TEL AVIV, Israel—Israeli women and children have in recent weeks begun speaking publicly about what they experienced during nearly two months in Hamas captivity late last year.
In primetime Hebrew TV interviews, the released hostages have confirmed that ordinary Gazans were deeply complicit in every stage of the hostage scheme. Unarmed teens helped to abduct Jews from their homes on Oct. 7, while Gazan women and children held some of the Israelis captive. In other cases, Gazan doctors collaborated with Hamas terrorists to covertly treat kidnapped Israelis and imprison them in hospitals.
When the Israelis encountered Gazans on the streets, the results were often terrifying.
The revelations underscore the urgency of Israel's 100-plus-day war to destroy Hamas and bring home the 132 hostages who, officials believe, remain captive in Gaza. At the same time, though, the released hostages' accounts indicate how difficult it could be to extricate either the remaining hostages or Hamas from a radicalized population.
"The main issue is that the organization is very much melted into the social structure of Gaza," Michael Milshtein, a former senior Israeli military intelligence officer and a leading expert on Hamas, told the Washington Free Beacon. "There is no way you can really know who is Hamas. Someone might have a grocery store where he sells tomatoes and water, but he might also have storehouse of weapons and give religious lessons there."
And his wife and kids might be keeping an Israeli hostage at home.
"Hamas is not only a political matter in Gaza. It's a way of life," Milshtein said. "We can and should ruin Hamas militarily and change the political arena in Gaza. But ultimately the Gazan people will have to do some soul searching. And here in the Arab world, not only the Palestinians, soul searching is very rare."
On Israel's Channel 12 news earlier this month, Nili Margalit, 41, recounted how Gazan "civilians, regular people" took her hostage at knifepoint on Oct. 7. Margalit said a "boy … 17, maybe 18 years old" and an "older man with the knife" broke down the door of her home in Kibbutz Nir Oz and forced her into a stolen golf cart, still barefoot and wearing pajamas.
As they exited the kibbutz, Margalit said, she saw a "mob, thousands of people," including "women and children," pouring across Israel's breached border with Gaza, less than two miles away. She said a pair of boys, one "no more than 4 or 5 years old" and the other 15 or 16, were riding an ATV that belonged to her father, a local cattle breeder who was among about 1,200 people in Israel murdered by terrorists that day.
After Margalit's abductors crossed into Gaza, they transferred her to a blood-stained car along with another Nir Oz resident, Tamar Metzger, 78, who was "very injured," Margalit said. The Gazans then drove to a warehouse, where they "sold" the Israelis to Hamas terrorists, according to Margalit.
For the next 49 days, Hamas held Margalit and Metzger in its network of underground tunnels along with dozens of other captives. Both women were among 105 hostages, 80 of them Israeli women and children, freed during a weeklong truce deal between Israel and Hamas at the end of November.
While Margalit was the first released hostage to publicly confirm that Gazan civilians abducted Israelis on Oct. 7, eyewitnesses, footage, and other evidence have indicated the phenomenon was relatively widespread. As the Free Beacon reported, a mob of mostly unarmed Gazans, including children and women, followed Hamas into Nir Oz and other Israeli communities on that day and participated in the professional terrorists' atrocities.
Roni Krivoi, a 25-year-old Israeli taken hostage from the Supernova music festival in southern Israel on Oct. 7, was recaptured by ordinary Gazans after he escaped captivity for several days, his aunt told Israel's Kan public radio station following his release in November.
Gazan "civilians" were also responsible for the abduction of Margalit Moses, 78, from Nir Oz on Oct. 7, Irit Lahav, an unofficial spokeswoman for the kibbutz, told the Free Beacon this week. Moses and Krivoi declined through representatives to be interviewed.
A number of the Israeli women and children freed by Hamas said in interviews with Channel 12 last month that they spent part of their captivity in family homes, hospitals, and other civilian sites in Gaza.
Mia Schem, who was shot in the arm and abducted by Hamas terrorists from the Supernova rave on Oct. 7, said her captors brought her directly to a hospital in Gaza as she was bleeding to death. The surgeon who operated on her arm "looked at me and said, 'You’re not going home alive,'" she recalled.
After the procedure, Schem received no further treatment of even pain medication, she said. She was taken to a family home, where a man and his family held her captive with "pure hate," Schem said, forbidding her to speak, cry, or move. She would go days without receiving food and was never allowed to bathe.
"[The man's] wife hated the fact that he and I were in the same room. She hated it. So she'd taunt me," Schem said, recounting how the woman would insult her appearance and bring the man food "but nothing for me."
"The children would open the door look at me, talk about me, laugh at me," Schem said. "One time, the son enters the room with a bag of candy. He opens the bag and gives his father candy, then comes over to me, opens the bag, closes it, and leaves. You know, pure evil."
