized the Chinese leadership would not intervene on Noa’s behalf because she is not a citizen of China.
She was among roughly 253 people, including seniors, a baby, women and children that Hamas took hostage October 7, when thousands of the militants infiltrated Israel and killed an estimated 1,200 people.
When Hamas took Noa, a video of her pleading for her life went viral on social media.
That same day, a video clip surfaced on social media showing her at an unknown Gaza location wearing a military green hoodie and black leggings, sitting on a couch, drinking bottled water.
The January video showing her still alive was released as the buzz of a possible second hostage release deal hovered. A November deal had seen 105 civilian hostages freed.
“It’s a constant mental rollercoaster,” says Cohen. “There’s hope, disappointment, hope, disappointment. The entire country is on standby. The overall feeling is negative because you can’t trust Hamas. This isn’t a negotiation with a country or a business. This is a negotiation with a rotten, cruel terrorist organization whose global aim is to destroy Israel.”
Hamas’ supporters say the militants are fighting to overthrow occupiers and establish an independent Palestinian state.
Experts are skeptical that more hostages will be released any time soon.
“A deal is unlikely,” says seasoned Israeli hostage negotiator Gershon Baskin. Baskin initiated and negotiated years-long, secret back-channel talks between Israel and Hamas, ultimately securing the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held in Hamas captivity for five years.
“Hamas wants terrorists serving life terms for killing Israelis to be released in exchange for the hostages. That’s a non-starter,” Baskin tells VOA. “My advice to Israel: Make a deal, bring the hostages home, and then re-arrest or assassinate released Hamas prisoners and continue with the war. They don’t get any guarantees.”
Meanwhile, time could be running out for a reunion between Noa and her mother.
“Liora’s doctors say she’s exceeding medical expectations, but she’s weak,” says Cohen. “My opinion? She’s waiting to hug Noa one last time, and then her soul will let go, and she’ll leave us.”
But there’s no guarantee that Noa will be released.
Meanwhile, relatives of the 136 hostages who remain in Hamas captivity in Gaza, including Yaakov Argamani, are constantly on the move. They shuttle between countries, meeting with world leaders to lobby for support and appeal for a deal that will see their loved ones safely return home.
Adrianna Zhang of VOA’s Mandarin Service contributed to this story.