As freed hostages return to Israel, details of captivity emerge

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The 58 hostages who were released in the last three days of the ceasefire have mostly been out of the public eye and most of them are still in hospitals.

This handout photo provided by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office shows 3-year-old Yahel Shoham arriving in Israel after its liberation. Yahel was one of 13 Israeli hostages released by Hamas at the end of Saturday, November 25, 2023, in the second round of a ceasefire agreement. Office of the Prime Minister of Israel / Article provided by AP

JERUSALEM (AP) – Plastic chairs as beds. Bread and rice dishes. Hours of waiting for the bathroom. As the former hostages returned to Israel after seven weeks of captivity by Hamas, information emerged about their detention.

The 58 hostages who were released in the last three days of the ceasefire have mostly been out of the public eye and most of them are still in hospitals.

Nearly two months after Hamas militants took them to Gaza in a bloody cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200, most of the freed hostages appear to be in stable condition.

Information about the circumstances of the abductions has been tightly controlled, but family members of the freed hostages have begun to share details about their loved ones’ ordeals.

Merav Raviv, whose three relatives were released by Hamas on Friday, said they were fed irregularly and mainly ate rice and bread. Her cousin and aunt, Karen and Ruth Munder, each lost about 7 kilograms (15 pounds) in 50 days, she said.

Raviv said she heard from family members who had been released that they were pushed to sleep on chairs in a room that looked like a reception area. They said they sometimes have to wait hours before going to the bathroom.

Adva Adar, the granddaughter of 85-year-old hostage Yafa Adar, said her grandfather had also lost weight.

“She counted the times she was captivated,” Adar said. She came back and said, ‘I know I stayed for 50 days.’

Adar said her grandmother was taken into captivity believing her family was dead, but when she heard they had survived. Even so, her release was tragic: she also found that her house had been destroyed by gunmen.

“For an 85-year-old woman, you usually have the house where you raised your children, your memories, your photo albums, your clothes,” Adar said. “She has nothing, and in her old age she must start again. She said it was hard for her.

Israel’s ground and air strikes on the Gaza Strip have killed at least 13,300 Palestinians in the 50 days since the hostages were taken, according to the Hamas-run state’s health ministry. In the current four-day ceasefire agreement, Hamas agreed to Israel releasing 150 Palestinian security prisoners and a total of 50 Israeli hostages to mobilize aid for the beleaguered state.

18 foreigners were also released, mostly from Thailand.

Eleven more hostages are set to be freed on Monday, the last day of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, leaving around 180 hostages. Israeli officials have announced that they are willing to extend the truce by one day for the 10 hostages released by Hamas.

A full picture of life in Hamas custody is 85-year-old Yocheved Lipschitz, a hostage released before the current ceasefire. Upon her release, Lipshitz said she was trapped in tunnels under Gaza, “like a spider’s web.”

Lifshitz said the captives were treated well and received medical attention, including medication. The guards kept the conditions clean, she said. She said the hostages were given cheese, cucumber and pita once a day, and her captors ate the same food.

It seems that the recently freed hostages are also being held underground. Adina Moshe’s 72-year-old nephew Eyal Nouri, who was released from prison on Friday, said the aunt had been in the dark for weeks and “had to get used to the sunlight.”

“She was in total darkness,” Nuri said. “She was in a cave, so she was walking with her eyes down. She was not used to daylight. And during her captivity, she was cut off from all contact with the outside world.

Nuri Moshe said she didn’t know she was going to be released until the last minute.

“Until you see the red cross,” he said. “Well, that’s when she realizes these terrible seven weeks are over.

She told the news that her husband was killed by militants and her son’s family miraculously survived.

Doctors warn of the devastating psychological effects of captivity. Israel has provided counseling and other support to those released from prison.

But most of the freed hostages appeared to be in good physical condition, able to walk and speak normally.

But at least two need more serious medical care. Alma Abraham, 84, who was freed on Sunday, was taken to Israel’s Soroka Medical Center in the southern city of Beersheba in critical condition.

The director of the hospital said that she was already there and was not given proper treatment while in prison. Another young woman kidnapped by Hamas is on crutches in a video released on Saturday. The girl became angry with her captors as she got into a Red Cross van to take her out of the besieged area.

Yair Rotham said her 12-year-old niece, Hila Rotham-Shoshani, was released from jail on Sunday and said she remembers not wanting to whisper.

“They were always telling them to whisper and be quiet, so now she can raise her voice when I’m talking to her,” Rotem said. He added that Hila Israel, who will celebrate her 13th birthday on Monday, slept well and had an appetite on her first night back.

Raviv’s nephew, Ohad Munder, was surrounded by friends after his release from prison as they celebrated his 9th birthday a month later with ice cream and pizza in his hospital room.

Ohad’s friend Ethan Vilchik told Israel’s Channel 13 that his friend was “emotionally strong” and could answer their questions about what he ate and what happened to him while in captivity. But Ohad’s friends refused to share the details, saying they wanted to respect his privacy.

Vilchik said teachers canceled Munder’s homework requirements, but his friends helped him make up for the lessons he missed at school.

Ohad said he was still able to solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than a minute.


Associated Press writer Melanie Lidman reports from Jerusalem.

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