Family met female hostages who were sexually abused

‘We’ll never forgive’: Mom, daughter on life of fear in Gaza captivity, pain upon return

Chen and Agam Goldstein-Almog recount complex interaction with captors, who could kill them any second but were also their sole company; knew they were coming home to 2 loved ones dead

Agam Goldstein-Almog, 17, (left) and her mother Chen Goldstein-Almog speak to Channel 12 about their 51 days as hostages in Gaza, in a segment aired December 22, 20023. ( Screenshot, Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Agam Goldstein-Almog, 17, (left) and her mother Chen Goldstein-Almog speak to Channel 12 about their 51 days as hostages in Gaza, in a segment aired December 22, 20023. ( Screenshot, Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A mother and daughter freed from Hamas captivity have described their complex, terrifying 51 days in the hands of Gaza terrorists, which included threats and mind games but also efforts to keep them “happy,” as well as harrowing brushes with Israeli air strikes in the Palestinian enclave.

Chen Goldstein-Almog, 48, and her 17-year-old daughter Agam Goldstein-Almog were taken hostage on October 7 during Hamas’s shock onslaught, along with young boys Gal, 11, and Tal, 9. Father Nadav and second daughter Yam were murdered by the terrorists at the family’s home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. The four — mother, daughter and two boys — were released from Gaza in late November under a temporary truce deal.

Speaking to Channel 12 news Friday, some three weeks after they were freed, Chen and Agam said they did what they could to survive and “stay sane,” and developed a sometimes tense and combative but largely civil rapport with their captors under terrifying circumstances. Their account of their lives in captivity is one of the most detailed and nuanced yet provided.

The family of six was at home on the morning of October 7 when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists launched their vicious attack on southern Israeli communities that Saturday morning, under the cover of a deluge of rockets.

They were in their saferoom, hiding in fear, when terrorists entered.

“I was very afraid, and then when they came,” Agam said, “when they stood outside the door and shouted at us, I had some kind of stress release like, ‘That’s it, I’m going to die.’ And I accepted that.”

The Goldstein-Almog family from Kfar Aza; father Nadav (third from left) and eldest daughter Yam (far right), were killed by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. The rest of the family was taken hostage to Gaza. (Courtesy)

Nadav tried to defend the family with a wooden plank and was “shot in the chest at point-blank range,” said Chen. Yam was “shot in the face,” she said, adding that it was very difficult to process at that moment what she was seeing. Chen said that every day in Gaza, she forced herself to “never forget what I saw,” even in “the most difficult, and scary, and dark moments.”

Chen, Agam and the boys were taken out of the house at gunpoint and dragged into Gaza, among some 240 people who were taken hostage that day and held in the Palestinian enclave.

Nadav and Yam joined some 1,200 people who were murdered, most of them civilians.

Chen described the “seven-minute” car ride into Gaza: “I remember the look on my children’s faces. To process what happened there, at home, and where I was going, it was crazy.”

During the ride, the terrorists picked up bodies into the vehicle. It was not clear whose they were, but Chen thought they were likely the corpses of other terrorists killed in the attack.

Soldiers walking next to the destruction by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, 2023, in southern Israel, November 21, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Agam said she feared being raped or sexually abused, as other female hostages and victims are now known to have been, and that their captors taunted the 17-year-old that she would be “married off” to someone in Gaza and that they would “find [her] a husband.”

Rape, she said, was “the first thing I was afraid of” on the petrifying drive into Gaza. “I told my mother: ‘They are going to rape me.’ I asked the driver: ‘Just together, keep us together.’ And we indeed stayed together, surprisingly,'” she told Channel 12.

The family spent their first week in a tunnel with other captives but then were moved to an apartment. They had two captors who guarded them 24/7. During the first month, as Israel launched its war on Hamas, the family was moved a number of times in the middle of the night. “There were days when we slept with a hijab on, because every time we moved, we had to get dressed.”

Agam said she even asked that they be moved once the Israeli air strikes got closer and scarier.

“There was intense bombing and my whole body started shaking and I said to the terrorist: ‘We need to move from here,'” she said.

