Freed Hostages Describe Deteriorating Conditions of Those Left Behind at Gaza

One 12-year-old hostage tells his family he was forced to watch video of the October 7 atrocities at gunpoint.

AP/Ohad Zwigenberg
A billboard at Tel Aviv calls for the return of some 240 hostages abducted by Hamas, November 24, 2023. AP/Ohad Zwigenberg

Although most of the captives freed so far after being held hostage at Gaza for nearly two months have returned in nominal physical condition, the tales of their captivity raise the possibility of deep psychological scarring on the children and women. 

The aunt of a 12-year-old hostage, Eitan Yahalomi, described on Tuesday the harrowing conditions and treatment her nephew was forced to endure in captivity. In an interview with the French television outlet, BFM TV, Devora Cohen said the young boy was beaten as he was taken into Gaza and later forced at gunpoint to watch films Hamas took of the October 7 massacre. 

“Every time a child cried, they threatened him with a gun to keep him quiet,” Ms. Cohen said. She added that when the group of hostages arrived at Gaza, “all the civilians, everyone hit him.”

Another child captive, 9-year-old Emily Hand, was kept alongside a friend and her friend’s mother, who were with her when she was taken captive, her father, Thomas Hand, explained in an interview with CNN on Tuesday. The child has been too traumatized to elaborate on further details about her captivity. She has, however, discussed how she was held in a place she called “the box” and that she usually received only one meal a day. 

Ms. Hand’s “box” might have consisted of a cage. An Israeli journalist, Yishai Coen, reports that women held hostage by Hamas have been kept in cages. 

“They always had a breakfast, sometimes lunch, sometimes something in the evening,” Mr. Hand explained. The freed captive’s father added, “Emily was so hungry she learned to like eating plain bread with olive oil.”

In addition to returning pale and thin, Mr. Hand recounts that his daughter has come back ridden with lice and remains deeply pained by the tragedy she endured. 

Mr. Hand said his daughter now spends the nights crying “until her face was red and blotchy, she couldn’t stop. She didn’t want any comfort, I guess she’s forgotten how to be comforted,” he said. “She went under the covers of the bed, the quilt, covered herself up, and quietly cried.”

“The children could not make noise and were allowed to do little but draw and play with some cards,” Mr. Hand said of his daughter’s captivity. 

A freed 78-year-old Israeli hostage, Ruti Munder, said she and the captives she was held with slept on plastic chairs for most of the 50 days she was held. Boys who were there would stay up late chatting, while some of the girls would cry into the night, she said. Some boys slept on the floor.

The elderly Israeli said she would sleep late to help pass the time. The room where she was held was “suffocating,” and the captives were prevented from opening the blinds.

A relative of one of the hostages released Saturday, Merav Raviv, explained to journalists at Israel on Sunday that their diet consisted solely of pita bread. Ms. Raviv added that her family members each lost more than 12 pounds during their captivity.

The New York Sun

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