U.S. Hostage Families' Response to Palestinian Deaths 3:15

(CNN) -- In the dark. Forced to remain silent. Fed on meager rations. These and even more chilling facts begin to show how the hostages kidnapped by Hamas survived.


About 240 people, ranging from infants to octogenarians, were taken hostage during Hamas' attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Dozens have been released, but many more remain missing, allegedly in the hands of the Palestinian militant organization and other groups in Gaza, as the warring sides resume the battle.

Neither the Red Cross nor other humanitarian groups are allowed to visit the hostages. As a result, families and the rest of the world have to wait for the testimonies of those who have been released to find out what may be happening to their loved ones who are still being held in Gaza: whether they have been seen, whether they are alive or dead.

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The details below have been compiled from comments from released hostages to their families, their caretakers and, at times, journalists.

Under the terms of the agreement between Israel and Hamas, most of those released are women, children and foreign workers. As of Friday, only one adult Israeli man, who also had Russian citizenship, and no members of the Israeli army had been released. The hostages are believed to be spread across different locations and held by different groups. It already seems that not all hostages were treated in the same way; The story of each newly recovered person will contribute to the understanding of their conditions.

In the dark in the midst of an "incessant bombardment"

Adina Moshe was taken from her safe room in Israel, taken to Gaza and forced into five-story underground tunnels, according to her nephew Eyal Nouri.

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"They took her inside the tunnels... I was walking barefoot through the mud of the tunnels," she told CNN of the first hours of her captivity. "It was very hard to breathe. They walked [for] hours through the tunnels."

Moshe said his aunt was being held in an underground room where the lights were turned on for only two hours a day. The darkness was literal as well as figurative, Nouri said. Deprived of all information, their other senses and imagination were sharpened.

"They didn't know anything about what was going on upstairs," Nouri explains. "They only heard the non-stop shelling until the day before they were released. Suddenly, there was an astonishing silence and they knew something was going to happen, but they didn't know what."

The network of tunnels under the built-up enclave of Gaza described by Adina Moshe matched the testimony of Yocheved Lifshitz, an 85-year-old grandmother released early in the conflict, outside the terms of the truce.

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For weeks, Thomas Hand assumed his daughter was also underground. "It's more than likely in a tunnel somewhere under Gaza," Hand told CNN, after learning that Emily, once declared dead, was believed to be a hostage.

"November 17 is his birthday. He's going to be 9 years old," he said. "He won't even know what day it is. You won't know it's your birthday. There will be no birthday cake. No party, no friends. She will be petrified in a tunnel under Gaza. That's his birthday."

Hand was shocked upon her release when Emily told her that she, her friend Hila Rotem-Shoshani and Hila's mother, Raaya Rotem, were imprisoned on the surface, in a series of houses. That came with its own dangers. As Israeli forces attacked Gaza, pushing deeper and deeper into the Palestinian territory, Rotem and the girls were forced to run from one building to another.

"It's terrifying. To be pulled, to be dragged, to be pushed... probably under the gunfire," Hand said. An estimated 40 to 50 percent of buildings in northern Gaza have been damaged, according to independent investigators, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Wednesday that as many as 1.8 million people in Gaza, or nearly 80 percent of the population, are believed to be internally displaced.

Hand was right when he said that Emily had lost track of time. Released on the 50th day of captivity inside what she called "the box," the girl told her father she thought she had been out for a year.

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Forced to endure in silence

"The most shocking and disturbing thing about finding her was that she was just whispering, she wasn't heard. I had to put my ear to her lips," Hand said of Emily. "She had been conditioned not to make noise."

Both Emily and Hila only dared to whisper, even once back with their families. Three days later, Hand said he could hear Emily from three feet away when she spoke, but when she cried she buried herself under the bedding and was almost silent.

He had learned the Arabic to say "hush!" said Hand. The hostage children were only allowed to draw or play cards without making a sound.

Ruth Munder, a freed Israeli hostage, walks with an Israeli soldier shortly after her arrival in Israel on November 24. Credit: Israeli Prime Minister's Office/Handout/Reuters

Twelve-year-old Eitan Yahalomi was also ordered to keep quiet, even as he was made to "watch movies that no one would want to see" of the October 12 attacks, his aunt Deborah Cohen told CNN affiliate BFMTV.
Omer Lubaton Granot, founder of the Hostage and Missing Family Forums, said a gun was pointed at Eitan's head and threatened if he cried.

