Sheba Medical Center rebuts claim

No rehab plan in place for Noa Argamani, other ex-hostages, doctor says at Knesset

‘Even after they return, they are abandoned,’ Hagai Levine tells lawmakers; hostage relatives cite increased willingness for deal with Hamas, voice disappointment with government

Rescued hostage Noa Argamani is reunited with her father Yaakov Argamani at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Rescued hostage Noa Argamani is reunited with her father Yaakov Argamani at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

A public health professional affiliated with the Hostages and Missing Families Forum told a Knesset committee on Monday that over eight months since October 7, there is still no plan for rehabilitating hostages who have been released or rescued from Hamas captivity.

“Yesterday I visited Noa Argamani,” said Dr. Hagai Levine, who chairs the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians.

Argamani, 26, is one of four hostages who were rescued from Hamas captivity earlier this month in a daring daytime raid in central Gaza.

She was released from the hospital last week after a battery of medical tests and psychological care following eight months in Hamas captivity, as were Shlomi Ziv, Almog Meir Jan, and Andrey Kozlov, the other three hostages rescued in the operation.

“I am sorry to tell you that alongside all of our joy, now there is no plan for her, or the other freed hostages’ rehabilitation,” Levine said. “There is no rehabilitation program. None. No one is responsible for their rehabilitation.”

“Even after they return, they are abandoned,” he said, while sitting behind a poster with photos of hostages still held by terror groups in Gaza.

Rescued hostage Almog Meir Jan is reunited with his family at Sheba Medical Center, June 8, 2024. (IDF)

The four rescued hostages were kidnapped from the Nova music festival on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists invaded southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 251 hostages, sparking the ongoing war between Israel and the terror group.

Levine implored the Knesset committee to think about “what we need to do for [the released and rescued hostages], what are their needs, rather than looking at what already exists and can be provided.”

“Rather, we need to start with what these people need and then to give it to the hostages when they come home,” he said, calling for the state to realize every opportunity to return the hostages and start the “national rehabilitation from this trauma.”

The chair of the State Audit Committee, Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy, said he would immediately contact the health ministry to determine why there is no so such plan.

“This is a very grave matter,” Levy added.

Rescued hostage Shlomi Ziv is reunited with his family at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

A spokesperson for Sheba Medical Center, where the four recently rescued hostages and many released last November were brought, rebutted the claim that there is no plan in place for ongoing care for returned hostages.

“From day one, Sheba created a special health clinic for all of the hostages that they can access whenever needed for physical and emotional assistance after their release from the hospital,” the spokesperson told The Times of Israel.

He explained that every former hostage who is brought to Sheba upon their return to Israel is treated by a team including a medical doctor, a psychologist, and a social worker. Any hostage initially brought to Sheba is granted open and ongoing access to treatment and rehabilitation through the hospital.

The spokesperson emphasized that although Argamani was transferred to Ichilov Hospital to be close to her ailing mother, she still qualifies for this ongoing support from Sheba, where she underwent initial tests and assessments.

The hearing was one of several committee meetings at the Knesset on Monday, in which hostage family members voiced a strong sense of disappointment with the government and with its lack of leadership and absence of decision-making, even among members of more right-leaning family groups who have been less vocal about criticizing Israeli leaders.

“We heard from [hostage parent] Tzvika Mor, who is a member of the Tikva Forum and has never wanted a hostage deal — only fighting Hamas in Gaza — and he said, ‘If we can’t fight, then let’s just make a deal,’” said Udi Goren, second cousin of Tal Chaimi, whose body was taken to Gaza on October 7 from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak.

“That’s a huge ideological concession but it’s the same feeling we have, that there’s no leadership, no courage, no vision. We only hear what they’re not going to do, not what they are going to do.”

Goren spends each Monday at the Knesset, lobbying MKs and ministers to push for a hostage deal. As Chaimi’s second cousin, he is part of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, and familiar with the other groups at the Knesset on Monday, including the more right-wing Tikva Forum and the hawkish Gvura Forum, made up of bereaved parents of soldiers killed in the line of duty during the current war in Gaza, which have advocated for releasing the hostages via military pressure rather than diplomacy.

