Hours after 13 Israelis and 11 Thai and Filipino nationals returned to Israel following their release after 49 days in Hamas captivity, their families began to share emotional photos of their long-awaited reunions.
The footage of young children and elderly women embracing their loved ones quickly swept through media and social media platforms, eliciting emotional responses from Israelis.
All photos and videos of the freed hostages published here are shared with the families’ permission.
In one video, nine-year-old Ohad Munder-Zichri, along with his mother Keren and grandmother Ruti, were reunited with Ohad’s father and brother and family members at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva.
Ohad, Keren and Ruti were kidnapped when they came to Kibbutz Nir Oz from Kfar Saba on October 7, to visit their family for the Simchat Torah Shabbat. Ruti’s husband, Avraham, remains in Gaza.
Ohad turned nine while held in the Strip.
אוהד מונדר פוגש את אבא, אחרי 49 יום בשבי חמאס. אין מילים.
צילום: בי״ח שניידר pic.twitter.com/m6WHLkZejk
— נוב ראובני | Nov Reuveny (@Nov_reuveny) November 25, 2023
Ohad is known for his love of Rubik’s cubes, and one recent art display in his honor by cube afficionados created his face entirely out of the puzzle toys.
אוהד מונדר חגג את יום הולדתו התשיעי בשבי חמאס. לאחר שנחטף מניר עוז לעזה.
אוהד הוא ילד מחונן ומאוד ספורטיבי, שמשחק בין השאר שחמט ואלוף בקובייה הונגרית.
כשחברי קהילת "הקיוברים" שמעו על כך – הם החליטו לציין את יום הולדתו בפורטרט ענק של אוהד שבנוי מ-1,500 קוביות pic.twitter.com/pIuxgAKjIR
— ???????? – צחי הימני – تساحي اليمين – ???????? (@Tz4H1e_r1g4t) November 18, 2023
The family shared a photo of staff and army representatives at Schneider watching with glee as Ohad solved his first cube since returning from captivity.
אוהד מונדר ❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/0Czyx8eLwH
— Tal Schneider טל שניידר تال شنايدر (@talschneider) November 25, 2023
Meanwhile, a relative told Walla news that the family had had access to news during their time held by Hamas, and had been aware of the goings on.
“They had a television and a transistor radio. They heard news from Israel,” the unnamed family member was quoted as saying. Ruti and Keren were thus aware that Ruti’s son and Keren’s brother Roy had been killed by Hamas terrorists on October 7.
When Roy was buried on October 22, there was no immediate family member present at the funeral or to sit shiva, the seven-day Jewish mourning period, for him.
The unnamed family member also spoke about hostage conditions in Gaza. “At first they were held with a few [other hostages], and then they added even more. At a certain point they lost electricity. Ohad learned a few words in English and Arabic. The conditions weren’t good — they slept on plastic benches; 80-year-olds without mattresses.”
Also at Schneider Children’s Hospital, Emilia Aloni, 5, who was released with her mother Danielle, 44, reunited with her grandmother after 49 days in captivity at the hands of Hamas.
המפגש הראשון של אמיליה עם סבתא. איזה אושר!
תמונה שנותנת תקווה גדוחה שבקרוב נראה את כולם בבית.
צילום מרכז שניידר, באישור המשפחה. pic.twitter.com/VjBD725nyt
— almog boker (@bokeralmog) November 25, 2023
Danielle was seen beaming with Emilia by her side in another photo.
Emilia and her mother were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz while visiting family. Danielle was later seen in a Hamas propaganda video. Her sister, brother-in-law and their twin three-year-old girls remain hostage in Gaza.
Images and a video were also released showing Doron Asher and her two young daughters Raz, 4, and Aviv, 2, reunited with husband and father, Yoni.
In the video, Yoni can be seen tightly holding his wife and children. “Did you miss me? Did you think about Daddy?” he asks the girls.
האיחוד של משפחת אשר
אביב אשר, 2.5, רז אשר 4.5 ואמא דורון שלושתן היו חטופות בידי ארגון הטרור החמאס – ביחד עם האבא יוני אשר
במרכז שניידר לרפואת ילדים מקבוצת כללית. קרדיט לצילום: דוברות מרכז שניידר. התמונה לבקשת ובאישור המשפחה pic.twitter.com/5W2EVpAKxf
— Tal Schneider טל שניידר تال شنايدر (@talschneider) November 25, 2023
Raz told her father that she had dreamed about going home. “Your dream came true,” Yoni said. “Soon we are going home. We are just here for the doctors to check you, and then we’re going home.”
