Hamas terrorists forced the children held in captivity to watch videos of the atrocities they carried out inside Israel on October 7, the aunt of Eitan Yahalomi, 12, told French TV following his release on Monday night.
Speaking to BFM on Tuesday, Deborah Cohen described the conditions that her nephew endured throughout his 52 days in Hamas captivity.
“When he arrived in Gaza, all of the residents, all of them, beat him up. He’s a 12-year-old child,” Cohen said, and added that “every time one of the children there cried, they threatened them with rifles to shut them up.”
“I wanted to hope that he was treated well, but it turns out he wasn’t, they’re monsters. Now that I know this I’m worried. His father is still there, and there are 160 people who have not yet returned.”
Recounting what she had been told by her nephew, Cohen said that “Hamas forced him to watch horror videos” of the terror group’s onslaught in southern Israel on October 7, when they killed at least 1,200 people and took some 240 hostages.
Yahalomi was initially taken captive with his mother and two sisters, but they managed to escape and ran back to Israel, as Eitan was carried into Gaza on a moped. His father Ohad was shot and wounded in a gun battle with the terrorists, and was taken separately to Gaza, where he remains.
More than 20 communities in the Gaza border region were targeted by thousands of terrorists who burst into Israel after they broke through the border fence on the morning of October 7. Over 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians in their own homes and at an outdoor music festival.
The videos Yahalomi has said he was forced to watch were filmed by Hamas terrorists who documented their crimes in real-time. Some of the footage was captured on body cameras while other parts of it were filmed on the cellphones of both the terrorists and their victims and then streamed on social media.
Yahalomi, a dual Israeli-French citizen, was released on the fourth day of a Qatar-negotiated temporary truce between Israel and Hamas that started Friday. For each day that the truce is in place, Hamas is obligated to release a small group of hostages, mostly civilian women and children, who have been held for some 50 days.
Also on Tuesday, Esther Yahalomi, the grandmother of the recently freed tween, said that his first 16 days as a hostage were the toughest because he was left completely alone.
“A month ago they moved him to a group of people from Nir Oz, and it was much easier for him there,” she told Hebrew-language media outside the Tel Aviv hospital where her grandson is recuperating. “His caregiver from preschool was there, and he was able to see familiar faces.”
She added that the 12-year-old appears to be thinner than normal, and will not smile or really even speak. “He’s very, very subdued. I think it’s going to take him some time. It’s going to take a lot of work to get him to a place where he is able to talk.”
The accounts relayed by Yahalomi’s family of the horrors he endured are in direct contrast to Hamas’s attempts to portray itself as having treated the hostages humanely. Shortly after each group of hostages was transferred to the Red Cross each day, the terror group published propaganda footage of the abductees smiling and waving goodbye to their captors.
While Hamas and its supporters have claimed that the footage is proof of the humane treatment of the abducted women and children, others have pointed out that the gestures were clearly demanded by the captors and made under duress.
In addition, many of the released hostages have immediate family members, other relatives or close friends still in the clutches of Gazan terrorists, and would therefore be worried that failing to comply with the Hamas demand could bring retribution against their loved ones.
Further counteracting Hamas’s attempts to present a kinder face to the world, Thomas Hand, the father of nine-year-old Emily Hand who was released from Hamas captivity on Sunday night, said on Tuesday that Emily thought she had been held hostage for a year and now cries herself to sleep at night.
Speaking to CNN, Hand said his daughter’s recovery will be slow.
“She’s coming out slowly, little by little,” he said. “We’ll only know what she really went through as she opens up. I want to know so much information… but you have to let them, when they are ready, come out with it.”
He said he was shocked at the transformation she underwent in captivity.
“It was only when she stepped back that I could see her face was chiseled, like mine, whereas before it was chubby, girly, a young kid face,” he recalled.
“The most shocking, disturbing part of meeting her was that she was just whispering, you couldn’t hear her. I had to put my ear on her lips,” he said. “She’d been conditioned not to make any noise.”
Hand said that he when asked how long she thought she’d been held captive for, she told her father she thought it had been a year.
“Apart from the whispering, that was a punch in the guts,” he said.
“Last night she cried until her face was red and blotchy, she couldn’t stop. She didn’t want any comfort, I guess she’s forgotten how to be comforted,” Hand added. “She went under the covers of the bed, the quilt, covered herself up and quietly cried.”
Emily was at a sleepover at a friend’s house at the time of the Hamas assault on October 7. She was initially reported killed, but it was later announced that she was among those held hostage in Gaza.
In an effort to help three released hostage children readjust, their family dog Rodney was brought to the Schneider Children’s Medical Center where they are being treated after their release, the hospital said on Tuesday.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) November 28, 2023
Hagar Brodutch, 40, was among several hostages released late Sunday along with her three children Ofri, 10, Yuval, 9 and Oriya, 4.
“The family was aware that nothing would make them happier than to see their beloved dog, so they brought him to the department,” the hospital said.
The four were abducted by terrorists from their Kfar Aza home, along with Avigail Idan, who was hiding with them. Avihai Brodutch, the husband and father, was defending the kibbutz while his family was hiding in their sealed room. When he returned, wounded, he found his family gone and he thought they were dead, before later finding out they had been abducted.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.