Hostage family members at a Knesset committee meeting on June 17, 2024, part of the weekly lobbying efforts by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. (Courtesy/Hostages and Missing Families Forum)

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Goren described the various speakers as “a hardcore expression of democracy that represents all the voices of the nation,” and recalled the “very militant” tone voiced by some of the Gvura Forum parents, one of whom yelled at a hostage’s mother.

“We need leadership. The lack of decision-making and the status quo is the worst thing that can happen,” said Goren, a professional photographer and tour organizer who has been working with the forum since his cousin was first established to be missing.

Another hostage family member, Yotam Cohen, noted Likud MK Eliyahu Revivo’s comments Monday that the government “has no achievements” and that it might be time for new elections.

“We’re seeing that voters and maybe the Knesset are starting to understand that the war won’t bring the hostages home,” said Cohen, whose brother, Nimrod Cohen, was taken hostage on October 7 from Nahal Oz.

Cohen and his father planned to remain in Jerusalem to join the mass anti-government rally on Monday evening, where tens of thousands of demonstrators called for early elections and the return of the hostages.

Protesters lift flags and placards during an anti-government rally calling for early elections in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 17, 2024. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

“If the government can’t bring the hostages home, then the nation will go out to the streets,” said Cohen. “Everyone’s just done with this crappy situation. If they don’t do their jobs as Knesset members and as public servants, then we’ll be there to get them out.”

‘No notes on how to treat hostages’

Also on Monday, former hostages opened up about their experiences in Hamas captivity to a crowd of journalists and social media influencers in Sderot, at a conference organized by the Hostages Families Forum.

Danielle Aloni, 44, who was released during a weeklong truce in November, recalled that Hamas terrorists brought her and other residents of Nir Oz down to Gaza’s subterranean tunnels on the morning of October 7 after they were kidnapped during Hamas’s onslaught in southern Israel.

“I wasn’t injured, though I was beaten on the way,” she added.

“That definitely qualifies as an injury,” panel host Reshef Levi interrupted, prompting Aloni to clarify she had seen “really appalling injuries — exposed flesh, violent injuries.”

Survivors of Hamas captivity and family members of hostages speak at a conference organized by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum in Sderot on June 17, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Louis Har, who was freed by the IDF in a rescue operation in February after 129 days in captivity, said he worried each time he heard Israeli planes overhead.

He recalled that “glass broke, the entire floor shook” when bombs fell in Gaza, and said that he and other hostages “didn’t know when it would fall on us.”

When asked if she experienced any additional fear as a woman in captivity, Aloni explained that she and her 5-year-old daughter Emilia, who was abducted with her, were most afraid their captors would kill them, “that they would lose their patience as the days progressed.”

“We already know the terrorists aren’t a homogeneous group. They don’t get notes on how to treat the hostages,” she said.

Aloni and her daughter were among 105 civilians released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that and seven hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

Danielle Aloni with daughter Emilia at Schneider Medical Center in Petah Tikva, following their release from captivity in the Gaza Strip, November 25, 2023 (Schneider Children’s Medical Center Spokesperson)

Dr. Itai Pessach, who treated the freed hostages, told CNN last week that they had suffered almost daily abuse and that their time in captivity was “a harsh, harsh experience.” Other who treated the rescued hostages said they were suffering from malnutrition, were beaten regularly and experienced great psychological distress during their captivity.

Hostages previously released and rescued from captivity in Gaza have testified of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.

In March, members of the Knesset Health Committee heard testimony from hostages’ families— both those whose relatives were still captive and those who had been released— about a lack of support from the state.

Artist Zeev Engelmayer holds his painting depicting Noa Argamani, one of four hostages rescued by the Israeli army, as activists rally in Tel Aviv, on June 8, 2024. (Jack Guez / AFP)

It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, though not all of them are alive. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 41 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

Charlie Summers, Jessica Steinberg, and Renee Ghert-Zand contributed to this report.

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