Freed 12-year-old hostage says captors told him Israel had been destroyed

Eitan Yahalomi was also told his mother was abducted, and only found out she had evaded capture when he himself was set free

Eitan Yahalomi, 12, with his mother in Ichilov hospital on November 27, 2023, after being released by Hamas in a truce agreement. (IDF)
Eitan Yahalomi, 12, with his mother in Ichilov hospital on November 27, 2023, after being released by Hamas in a truce agreement. (IDF)

A 12-year-old boy who was held hostage by terrorists in the Gaza Strip has described some of his experiences in captivity, including being beaten by Palestinian civilians and his captors telling him Israel had been destroyed.

Eitan Yahalomi was abducted from his home in Kibbutz Nir Oz during the devastating October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel that killed over 1,200 people. Terrorists also abducted at least 240 others. Yahalomi was among 105 hostages released during a weeklong truce at the end of November.

His father, Ohad, is still being held hostage.

Yahalomi, along with his mother and younger sisters — who narrowly evaded capture — has moved for now to Kibbutz Emek Hefer, where he was to start at a new school on Tuesday.

The youngster spoke with the Ynet outlet the night before, providing some details on his capture and captivity.

Yahalomi was dragged from his home by terrorists and forced onto a motorcycle that sped back to Gaza. His mother and two sisters were placed on another motorcycle but at the border, their captors fled in the face of an Israeli tank and the three escaped back to Israel.

Soldiers walking next to the destruction by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, 2023, in southern Israel, November 21, 2023 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Yahalomi recalled that when he arrived in Gaza local Palestinian civilians beat him and other hostages in the street.

“That was a frightening experience,” he said.

At first, Yahalomi was kept alone, which he described as “very bad, frightening. I sat on the bed all the time, that’s all I did.”

He said his guard did not let him move unless it was to go to the toilet. He was permitted to listen a little to a radio and “it was nice to hear things in Hebrew.”

Later he was taken to another location where there were other hostages. There he met a good friend from his kibbutz and together they used the limited resources available to make card games or draw. He also kept a journal, describing being moved to a new room as “special days.”

Yahalomi had little information about what had happened to the rest of his family. His captors told him that his mother was a hostage.

“Sometimes they would tell me that they would soon take me to be with her and then I had hope. I imagined what had happened to [my family] and tried to speak with them inside my head. I was afraid that perhaps something had happened to them. The terrorists told me that the kibbutz no longer existed and the State of Israel didn’t exist.”

File: Bat-Sheva Yahalomi, holding a photo of her hostage 12-year-old son, Eitan, prior to his release (Courtesy)

He would sometimes wait six or seven hours until he was fed a meal of pita and a pickle, or some rice that he described as “disgusting.” Yahalomi said he would take his mind off it by fantasizing about the food he got at home.

Terrorists only told the hostages the night before that they were to be released.

“I was happy but I didn’t entirely believe that it would happen,” he said.

He only found out that his mother had not been abducted when he was freed on November 27 and returned to Israel.

As he stepped out of the minibus that brought him back to Israel he was told that his mother was free.

“I was happy and I asked how come she was here,” he recalled.

Kibbutz Nir Oz resident Ohad Yahalomi is presumed captive in Gaza, taken October 7, 2023 by Hamas terrorists. (Courtesy)

Eitan spoke of his concerns for the fate of his father, Ohad. While in captivity he said he could hear the explosions of bombs falling amid the IDF offensive against Hamas, launched in response to the October 7 attack.

“It was really scary,” he said. “I think that [dad] can also hear them and perhaps that is scary for him too.

“I tried to ask about him while I was there but they didn’t know anything. He has to come back as soon as possible. He and all the others must be brought back.”

Life in Emek Hefer kibbutz, he said, was much quieter. Other children at the kibbutz don’t ask him much about what happened, but the adults do.

“A lot of people ask me a lot of things. I have no problem with that, but I don’t understand why that’s interesting,” he said.

As for starting a new school, Yahalomi admitted it was “stressful, to get to know new people.”

Following his release in November, Yahalomi’s aunt, Devorah Cohen, told French media that her 12-year-old nephew was sometimes kept alone, but when he was with others, his captors threatened the children with a gun when they cried, to keep them quiet.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted from Israel by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive.

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