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21 JUL 2024

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How Were Freed Hostages Treated In Gaza?

A look at how hostages held in Gaza were treated after 50+ days in captivity - from the conditions under which they were kept to the treatment they received while held captive.


Poster of Kidnapped Hostages Held In Gaza

Photograph by Oleg Yunakov, distributed under distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. 



Basic Facts


  • On October 7, 2023, over 200 hostages were taken from Israel into Gaza by the terrorist organization, Hamas. 

  • As part of a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, brokered by Qatar, 105 hostages were released back into Israeli custody. 

  • This group of hostages were released over a week, starting on November 24, 2023. The last of this group was released on November 30, 2023, with the ceasefire ending on the morning of December 1, 2023. 


 

There is still much to learn about how the hostages were treated in Gaza. The first priority on their return was to make sure they had access to medical care and that they were reunited with their families. For many, the physical and psychological impact of extended captivity means they can not be pushed or forced to recount their experiences. Accordingly, what we know about how the hostages were treated is gradually increasing.

 


What Was The Immediate Condition of The Hostages Released From Gaza?  


Most of the hostages released from Gaza did not require emergency medical attention. However, there were a few exceptions. 


Maya Regev, 21, was released from captivity with an untreated gunshot wound to her leg. Since her return to Israel, she has been operated on and it is believed she will need further surgeries. 


One of the elderly hostages, 84-year-old Elma Avraham, was rushed to a hospital and later intensive care in Israel following her release. Her daughter had been very vocal about her need for daily medication and what she claimed was the Red Cross's refusal to help get it to her while in captivity. Alma has since stabilized and is undergoing further treatment and rehabilitation.


According to reports, 21-year-old Mia Shem, kidnapped from the Nova music festival, was operated on by a veterinarian in Gaza for an arm injury sustained on October 7.


The majority of the hostages had lost significant weight likely due to limited access to food while being held. The average amount of weight lost has been reported at 8-15kg.  Many seemed to show physical signs of having been held underground and without access to sunlight for extended periods - a determination based on the condition of their skin and coloring. 



How Were The Freed Hostages While In Captivity by Hamas?


Relying on accounts from the hostages themselves, several reports suggest that the treatment of those held was difficult for many reasons.


Here are the facts on how the hostages were treated from both a mental and physical point of view. Much of what we know comes directly from testimony from the freed hostages themselves.



How Were The Hostages Treated From A Psychological Perspective?


There is an inherent mental terror of being taken hostage. In this case, many were taken hostage at gunpoint and after seeing family members murdered. On top of this, Hamas took explicit action to increase the psychological terror the hostages experienced while in captivity. Twelve-year-old, Eitan Yahalomi, was forced to watch videos of the October 7 massacre by his captors according to his aunt Deborah Cohen


Omer Lubaton Granot, who founded the Hostages and Missing Family Forums, said

“What we hear from the stories from children – the captivity’s harsh reality is unbelievable,” Granot said. “Sisters of other children told them that Hamas has told the children that their whole family has died, that nobody wants them back, that they don’t have a home to go to. They tried to scare the children.”


Some families held captive were separated in what was likely an attempt at psychological terror. On October 7, Sharon Cunio was kidnapped along with her twin daughters, Emma and Yulia Cunio, both 3 years old and her husband David Cunio. According to Sharon's account, just two days into captivity one of her daughters was taken and kept elsewhere before eventually being moved again (she recognized her daughter’s cry in the room). 


During the release process itself, 13-year-old Mila Rotem-Shoshani was released without her mother, a violation of the cease-fire agreement. Her mother, Raya Rotem, was only released several days later


Many of the children returned were afraid to speak to their families in anything louder than a whisper. During captivity, they were repeatedly told to be quiet. According to first-hand testimonies, this was reinforced at gunpoint.



How Were the Hostages Treated From A Physical Perspective While In Gaza?