“It’s crazy booms, they’re physical,” said Chen. “It’s panic, it’s dread, it’s something physical that would take us a while to calm down from. It’s something we couldn’t control, and we live in the Gaza periphery, we know what it’s like.”

They described the days stretching out in captivity. The boys, said Agam, felt that the women had little energy and so largely kept themselves busy, drawing, writing, playing, “except when sometimes there were outbursts and fights between them,” which at times led the guards to shout at the boys to be quiet.

“They would sometimes talk to us about Gilad Shalit,” said Chen, in reference to the IDF soldier who was abducted in 2006 and held for five years by Hamas in Gaza before his 2011 release for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including the current Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.

Chen said mentions of Shalit were made with “these smirks, as if mocking us about it.”

“These were my worries, that maybe it’ll take years [to be released],” said Chen, adding that the captors were “flying high” following the October 7 attacks.

“It was also a kind of statement to us, that the country doesn’t care, that it took five years for [Shalit] to be returned, and that the country only cares about the fighting,” she said.

At first, the surviving Goldstein-Almog family members were not certain that Nadav and Yam were dead, despite seeing them being shot. They found out on a Friday afternoon while listening to a radio sometimes provided to them, and hearing an interview with a family member in which the interviewer said: “We share in your sorrow for Nadav and Yam.”

“It was the first time Gal cried,” said Chen. “We kind of knew but it was hard to hear it.”

Radio and food punishments

Chen and Agam described incidents in which the guards would yell at the young boys and Agam would push back. They communicated with each other in a mix of English, Arabic and Hebrew.

“It was frightening and I would tell my mom [the captor] ‘is not their dad, he’s not going to discipline them… they shouldn’t say a word to them, they shouldn’t dare, they brought them here so they should deal with it,” said Agam, adding that she would sometimes curse her captors and they would get offended and retaliate.

“And then I would not get the radio, or they would play these games like, ‘Oh today there’s not much food,'” Agam said.

Agam Goldstein-Almog, 17, speaks to Channel 12 about her family’s ordeal of 51 days as hostages in Gaza, in a segment aired on December 22, 2023. (Screenshot, Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The two reported some remarkable interactions with their captors, who were at once a threat to their lives and their sole company.

One day, Chen said, one of the guards asked Agam how she was doing that morning and she replied “shitty,” which he interpreted as a personal insult.

“All day, he didn’t speak to us and didn’t give us the radio,” said Chen.

“We stayed quiet and he went off into the corner in the apartment. I went to him in the middle of the day and I said, ‘What’s up today, did you wake up on the wrong side of bed? You’re not with us in the room? Come talk to us,'” Agam said she told him.

“We were always asking for the radio, it was the only thing that connected us to reality,” said Agam. The mother and daughter would alternate with their requests, trying to gauge the mood of their captors.

One day, the guard told Chen in English, “Today, forget the radio.”

“And then I got up,” said Agam, “and I told him, ‘You won’t speak to my mother that way. You don’t want to give us the radio, okay, you don’t have to, but you won’t speak that way, there’s a way to say things,'” she said she told the guard.

“He went off into the living room, angry, didn’t speak to us for two hours. Then he got up, bought batteries, and brought us the radio,” she said.

“They wanted us happy, they tried to supply food, sometimes we helped make the food,” Chen added.

Agam would keep up with her workout routine, which she said her captors commended her on, and there was even an arm wrestling competition between Chen and one of the guards.

“He — the younger one — brought a towel, because he’s not allowed to touch me,” Chen said.

They have plans to come back, there should be no illusion. However much we strike them, they’re not bowing down, they’ll come back more [next time], that’s what they said. They are intoxicated by October 7

The mother and daughter agreed that the captors appeared to grow somewhat fond of them, giving Agam the nickname “Salsabil” which means freshwater in Arabic. Agam is Hebrew for “lake.”

To Chen, they said, “‘We love you, don’t go home. Go to Tel Aviv, don’t return to Kfar Aza,'” she said.

“They have plans to come back, there should be no illusion,” she explained. “However much we strike them, they’re not bowing down, they’ll come back more [next time], that’s what they said. They are intoxicated by October 7.”