"What we hear from the children's accounts, the stark reality of captivity, is incredible," Granot said. "The sisters of other children told them that Hamas told the children that their whole family is dead, that no one wants them back, that they have no home to go to. They tried to scare the children."

Fed survival rations

The captives ate the same food as the guards, according to Lifshitz, who was released along with her neighbor on Oct. 24.
Grandmother Ruth Munder told Israel's Channel 13 that conditions worsened as the captivity dragged on and Israel's siege of Gaza tightened. U.N. officials have warned of "massive outbreaks of infectious disease and starvation" in the enclave due to Israel's strict blockade of all imports apart from a small amount of humanitarian aid.

At first, a guard brought chicken, rice, canned food and cheese for the hostages. "When we got up we would have tea and in the afternoon again tea and sweets for the children," Munder said, "until the economic situation started to get bad and people went hungry."

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Adina Moshe said in her tunnel room: "They were only fed rice and some canned beans, which they tried to avoid eating so as not to have stomach pain," her nephew reported.

Emily Hand told her father that they always had breakfast and sometimes lunch or dinner. He said he was so hungry that he learned to get a taste for regular bread with olive oil. Since her release, she wants to eat "like a horse," her father said, but for now they are restricting her intake while her shrunken stomach recovers.

It's a similar story for other former captives, whose weight loss and pale skin surprised family members who welcomed them home.

Former Thai captive Uthai Saengnuan said his concern was his compatriots still in captivity.

Physical and mental injuries

Eitan, the 12-year-old boy, was beaten when he arrived in Gaza, his aunt also said. "Maybe I was naïve, but I thought they would treat him well. But no, they are monsters," he said, referring to his Hamas captors.

Emily Hand claimed she was not beaten and her father said he believed harsh voices were enough to force her to do what they wanted.

When her friend Hila talks about her captivity, it's as if she's describing a scene from a movie she saw, not something she went through herself, her uncle Yair Rotem told CNN.

"Now it's a little distant, it's a little cold," he said. "He talks about things that happened as if they were in the third person, as if they had happened to someone else. He'll say he saw horrible things, but he says it with a straight face."

The father of a Thai hostage who spoke to his son after his release said he appeared to be in good health and in good spirits. "He suffered insect bites during his captivity," Chumpron Jirachart, Manee Jirachart's father, told CNN.

Thomas Hand said Emily was also bitten by insects. "He's got a head full of lice, absolutely full of lice. I've never seen so many in my life."

He said he and his eldest daughter worked in tandem with combs. "One pass and the thing was full, full of little black creatures."

Elma Avraham, 84, was seriously ill when she returned from Gaza, first needing a ventilator as she struggled to survive in hospital.

Dr. Hagai Levine, head of the medical team for the Hostage and Missing Family Forums, said his body told its own harrowing story.

"You can see in her body that she was dragged from place to place, that she was handcuffed," he said. "He has chemical wounds from not taking care of his basic needs."

Eitan Yahalomi, 12, released on November 27, at Sourasky Medical Center, Ichilov in Tel Aviv, Israel. Credit: Israel Defense Forces/Handout/Reuters

First Steps Toward Recovery

Rehabilitation will take time. According to experts, ex-captives can suffer from various psychological effects, including anxiety, depression, disorientation, grief, post-traumatic stress, and survivor's guilt.
Many hostages lost their homes in the 7 October attacks; As they return, some also discover how many of their friends and family were killed.

But Dr. Efrat Bron-Harlev, CEO of Israel's Schneider Children's Medical Center, where some of the hostages have been treated after they were released, said what staff had seen so far gave them optimism.

"We have heard unimaginable stories from many of the children and women, some of them truly unreal. We've heard stories that we, as doctors and caregivers, have a hard time believing could be real," Bron-Harlev said.

But his patients were strong and determined.

"In the last five days, we've met kids who at first were withdrawn and lost, and after a day or two, they were running around the room, playing and laughing."

Israel said Friday it believed 137 hostages taken captive on Oct. 7 remained in Gaza.

CNN's Rachel Clarke in Atlanta contributed to reporting by Joseph Ataman, Wolf Blitzer, Kate Bolduan, Bianna Golodryga, Jessie Gretener, Poppy Harlow, Jacqueline Howard, Lauren Izso, Ed Lavandera, Phil Mattingly, Kocha OIarn and Clarissa Ward.

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