Doron, Raz and Aviv were taken by terrorists on October 7 from the sealed room of Doron’s mother’s house in Kibbutz Nir Oz. Doron’s mother, Efrat Katz, was killed in the shock assault. Yoni Asher became a prominent figure in the organization that represents the families of the hostages.
Other photos showed Yaffar Adar with her family. Adar, 85, was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz. Video surfaced of Adar being driven in a golf cart in Gaza, wrapped in a pink-flowered blanket and looking stoic — in an image that became one of the symbols of the October 7 catastrophe, the terrorists’ readiness to harm anyone regardless of age, and the courage of the victims.
שרדה את השואה
שרדה את החמאס
צריך לעשות מיגונים לבתי ספר מהחומר שממנו יפה אדר עשויה pic.twitter.com/W9GxGwEd6s
— Dana Gat (@DanaGat1) November 25, 2023
Another returnee was Margalit Moses, 78, who had also been seen in footage being kidnapped from her home in Nir Oz.
Others who returned include Adina Moshe, 72, kidnapped from her home in Nir Oz. Her husband Sa’id was murdered; Hanna Katzir, 77, kidnapped from Nir Oz. Her husband Rami was murdered and her son Avraham is believed held hostage in Gaza. Last month, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group said she had died in captivity in a gruesome example of psychological warfare; and Channah Peri, 79, kidnapped from Nirim. Her son, Nadav Popplewell, is still held in Gaza.
The hostages were first seen Friday through the windows of ambulances as they crossed over from Gaza into Egypt, some of them waving. A number of them were then seen walking across the border to waiting ambulances in Egypt, in footage broadcast by Israeli outlets, and an Egyptian news site published pictures of one of the hostages being embraced by an officer from the Israel Defense Forces.
The hostages were met by members of the Shin Bet security service and then ferried by the Israel Defense Forces in an operation dubbed “Heaven’s Door” via the Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel, where they were taken to the Hatzerim Airbase near Beersheba for an initial reception, and to undergo a short physical and mental checkup. They were then taken to hospitals in central Israel by helicopter and ambulance, to be reunited with their relatives.
On Saturday morning, the Walla news site reported that the children would be released from Schneider Children’s Medical Center in the coming days.
“Some of them want to get themselves together. The space we set up here was reassuring for them, and they asked to stay longer to prepare, emotionally and logistically,” Professor Gilat Livni, who has been tasked with managing the released hostages unit, was quoted as saying.
Of the initial intake, Livni said, “Some of them were healthy, some less so, but overall they’re in good condition. They were talking, sharing stories. We were with them until the early hours of the morning… they didn’t sleep much because of the excitement.”
Dr. Orna Zvi, tasked with the care of five other Israeli hostages, all elderly women, at Wolfson Medical Center, was quoted as saying that the women “woke up with optimism and a big smile” on Saturday.
“We’re ready and waiting for the next freed hostages,” she added.
The Health Ministry has set up strict protocols for the treatment of the released hostages, with Schneider Children’s Hospital recommending that the hostages remain at least 48 hours under observation before being released home.
The same process will be carried out over the next four days for the remaining hostages who are to be released from Hamas captivity.
Some 50 hostages — children, their mothers and other women — are set to be freed over the four days, during which the IDF is halting its military campaign to destroy Hamas in Gaza, with three Palestinian security prisoners to be freed in exchange for each hostage.
The four-day truce can potentially be extended for one extra day for each group of 10 more hostages freed by Hamas.
Twelve of the 13 Israelis released on Friday were kidnapped from Nir Oz, a community of about 400 people situated three kilometers from the Gaza border. The kibbutz lost almost half of its population during Hamas’s shock attack. Over 100 residents and some 15 foreign agricultural workers were killed during the onslaught, and about 80 more were taken captive, according to a military spokesperson.
The released hostages are only a small group out of the some 240 held by Gaza terrorists since October 7, when 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists slaughtered 1,200 people in southern Israel, most of them civilians among unimaginable acts of brutality.
Emanuel Fabian and Jacob Magid contributed to this report