View of the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the Israeli-Gaza border, November 2, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

‘There are bad people’

While describing scenes of friendly interaction, Agam stressed that “I don’t want anyone to think we had it good there, that they’re good there, that we saw humanity there. We’re telling these stories, about the things that were slightly normal in an abnormal situation, because that’s what kept us just a bit sane.”

She added that before the attack, “We believed that there are no bad people — only people who have it bad. But there are bad people.”

Agam described one incident in which the family was staying at a school where “a nice woman welcomed us and offered us water and arranged a place for us to sleep,” and “I turned to my mother and said ‘There are good people in the world.'”

“And five minutes later, they shot a barrage of rockets from the school [into Israel] and everyone was shouting ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar’ and I told her, ‘Forget what I said, they’re all the same.'”

“We will never forgive and we will never show any kind of empathy towards these people,” Agam said. “If we previously believed that there was a chance for peace, we’ve lost all faith in these people, especially after we were there and among the population.”

Black smoke rises from a building near Palestine Square in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood, December 19, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

“We had a fear that they would get instructions to kill us,” Chen recounted. “We’d ask them sometimes. They’d say, ‘We’ll die before you do, we’ll die together.’ Very reassuring right?”

Another time, the family was staying somewhere behind a supermarket and Israeli strikes hit nearby. The family tried to use their mattresses as some form of cover “and then our guards, our captors, the terrorists, were on top of us, protecting us with their bodies from the strikes,” Chen said, but she had no illusions as to why. “We were very valuable to them,” she said.

Other hostages violated and abused

In the last week of their captivity in Gaza before their release, they were again taken into tunnels, where they met other hostages.

“There were girls there who were alone, alone for 50 days, 19-year-olds, alone, who went through difficult things, personally. They were violated, harmed, some were injured,” Chen said.

Men also suffered abuse and torture, they said.

“Something that was very emotional for me, these young amazing girls, they told me they heard the kids calling me ‘mom,'” Chen said, tearing up. “Because the kids kept calling me ‘mom,’ and the girls there suddenly said, ‘We’re hearing the word mom. We haven’t heard that all our time in captivity.’ I hugged them. Some are close in age to Yam, my daughter. I tried to hug them like a mother.”

Chen said she promised young female hostages who were not being freed that she would speak to their mothers and let them know they were alive.

The family was skeptical when told they were being freed. “I thought maybe it’s a trick, maybe they’re separating us,” Agam said. When talking to other captives set for release, she recounted saying she was “afraid to go out. I know that I have no father and no sister. We didn’t feel it while there… You understand you’re going back and they’re not waiting for you.”

Handed over to the Red Cross, the family experienced one of the most frightening incidents, as angry Palestinian civilians crowded around the cars, with some hurling rocks and jumping at the vehicles.

“I told my mom, we didn’t die so far, but we’re going to die now,” Agam said. The Red Cross staff shouted at people outside to steer clear but “were without weapons, and we had been guarded with weapons for 51 days.”

A very sad happiness

Crossing over into Israel was “like magic,” Chen said. “We got to some place, and suddenly the soothing voices, the kind eyes. It was a very, very moving moment.”

Describing scenes of joyful Israelis meeting them upon their return, Agam said she “didn’t stop crying” and was sorry her captive friends couldn’t see it.

She described their state as “a very sad happiness,” with the family not whole, and many hostages left behind.

The two also took pains to stress the need to immediately secure the freedom of those they met.

“As we sit here talking, they’re going through abuse. Everyone needs to come out,” Agam said.

The family, living temporarily in Tel Aviv, has been trying to come to terms with life without a father and a sister, Chen said.

“We were a happy home, a home with laughter,” she added. “It will always be a part of us. The abysses of pain are very, very deep.”

“We didn’t have the closure that every human being who buries someone has,” Agam said, as Nadav and Yam were buried without them present. “We didn’t have a funeral, and not a shiva… To be honest, I thought it would be easier [to be freed], but it’s just worse than I thought.”

Agam said she’s not sure “what to work on first. The trauma of captivity? The loss? The pain?”

At the same time, she’s told her mother they should be thankful for every day of life. “Any day we’ve woken up in the morning, that’s enough,” she said. “We should be joyful.”

Then, she said, she hears her father’s voice in her head, mocking her playfully to “stop with the platitudes.”

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