First testimonies shed light on the conditions endured by Hamas’ Israeli hostages
Nov 27, 2023, 2:47 PM | Updated: 2:50 pm
(CNN) — For more than six weeks, the conditions in which the Israeli hostages captured by Hamas were being held in Gaza were virtually unknown to the outside world.
But testimony from some of the hostages released by the militant group in recent days is now beginning to emerge, giving a glimpse into their lives in captivity following Hamas’ brutal attack on Israel on Oct. 7.
Those who have spoken of their experiences described living off limited supplies, as bombs rained overhead. Some knew throughout their time as hostages that family members or friends had died on the day of Hamas’ assault, while others were left without clues as to their safety.
Adva Adar, whose 85-year-old grandmother Yafa was among those released in the first exchange of hostages for Palestinian detainees, said her family “were asked to let (Yafa) share whatever she feels comfortable sharing, and not to ask a lot of questions so she wouldn’t feel obligated (to answer) or that it wouldn’t be too much for her.”
Adva said her grandmother had lost weight during the ordeal, and other hostages have revealed that little food was available for those in captivity.
Rice and bread
Freed hostages Keren Munder, her mother and her 9-year-old son endured days with only pita bread to eat during their captivity, her cousin Merav Mor Raviv told journalists Sunday.
Munder and her mother both lost between six and eight kilograms in weight due to the lack of regular nutrition, Mor Raviv said, adding: “They were eating, but not regularly.”
Their diet in captivity included a lot of rice and bread, she added.
Following the Israeli military’s strikes and ground offensive on Gaza, the Strip has been gripped by a humanitarian crisis. Most people in the territory have been focusing on the basics: finding shelter, fleeing the fighting and getting access to food and water.
Over the first three days of the truce, Hamas released a total of 58 hostages, primarily women and children, and Israel freed 117 Palestinian prisoners.
For some of them, the conditions were manageable. Roongarun Wichanguen, the sister of released Thai hostage Vetoon Phoome, said Saturday that her brother seemed healthy after he was released by Hamas in a separate deal.
“His face was very happy, and he seemed OK. He said that he was not tortured, or assaulted, and had been fed good food,” she said in a video interview. “He was taken care of very well. It looks like he just stayed in a house, not the tunnel,” she added.
But a number of hostages have been admitted to hospital with serious injuries or medical conditions.
Eighty-four-year-old Alma Avraham, who was among the Israeli hostages freed from Gaza on Sunday, has been admitted to the intensive care unit, Israel’s Soroka Medical Center said.
“She is in critical condition, she is (being) treated in the emergency department after significant medical neglect for the past several weeks while being held by Hamas. She is currently in unstable condition with risks to her life,” Dr. Shlomi Codish, chief executive of Soroka Medical Center, said in a video statement Sunday.
Another hostage, 72-year-old Adina Moshe, endured “horrible” conditions while she was held captive, according to her nephew.
Moshe is “getting her strength back” but is “a bit weak” after spending more than seven weeks five floors underground, Eyal Nouri told CNN’s Brinna Golodryga on Monday.
“They were fed only by rice and some beans from [a] can, which they tried to avoid [eating] in order not to have stomach-ache,” he said. “Not to mention that they didn’t have any decent facilities like [a] shower. They didn’t shower for seven weeks.”
Escape attempt thwarted
Yelena Magid, an aunt of freed Russian-Israeli hostage Roni Kriboy, on Monday told Israeli radio station Kan Reshet B about her nephew’s ordeal in Gaza. Kriboy is the first adult Israeli male captured on Oct. 7 to be released by Hamas; his release was not officially part of the hostages-for-detainees deal between Israel and Hamas.
Magid said in a phone call that Kriboy, 25, had told her how he was held in a building that collapsed while being bombed, and he managed to escape, he told his aunt. But after hiding for a few days, he was caught and returned to Hamas captivity.
“He tried to reach the border. I think that because he didn’t have the means to understand his whereabouts and where to run away, he probably got into a bit of disorientation there in the area. He was alone for four days,” Magid told the radio station.
Kriboy suffered from a head injury in the building collapse, but is now doing fine, his aunt added.
Hostages knew of loved ones
Meanwhile, some hostages were aware during their captivity that loved ones been killed on Oct. 7.
Omri Almog, the brother of an Israeli hostage who was released Sunday together with two of her children, described on Monday how his sister knew that her husband and daughter had been slaughtered.
“I’m very happy to inform everybody that my sister Chen Goldstein-Almog and the three kids Agam, Gal and Tal are back with us and they (are) feeling good and well,” Almog said in a short video released by the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum.
“They knew the whole time that Nadav and Yam were murdered in the house… they went to Gaza as hostages, kidnapped, with this idea,” he said. Chen Goldstein-Almog’s daughter Yam was 20 when she was killed, while her husband Nadav was 48.
Another hostage, 13-year-old Hila Rotem Shoshani, was released by Hamas on Saturday, but her mother Raaya remains in detention.
Yair Rotem, who is Raaya’s brother, said the pair were meant to be released at the same time, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday that “there was no reason to separate them.”
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has said that their separation violates the terms of the deal.
IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told CNN this weekend that when the IDF asked about Hila’s mother, Hamas said they did not know where she is – a claim that Yair dismisses.
“I urge all the parties involved to pressure Hamas to respect the deal,” Yair told Blitzer.
“We need to respect it, they need to respect it. Stop playing those games,” he added.
More than 40 of the hostages taken from Israel into Gaza on Oct. 7 are not currently held by Hamas, the group that launched the attack, a diplomatic source briefed on the negotiations told CNN Monday.
That creates a complication in potentially extending the length of truce, because the agreement calls for Hamas to hand over the hostages in exchange for Palestinian detainees held by Israel – so Hamas must have the hostages to hand over.
CNN has previously reported that an estimated 40 to 50 of the hostages were held by Palestinian Islamic Jihad or other groups or individuals. That was before the handover of hostages began on Friday.