Israel-Hamas war

After protecting patient in Hamas encounter, Filipina caregiver to go home

Michelle Abad

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After protecting patient in Hamas encounter, Filipina caregiver to go home

CAMILLE AND NITZA. Filipino caregiver Camille Jaselva poses for a photo with her 95-year-old patient, Nitza Hefetz.

Israeli embassy in Manila

Filipina caregiver and single mom Camille Jesalva did not hesitate to give all her savings to an intruder in the home of her employer if it meant sparing their lives

MANILA, Philippines – “Mama, patingin na po ng picture ng anak ko… Kasi gusto ko, siya ‘yung huli kong makikita,” said Camille Jesalva, a Filipino caregiver in Israel in an online exchange with her mother in the Philippines.

(Mama, please show me a picture of my son…. Because I want him to be the last thing I see.)

Members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas had intruded the home of Camille’s patient, 95-year-old Nitza Hefetz, on October 7. They lived in Kibbutz Nirim, an Israeli village just outside the Gaza Strip. Sounds of bombings were normal in their area, but this time, they had gone on for too long, and Camille was not sure if she would survive that day.

Camille was determined to protect Nitza, whom she grew to love. She also knew that she had to stay alive for her son, who was waiting for her back home in the Philippines.

The 31-year-old caregiver and her patient hid for hours. But in an eventual confrontation, Camille, terrified out of her wits, gave the intruders all the money in her wallet – around NIS 1,500 ($375) according to her story on Jewish News Syndicate. It was her savings for the vacation back to the Philippines she was supposed to go on.

Israeli media and Philippine authorities have hailed Camille as a “hero,” a label she shies away from. It was her being a mother that kept her determined to stay alive, and this Christmas, she will be with her son in the Philippines.


On October 6, the village celebrated the 77th anniversary of Kibbutz Nirim’s founding. Camille said it was the best party the village has ever had. But that night, she could not sleep soundly, bothered by a hunch that something bad was coming.

By 6:30 am, she began to hear bombs. Bombing in Nirim was “normal,” but the raining of rockets went on for more than 35 minutes. She began livestreaming on social media, but deleted the video after, aware that she could be tracked.

“I’m scared, but not too much, because we all know that we have shelter. That shelter can save us from the bomb. But the terrorists, we don’t expect,” she said in a briefing with Philippine reporters on Tuesday, October 31.

Camille and Nitza stayed in the mamad or safe room in the house. Nitza was unbothered, only concerned for breakfast, and her diaper which needed to be changed. She also slept through most of the noise, while Camille continued to wonder if the continuous explosions were normal.

Soon, she could hear people walking around the house. Her first thought was that Israeli soldiers had come to secure the village. But they spoke in Arabic, not Hebrew. She knew, because she worked in Dubai in the past, and could speak and understand both languages. Momentary relief had turned to anxiety, as the noise turned aggressive.

“After I changed her [diaper], I heard [a] noise. I’m right. I’m sure. Because this is my house. I know every movement. Even if I close the mamad, I know every movement,” she said.

She was exchanging messages with Nitza’s son Nimrod and her own mother in the Philippines, updating them that there were noises in their house. Soon, she discovered that the window in Nitza’s room was open.

“Oh my God. They are here,” she said.

Nimrod called Camille, trying to keep her calm as she cried and panicked. Their call got cut, but she suspects that he may have put it down because he did not want to “hear [their] death.”

“We are hearing already that they are killing outside. So I know what’s going on and what will happen to me,” she said.

It was at that time that she had asked her mother to send her a photo of her son, because by then, she genuinely believed that she would die.

Camille stayed quiet, but not calm. She had to muffle Nitza at one point, who kept speaking like normal, as to not give away their location to their intruders. When Nitza realized how much distress Camille was in, she kept quiet.

But it was only a matter of time. An intruder found the mamad. “Hello, sir,” Camille said in Hebrew. “Why are you here?” Camille quoted Nitza as saying, still apparently not fearful.

