Doctor calls Avraham's recovery unprecendented

Planning to ‘dance,’ freed hostage Elma Avraham, 85, leaves hospital after 5 months

Avraham, who was returned to Israel in critical condition in November, says she was moved around Gaza several times before entering tunnels, was made to recite Quran verses

Elma Avraham sits in a wheelchair with Soroka Medical Center staff and her family ahead of her release from the hospital on May 8, 2024. (Soroka Medical Center)
Elma Avraham sits in a wheelchair with Soroka Medical Center staff and her family ahead of her release from the hospital on May 8, 2024. (Soroka Medical Center)

Elma Avraham, an 85-year-old woman who returned to Israel in critical condition when she was freed in November after 51 days as a Hamas hostage, left the hospital on Wednesday, where she had been recovering from her ordeal for five months.

On Thursday, she gave her first interview on her experiences. Avraham told Army Radio that during her time in captivity, she was moved around between four or five apartments in the Gaza Strip before descending into underground tunnels, and that she did not meet any other hostages during her time there.

“In one of the homes, [the captors] began to read me the Quran, and wanted me to repeat the Quran after them. In my own words, I repeated the Quran, and after that they said, ‘Great, you are now one of us,'” she said, implying that she was made to read verses necessary for conversion to Islam.

Avraham was abducted from her home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz on October 7, when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists burst into Israel from Gaza, unleashing death on more than 20 communities across the south of the country, killing 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages.

Avraham arrived at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba on November 26 after being freed in a week-long truce deal, with all of her vital signs “extremely low,” the hospital said. Avraham takes several life-saving medications for chronic conditions, but did not have access to the medicine while she was held in Gaza.

Avraham described the events leading up to her capture in the interview, including witnessing terrorists enter her home and being unable to close her bomb shelter door.

As she tried to hold the door closed, she said terrorists pushed it open. Because of the pressure, veins burst in her hand, and one of the terrorists bandaged her up before she was taken to Gaza.

“When we got to Gaza, a lot of people were standing around, applauding those that brought me there,” she said, adding that she was first taken to a mosque, then later to a home.

Elma Avraham is abducted by terrorists on October 7, 2023 (Kan TV screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

She described being made to wear a hijab when she was transferred to another apartment, and in another instance, being lifted onto her captor’s shoulders, finding it difficult to breathe as they traversed through a large patch of mud in the street.

At the third apartment, she described sleeping next to machine guns that her captors used to fire out the window “at anyone who approached.”

“I felt that they were keeping me safe in order to exchange me for other prisoners,” she said.

While in Gaza, Avraham said she didn’t sense the passage of time. “I felt as though only a week had passed. I didn’t feel night or day,” she stated, adding that she passed the time playing the children’s word game “Sheva Boom,” similar to Fizz Buzz.

She said she didn’t remember her condition deteriorating while in captivity and didn’t even remember the day she was freed. “I don’t remember anything. I remember I woke up at some point at the hospital [in Israel],” she said.

Avraham finally left Soroka on Wednesday, and will now attend rehabilitation at Mediterranean Towers in Bat Yam.

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)

Upon her release, Avraham told reporters she “feels great,” and owed her recovery to medical staff. Asked by a reporter from the Kan public broadcast what she wanted to do now, she replied: “Dance.”

“I had the strength to return to you, to see all of you, and mainly my children and family,” she said, adding that the remaining hostages “must be freed now.”

“It is very difficult to understand Independence Day,” she said, referring to the upcoming holiday beginning Monday evening, “because it’s not really Independence Day for everyone since the hostages are still there, and it’s difficult for me to be happy on this Independence Day.”

Moti Klein, the head of the trauma unit at Soroka, hailed Avraham’s recovery as unprecedented in medical history considering what she had gone through.

“We didn’t find similar sources of people in a similar situation. We didn’t find a single example of a person who experienced something like this [and recovered] — both starvation and systematic abuse,” he said in a statement. He told Avraham that the unit had learned a lot from her.

Avraham’s son Ori described his mother as a “phoenix that has risen from the dead” and praised doctors for their work in helping her recover.

“We will forever remember the story of her rescue, her unimaginable survival, her physical and mental strength that kept her going throughout the horrific period of captivity by the Hamas monsters,” he said.

He also urged the public not to forget the remaining hostages held in Gaza: “They have to be with us, they have to come back now.”

It is believed that 128 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 36 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas has also been holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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