Physical conditions for the hostages in Gaza were believed to be rough. Some hostages were kept underground in tunnels the entire time. This meant no access to sunlight and limited space to move. The nephew of hostage Adina Moshe, Eyal Nouri, says she was held in an underground room with the light on for only two hours a day. 


Other hostages recall being held above ground, often in a series of houses. Nine-year-old Emily Hand and her friend, Hila Rotem-Shoshani, recall being moved between houses during their captivity in Gaza. Emily’s father believes much of this forced movement meant the girls had to run between buildings as the war raged around them. 


Reports of the food given to the hostages vary. Most recount limited amounts of food and a substantial lack of nutritious food. Merav Raviv, whose cousin and aunt, Keren and Ruth Munder, were held hostage, said they had been given mainly rice and bread. She believed both her relatives had lost around 7 kg (15 pounds) each. Additionally, her account says they slept on rows of chairs pushed together and had to wait hours to use bathroom facilities. 


Hostages returned covered in lice and many say they did not have access to showers the entire time they were held hostage - nor did they have clean clothes. 


At least two of the children held hostage recount having their legs purposefully burnt from the exhaust of motorcycles. This was done so hostages could be easily identified if they tried to escape. Eitan Yahalomi was beaten when he first arrived in Gaza. “Perhaps I was naïve, but I thought he would be well-treated. But no, they are monsters,” his aunt says of his Hamas captors.


“We heard from many of the children and women unimaginable accounts, some of them really surreal. We have heard stories, which are hard for us as doctors and as caregivers to believe they can exist,” said Dr. Efrat Bron-Harlev, chief executive officer of the Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel.


Of the hostages released, none had access to the medications they needed. There are still ongoing efforts from the Red Cross to be able to visit the hostages to assess their humanitarian and medical needs. 


There are also reports suggesting that treatment between the hostages varied. One released foreign national spoke after his release and was recorded as saying that the Israeli hostages were often beaten with electric cables


As more reports come to light there is growing evidence to suggest that some of the hostages also experienced sexual assault and abuse while held captive. The US has supported the view that further hostages are not being released in order to prevent them from recounting their experiences of sexual abuse at the hands of Hamas. 


Doctors in Israel responsible for the care of the initially released hostages support the fact that captives were sexually assaulted and abused while being held in Gaza. For now, they assert that at least 10 of the released hostages suffered in this way. 


While many freed hostages are expected to recover from the physical impact of being held captive for more than 50 days, the mental and psychological wounds are expected to take longer to heal. Many also returned to learn that their homes and communities had been destroyed in the October 7 attack and that family members had been killed. For many released hostages the ordeal is not over and won’t be for a long time. 



The Long-Term Effects on The Hostages Freed From Gaza


It is known that having been kept hostage or kidnapped can have a long-term impact on the physical and medical condition of those who undergo such an ordeal. This is regardless of their specific living conditions while in captivity. 


According to the National Library of Medicine, potential psychological impacts in adults can include:


  • Cognitive impact: denial, flashbacks, hypervigilance, hyper-arousal, impaired memory and concentration

  • Emotional impact: shock, numbness, fear, anxiety, dissociation, and depression among others

  • Social impact: withdrawal, irritability, and avoidance

  • Physical impact: existing medical conditions often get worse due to inhumane living conditions and a lack of access to medication and care


The National Library of Medicine cites the impact of being held hostage on children can include denial, ‘psychological infantilism’, and ‘learned helplessness’.


Though free, the consensus would seem to be that the freed hostages have much healing to undergo.  


 

Sources












Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, ‘Kidnapping and hostage-taking: a review of effects, coping and resilience,’ January 1, 2009





 

Rebecca Tomasis

Rebecca Tomasis


Rebecca Tomasis is an organic growth expert focusing on content optimization, SEO research and tracking. She believes that organic growth and content marketing are the new pillars of marketing and the best way to create and build relationships.


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