“Please, she is old, she doesn’t understand anything,” Camille told the man.

“Where is the phone and the money?” he asked.

He went ahead and grabbed her cellphone, which had a wallpaper of Camille and her son. She then grabbed her wallet and gave all the money inside, but pleaded for them not to take her passport.

When she told the man that there was no more money in the house, she saw him out, and even thanked him. The man was confused over her thanks, but she said that it was because he spared their lives and did not harm them.

Retreating back to Nitza, Camille sobbed for over two hours. This time, Nitza took care of her. “If not because of her, I would have died of nervousness. It’s like this is my second life, and Nitza loves me so much.”

Camille was stripped of all her money and left with Nitza’s trashed house. But the same day, Israel Defense Forces arrived and rescued the women.

They have been transferred to a shelter in Jerusalem, where they stay at present.

‘If you die, I die’

Camille is a single mom to her six-year-old son. It was he who kept Camille determined to stay alive no matter what.

Ayaw ko pa pong mamatay. Kawawa ‘yung anak ko. Tapos sabi po ng anak ko the other day, ‘Mommy, pag namatay ka, mamamatay ako.’ Kaya po ‘yung bata, feeling ko talaga hindi okay. Sabi ko kayla Mama, ‘Mama, hindi okay ‘yung anak ko… Hindi na ngumingiti katulad ng dati,'” she said.

(I don’t want to die yet. My poor son. He told me the other day, “Mommy, if you die, I will die.” I feel like the boy really isn’t okay. I told Mama, “Mama, my son isn’t okay… He doesn’t smile like before.”)

Philippine authorities are set to repatriate Camille soon, but she is determined to return after a 50-day vacation. She made a promise to Nitza that she would take care of her until she dies.

Natatakot po talaga ako kasi ayaw kong mawalan ng mama yung anak ko, pero ba’t ko po iiwan yung taong pinangakuan ko na hindi ko siya iiwan?” she said. (I’m really scared because I don’t want my son to lose his mama, but why would I leave someone I promised I wouldn’t go?)

Camille said she and Nitza have become “best friends” after working for her for around five years. She knows that it may be difficult for Nitza to deal with a substitute caregiver she does not yet know well.

“Siya yung dahilan kung bakit… nasusuportahan ko ‘yung anak ko bilang single mom. Siya lahat. Kaya hindi ko kaya [magtrabaho sa iba]. Hindi ako kukuha ng iba kapag namatay siya dito sa Israel. Maybe somewhere, but hindi po dito sa Israel,” she said.

(She is the reason why I’m able to support my son as a single mom. It’s all because of her. That’s why I cannot work for anyone else once she dies here in Israel. Maybe somewhere else, but not here in Israel.)

Adult, Female, Person
‘BEST FRIENDS.’ Camille Jaselva poses with the 95-year-old she takes care of, Nitza Hefetz. Courtesy of Israeli embassy in Manila

Anak, uuwi na ako (Son, I’m going home),” Camille said in the press briefing as a message to her son.  

Huwag ka nang mag-alala. Okay na si Mommy. Saka hinding hindi ako mamamatay para sa ‘yo. Gagawin ko lahat. Ibibigay ko lahat, mabuhay lang tayong dalawa. Hindi ka mamamatay, anak… Kapag namatay ka, ako din mamamatay,” she said.

(Don’t worry. Mommy is okay now. And I will never die for your sake. I will do everything, give everything, just for the two of us to stay alive. You will not die, son… If you die, I die.)

Continued tensions

The Philippines has so far repatriated four batches of overseas Filipino workers, totaling 119 workers and four infants. Some workers have told stories of mental distress they experienced from simply hearing nearby explosions.

The Hamas launched a surprise attack in southern Israel on October 7. Clashes between Israel and Palestine have been around for decades as the latter has fought for land Israel has occupied, and Israel has been accused of crimes committed against Palestinians in occupied areas, which are under investigation both by the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.

Following the October 7 attacks, Israel has intensified its assault on the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. At least four Filipinos have died in the conflict.

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.