Freed hostage describes deteriorating conditions while being held by Hamas

Ruti Munder, 78, recounts how food slowly ran out, captives slept on plastic chairs or on the floor, many with no sheets, in a darkened room

Ruti Munder after her release from Hamas captivity on November 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Ruti Munder after her release from Hamas captivity on November 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

An Israeli hostage freed by Hamas said in an interview that she had initially been fed well in captivity until conditions worsened and people became hungry. She was kept in a “suffocating” room and slept on plastic chairs with a sheet for nearly 50 days.

In one of the first interviews with a freed hostage, 78-year-old Ruti Munder told  Channel 13 television that she had spent the entirety of her time with her daughter, Keren, and grandson, Ohad Munder-Zichri, who celebrated his ninth birthday in captivity. Her account, broadcast Monday, adds to the trickle of information about the experience of captives held in Gaza.

Munder was snatched Oct. 7 from her home in Nir Oz, a kibbutz in southern Israel. Her husband, Avraham, also 78, was taken hostage too and remains in Gaza. Her son was killed in the attack.

Initially, they ate “chicken with rice, all sorts of canned food and cheese,” Munder told Channel 13, in an audio interview. “We were OK.”

They were given tea in the morning and evening, and the children were given sweets. But the menu changed when “the economic situation was not good, and people were hungry.”

Munder, who was freed Friday, returned in good physical condition, like most other captives, though they underwent significant weight loss. But one of the released hostages, 84-year-old Elma Avraham, was hospitalized in life-threatening condition after not receiving proper care in captivity, doctors said. Another freed captive needed surgery.

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)

Freed hostages have mostly kept out of the public eye since their return. Most details about their ordeal have come through relatives who have visited them.

Munder, confirming accounts from relatives of other freed captives, said they slept on plastic chairs. She said she covered herself with a sheet but that not all captives had one.

Boys who were there would stay up late chatting, while some of the girls would cry, she said. Some boys slept on the floor.

She said she would wake up late to help pass the time. The room where she was held was “suffocating,” and the captives were prevented from opening the blinds, but she managed to crack open a window.

“It was very difficult,” she said.

Munder’s account emerged as Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their truce. The two sides have been exchanging Israeli hostages held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners detained for security-related offenses, under a deal that has paused the fighting. The deal also includes an increase in aid to Gaza.

Ohad Munder is reunited with his father and brother after his release from Gaza, November 25, 2023. (Schneider Children’s Hospital)

Israel declared war after the terror group’s cross-border attack Oct. 7, in which 1,200 people were killed, most of them civilians, and 240 others were taken hostage. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says that more than 13,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes and the ground offensive. However, the numbers cannot be verified and do not differentiate between civilians and terrorists, or those killed by the hundreds of rockets fired at Israel that fell short in the Strip.

Munder said that on Oct. 7, she was put on a vehicle with her family and driven into Gaza. A gunman draped over them a blanket her grandson had carried from home, which she said was meant to prevent them from seeing the terrorists around them. While in captivity, she learned from Hamas terrorists who listened to the radio that her son was killed, according to the Channel 13 report.

Still, she said, she held out hope that she would be freed.

“I was optimistic. I understood that if we came here, then we would be released. I understood that if we were alive — they killed whoever they wanted to in Nir Oz.”

Two Israeli TV stations, channels 12 and 13, reported that Hamas’s top leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, visited the hostages in a tunnel and assured them they would not be harmed.

“You are safest here. Nothing will happen to you,” he was quoted as saying in the identical reports, which did not reveal the source of the account.

The round of daily releases, which started Friday, has seen mostly women and children freed. They have been undergoing physical and psychological tests at Israeli hospitals before returning home.

This undated family photo provided on Oct. 16, 2023, shows Maya Regev, 21, and Itay Regev, 18. (Regev Family via AP)

Mirit Regev, whose 21-year-old daughter, Maya, was freed Sunday, told public broadcaster Kan that the family has been counseled to “return the power to her” in their interactions by always asking her for permission before things occur, such as leaving the room. Regev’s 18-year-old son, Itai, is still being held by Hamas.

Itai Pessach, director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center, where many of the released children have been treated, said he felt some optimism because the hostages were physically recovering. But he said medical staff had heard “very difficult and complex stories from their time in Hamas captivity,” without elaborating.

“We understand that despite the fact that they might seem physically improving, there’s a very, very long way to go before they are healed,” he said.

In a separate interview, the aunt of a 25-year-old Israeli-Russian hostage who was released Sunday from Gaza said her nephew fled his captors and hid within Gaza for a few days before being recaptured.

“He said he was taken by terrorists, and they brought him into a building. But the building was destroyed (by Israeli bombing), and he was able to flee,” Yelena Magid, the aunt of Roni Krivoi, told Kan radio on Monday. “He was trying to get to the border, but I think because he didn’t have the resources to know where he was and which direction to flee, he had some trouble.”

He told her in a phone conversation he was able to hide himself for around four days before Palestinians in Gaza discovered him, she added.

“One thing that gave us hope from the start is that he’s a boy who’s always smiling, and he can figure things out in any situation,” Magid said.

Shoshan Haran, who was released from Hamas captivity on Saturday night, met with  President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday at the president’s office in Jerusalem. “I’m here but there’s so many left behind,” Haran said. “I still don’t have the full picture of what was here, but I know what was there, and you have to do the maximum (to get them home).”

Eitan Yahalomi hugs his mother after getting off an IDF helicopter after being released from Hamas captivity on November 27, 2023 (Israel Defense Forces)

Eitan 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 him with a gun whenever the children cried in order to keep them quiet.

“The Hamas terrorists forced him to watch films of the horrors, the kind that no one wants to see, they forced him to watch them,” Cohen said, referring to video footage of acts of brutality committed by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.

Relatives of Yaffa Adar, 85, who was released on Friday night, told Channel 12 that they did not shower or change clothes for the entire period of their captivity, and only the day before they were released were they given a new set of clothes.

Israeli media aired video Monday of Ori Megidish, an Israeli soldier who was taken captive, then freed by the military late last month. She said she was happy and doing well and wished all the captives would return home.

“I’m glad to have my life back,” she said.

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