"I experienced hell. Everyone there are terrorists," Schem said in a separate interview on Israel's Channel 13. "There are no innocent civilians, not one."
Schem said she spent the final days of her 54-day captivity in Hamas's underground tunnels.
Doron Katz Asher, 34, said terrorists took her and her daughters, 5 and 2, from her mother's house in Nir Oz to a family home in Gaza on Oct. 7. Her mother was killed on the way. For 16 days, a Gazan woman and her daughters traded shifts watching Katz Asher and her daughters "24/7," she said.
After that, the family was sent, at night and disguised in traditional Muslim clothing, to a nearby hospital, where they were sealed in a room with a half-dozen other captives for more than a month, Katz Asher said. There were no mattresses, food was inconsistent, and using a toilet required permission from the captors.
"Constant fear" was how Katz Asher described the 49 days of captivity: "fear that maybe because my daughters are crying and are making some noise, [the terrorists will] get some directive from above to take them, to do something to them."
Chen Goldstein-Almog, 48, said Hamas terrorists moved her and her three youngest children, 17, 11, and 9, between different homes, the tunnels, a school, and a grocery store in Gaza. She also told the New York Times that they were held in a mosque. The family walked from location to location at night, wearing hijabs to hide their identity.
Goldstein-Almog's 17-year-old daughter, Agam, said that during their stay at the school, "a sweet lady welcomed us and offered us water and arranged a place for us to sleep."
"I turned to my mother and said, 'There are good people in the world,'" Agam recalled. "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.'"
"Some still had bloody gunshot wounds that had been left untreated in makeshift bandages. One had a dismembered limb," Agam elaborated in an essay for the Free Press published on Tuesday. "I heard from them accounts of terrifying and grotesque sexual abuse, often at gunpoint."
One day, the family heard on the radio that the father and eldest daughter had been killed on Oct. 7 in their homes in Kfar Aza, a kibbutz 15 miles north of Nir Oz, also near the Gaza border.
"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."
Ofelia Roitman, 77, of Nir Oz said that she was held captive by a Gazan couple, a technician and a nurse, who locked her in a room of their apartment alone for 46 days. The couple kept her window closed so that she could not tell day from night and fed her small portions of pita bread and rice.
"The situation with the food was like the Holocaust," even as the couple appeared to eat well, she said.
Roitman said she heard and felt rockets being launched directly underneath the apartment building. People in the street would erupt in celebration.
"I heard the cheers, a party outside near the market," she said. "When the rockets hit Tel Aviv or Beersheba, they applauded. … They were so joyful."
Roitman was taken to several Gazan doctors to treat a gunshot wound she sustained during her abduction, and she spent her final week in Gaza in a hospital with other hostages, she said. The first doctor Roitman saw, in an underground tunnel, at first refused to treat her, saying, "I'm not treating a Jew."
As Israel has waged war on Hamas, it has uncovered numerous examples of Hamas apparently hiding terrorist operations behind civilian infrastructure, including homes, hospitals, and schools. Israel has also found evidence that Gazan medical personnel work for Hamas and that the terrorist group is holding hostages in hospitals. Hamas has denied the allegations.
Coming and going
According to many of the released Israeli hostages who have told their stories, their captors repeatedly warned them that their lives would be at risk if they were discovered by ordinary Gazans. The crowds that gathered as the Israelis entered and left Gaza seemed to confirm those warnings.
Sharon Aloni Cunio, 34, recalled how she and her twin 3-year-old daughters were mobbed on Oct. 7 as terrorists brought them into Gaza on a tractor from their home in Nir Oz.
"We cross the border, and I say to myself, God help us, we're in Gaza. People start beating everyone who was sitting on the tractor—just beating us, from all sides. It was horrific," she said. "You don't know if [the terrorists] intend to take you hostage or to lynch you in front of the mob."
Maya Regev, 21, who was shot at the Supernova rave and abducted along with her brother, said their captors "paraded us in Gaza … screaming, 'Allahu Akbar!'"
"I'm with my head down," Regev said. "Someone pulls me backward by the hair, holding me like that so people could see my face."
Yaffa Adar, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor whose abduction from Nir Oz on Oct. 7 appears to have involved ordinary Gazans, said that when she arrived in Gaza, there were "people all around, lots of them, spitting, yelling—not pleasant." The Free Beacon could not reach Adar for comment.
Katz Asher described a similar scene as Hamas handed her and her daughters over to the Red Cross on Nov. 24.
"As soon as the Red Cross jeeps arrived, the Arab street was on us," she said. "Hundreds of people gathered in seconds, banging on the cars. It was the first time [five-year-old daughter] Raz told me, after I protected her for a month and a half, it was the first time Raz told me, 'Mom, I'm scared.'"