Says they could barely breathe in tunnels, feared suffocation

Freed hostage Aviva Siegel recounts Hamas’s sexual abuse, violence toward captives

Siegel, whose husband Keith is still captive in Gaza, says terrorists dressed young female hostages as ‘dolls,’ watched them bathe; world ‘missed lesson of the Holocaust’

Freed hostage Aviva Siegel during an interview to Channel 12, aired February 16, 2024. On Siegel's shirt is a picture of her husband Keith, still in Hamas captivity. (Screen capture: Channel 12. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law).
Freed hostage Aviva Siegel during an interview to Channel 12, aired February 16, 2024. On Siegel's shirt is a picture of her husband Keith, still in Hamas captivity. (Screen capture: Channel 12. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law).

Aviva Siegel, who spent 51 days in Hamas captivity and has since campaigned indefatigably for the remaining hostages, spoke to Channel 12 in an interview broadcast Friday, in which she detailed the Palestinian terror group’s humiliation tactics and sexual violence.

Siegel, 62, who was abducted along with her husband Keith from their home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza by Hamas terrorists on October 7, described the weaponization of sexual violence against female hostages, for whom Siegel has emerged as a fierce advocate since being released during a November truce.

During Hamas’s brutal onslaught, terrorists broke into the Siegels’ Kfar Aza home, snatching the couple to Gaza in their own car. When marching the couple, the terrorists shoved Keith, breaking his ribs.

Siegel said that among the thirteen locations she and her husband were held in was a tunnel so lacking in ventilation that they did not have enough energy to talk. They were left in the tunnels while their Hamas guards would take breaks above ground to breathe fresh air.

After several days, the hostages asked their guards what they should do if they felt suffocation was imminent, and the guards told them to shout for help. Siegel recalled that at one point Keith yelled repeatedly to no avail.

She also described how malnourished the hostages were, sometimes going for days without food or water, while their guards pretended not to understand the hostages’ pleas for sustenance.

This image released by the IDF on January 20, 2024, shows the inside of a Hamas tunnel in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis where hostages were held. (Israel Defense Forces)

Siegel recalled hiding food and when another hostage told her that a piece of bread she had hidden would soon be covered in mold, Siegel replied, “don’t worry, I’ll eat it with the mold.”

Siegel recounted how the terrorists would dress up the younger female hostages in tiny clothes, making them into “dolls — marionettes,” at whom the armed guards “just sat and stared.”

One woman was given such tight-fitting clothes that she couldn’t bend her knee.

Siegel said that when “three particularly young girls” took up the guards’ offer of a shower, the condition was that they would bathe together, with an open door and the terrorists watching.

Siegel said that in another instance, a young female hostage was ordered at gunpoint to accompany a guard, who then pulled her by the hair, tossing her to the floor, as he and three other terrorists beat her with a stick.

Keith Siegel, taken captive by Hamas terrorists from his home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

“They hit her entire body, and she didn’t say a word,” Siegel said. “When she returned and I asked ‘how did you not scream?’ she said, ‘I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction [of knowing] that they hurt me.'”

Siegel said the guards were not shy about how much they enjoyed tormenting the hostages, frequently pointing guns at them and threatening to shoot before bursting into laughter.

One time, when Keith spoke despite a guard demanding silence, a terrorist threatened him with a gun and dangled handcuffs in his face, “kind of in jest, but irritated,” Siegel said. “After that, Keith entered a dayslong depression. He barely communicated; we would cry covertly.”

After 50 days, Hamas terrorists covered the Siegel couple’s eyes and took them to a new location, where they separated Keith from Aviva, who, unbeknownst to her, was slated to be released the following day.

Illustrative: Members of the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad terror groups release Israeli hostages to the Red Cross, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, November 28, 2023. (Flash90)

“[The Hamas guard] comes to my room, kneels, and says, ‘you, tomorrow, Israel,’ and I say, ‘no, no, no, no, no, Keith and me.’ He says to me, ‘you leave now. Israel, your name. Keith, tomorrow.” Siegel asked to see Keith, but the terrorist refused, at which point she pushed him aside and approached her husband.

