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Israeli hostages recount beatings, death threats in captivity

Female prisoners were kept in cages.

Relatives of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza hold a press conference in Tel Aviv, Nov. 29, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Relatives of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza hold a press conference in Tel Aviv, Nov. 29, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

Israeli hostages who are recovering from captivity in the Gaza Strip have largely kept out of the public eye, but accounts slowly reaching the press from their family members point to widespread abuse by Hamas.

Hostages report having been beaten, threatened with death, underfed, kept in cages and denied medical care.

Elma Avraham, 84, who has health issues, was taken hostage from Kibbutz Nahal Oz on Oct. 7, the day of the Hamas attack. Although in generally good health when captured, she deteriorated in captivity.

Released on Nov. 26, she had a pulse of 40 and a body temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

“They held her in terrible conditions,” daughter Tali Amano said. “We stood at the entrance with a package of medications for her. My mother didn’t need to return this way and I have no idea how she will make it through these days.”

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said, “She was denied life-saving medications. She was not visited by the Red Cross.”

Ditza Hayman, 84, who was kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Oz was similarly neglected.

“The kidnappers took my mother to the attic of an unfinished building inside Gaza. She was hidden there completely alone, without other hostages, and was trapped inside the building,” her son, Gideon, told Channel 12.

“In the cold, without running water, electricity and with very little food. I will not go into detail about the hygiene that was there. Think about the worst possible—and then worse than that,” he said.

Ditza Hayman. Credit: Courtesy of the Hayman family.

“Once or twice a day, one of the kidnappers came to her, served her food and left. During all these days, she did not receive any medical treatment, nor could she ask for it, because the kidnappers did not speak Hebrew or English,” he added.

‘They are monsters’

Female hostages were kept in cages, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a group set up in the wake of the attack, revealed on Monday.

Children were branded, lest they escape, according to Yaniv Yaakov, the uncle of the brothers Or, 16, and Yagil, 12, who were freed on Nov. 27.

“Every child that Hamas took was taken on a motorcycle, and they took each child and put their leg in front of the exhaust pipe, which caused a burn to mark the children so that in case they ran away or fled, they could find them,” he said.

A Thai hostage who was released told Israel’s Channel 12 that the Jewish captives were beaten with electric cables. Israeli hostages were treated worse than the others, he said.

Eitan Yahalomi, 12, a dual Israeli-French citizen, was released on Monday, 52 days after his abduction. His aunt, Deborah Cohen, told France’s BFM TV that he was forced to watch footage of the massacre.

“Every time a child cried there, they threatened them with a weapon to keep them quiet. Once they got to Gaza, all the civilians, everyone was hitting them. … We’re talking about a child 12 years old,” his aunt said.

“Maybe I was naive, but I wanted to hope that they [Hamas] were treating him well,” she said. “I was wrong. They are monsters.”

Thomas Hand, the father of Irish-Israeli Emily Hand, a 9-year-old who was among 13 Israeli hostages freed on Nov. 25, said she was shockingly pale, her faced hollowed out and her head full of lice.

“The most shocking, disturbing part of meeting her was she was just whispering, you couldn’t hear her. I had to put my ear on her lips,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “She’d been conditioned not to make any noise.”

She learned after her return that her “second mom” had been killed by Hamas. (Her mother died of cancer when she was 2.)

“Last night, she cried 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,” Hand said. “She went under the covers of the bed, the quilt, covered herself up and quietly cried.”

Emily believes she’d been gone a year.

Like the other hostages, she was poorly fed, given rice, water and pita bread. (“There were days when they barely had any food; in the last few days, they only ate very little rice,” Merav Mor Munder, cousin of Keren Munder, 55, who was released on Nov. 24, told Israel’s Channel 12.)

Israel has demanded that Hamas allow the Red Cross access to the captives. “Hamas continues to deny the Red Cross access to the remaining 145 hostages in violation of every norm of humanity,” said Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Eylon Levy on Thursday.

“We’re talking about people who were brutally abducted into the Gaza Strip, some with horrific injuries. We’ve already seen hostages returning, some in critical condition, others held there without medication,” he said. “They must be given access to medical treatment.”

Hamas has forced hostages to write glowing letters on the conditions under which they were held. One letter distributed widely by Arab media was written by Danielle Aloni, who was kidnapped with her daughter Emilia, 5, and returned on Nov. 26.

In it, she thanked Hamas for its “extraordinary humanity” towards her daughter. Israel’s media has warned to ignore such propaganda.

Of the 145 hostages still being held by Hamas, 28 are women and 117 are men. Ten of the hostages are age 75 or older, among them husbands of women already released.

A total of 105 hostages were released in small batches over the course of a week in which Israel has agreed to a halt in the fighting for the sake of their return.

On Friday, Hamas violated the ceasefire and renewed hostilities.

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