Choking back tears, Siegel recalled her last moments with Keith, who has still not been released.

“I looked at him and told him that I need to go, and I hugged him, and that is how I left him,” she said.

Due to the lack of oxygen, Siegel’s guards were afraid she would be unable to climb the stairs out of the tunnel where she was held, 40 meters underground.

“I ran,” she recalled.

On the ride home, Siegel noticed an elderly female hostage, Elma Avraham, who was in critical condition. Siegel massaged her continuously to keep her warm.

“It’s possible that if you weren’t there this would not happen,” Avraham’s son Uri Ravitz later told Siegel at the hospital, referring to his mother’s recuperation. “So I feel like I also owe her life to you.”

Elma Avraham was abducted from her Kibbutz Nahal Oz home by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. She was freed on November 26, 2023. (Courtesy)

Siegel’s daughter Ilan told Channel 12 that when her mother was first released, the family was certain that their father would soon follow.

Aviva said that at first, she saved stories from the captivity for her husband to tell, assuming his release was just around the corner.

Upon her release, Siegel was relieved most of all to learn that her son Shai, who also lives in Kfar Aza, had survived the October 7 massacre. For her entire captivity, she had thought he was dead because he was not in the tunnel with her and the other Kfar Aza hostages.

Recalling her grandmother’s silence about her experiences during the Holocaust, Siegel said that she had resolved not to be quiet about her ordeal. “People need to know,” she said.

Asked if she considers herself a Holocaust survivor, Siegel replied, “I have definitely survived.”

“The world really let me feel it stays silent, and I have a feeling that they have missed the history lesson of the Holocaust, in allowing something like this to happen,” she said.

The interview was Siegel’s first on Israeli television since being freed. As a hostage, Siegel refused to hear about the October 7 atrocities, and in the immediate aftermath of her release, she remained silent about her ordeal, but she has since become vocal on behalf of the remaining hostages at public rallies, parliamentary hearings and other forums, speaking at length about the Hamas captors’ sexual violence.

In a January 9 Knesset hearing, Siegel described how at one point in their captivity, a younger female hostage returned from using the bathroom and looked distraught. But when she attempted to give the girl a hug, a terrorist guarding them intercepted her and prevented the embrace.

“I saw that she was withdrawn, quiet and not herself,” Siegel said. “And excuse my language, but this son of a bitch had touched her. And he didn’t even let me hug her after it happened. It’s terrible, simply terrible. I told her I was sorry.”

On January 23, Siegel returned to the Knesset to address the newly established caucus on victims of sexual and gender violence in the war against Hamas.

Keith and Aviva Siegel, taken captive by Hamas terrorists from their home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

Aviva and Keith Siegel lived in Kfar Aza for four decades. Aviva, also known as Adrienne, was born in South Africa, and came to Israel at age 8. Keith is from the United States. They met in Kibbutz Gezer, where Keith, who works in pharmaceuticals, had come to volunteer, and Aviva, now a kindergarten teacher, was spending a year of pre-army community service. They have four children and five grandchildren.

On October 7, thousands of gunmen led by the Palestinian terror group stormed Kfar Aza and other communities in southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and take 253 hostages of all ages, while committing numerous atrocities and weaponizing sexual violence on a mass scale. Some 80 members of Kibbutz Kfar Aza were killed, and about 18 were taken hostage.

Hamas’s shock assault triggered a war in Gaza that has seen some 50 percent of the Strip’s residences destroyed and led to the displacement of over a million people, many of whom face severe risk of starvation. According to the Gaza Strip’s Hamas-controlled health ministry, over 28,000 Palestinians have been killed in the hostilities. The figure, which cannot be independently verified, does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, of whom the Israeli military claims to have killed upward of 10,000.

Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

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