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Life under terrorist control: Hostages describe war crimes inflicted by Hamas, including rape

One hostage described seeing her husband and daughter murdered in front of her before being hauled to Gaza. Another, kidnapped during the music festival attacked by Hamas said "I was a prize. They brought people to look at us from outside to see what they had managed to catch."

Published: December 28, 2023 11:00pm

Former Hamas hostages are opening up about their horrifying experiences in Gaza after being released during a temporary ceasefire exchange late last month. Many are describing their time in captivity as being like the "holocaust" and leaving them "broken," as others describe assaults and being treated like an animal.

French-Israeli Mia Schem, 21, told Israel's Channel 13 in an interview released Thursday that she was shot and left "on the floor, covered in blood" when she attended the Nova music festival on Oct. 7.

She said she was treated "like an animal in a safari," and a man groped her before she was brought to Gaza.

"He started touching me, in the chest, and then, out of nowhere, someone pulled me by the hair, got me into the car and drove me to Gaza," she said. 

"It's important to understand that I went through a Holocaust and that everyone there is a terrorist," she also said before describing how a family held her captive.

"These are families under Hamas. In retrospect, I suddenly realized that I was with a family, suddenly, I started asking myself questions, why am I in a family's house? Why are there children here? Why is there a woman here?" she reflected.

Former hostage Sharon Aloni-Cunio, 34, who was released in November alongside her 3-year-old twins while her husband, David Cunio, was left behind in Gaza, told Israel's Channel 12: "I am a broken woman, whose husband was taken from her."

Aloni-Cunio said while she was being kidnapped, a terrorist separated her from the group. "I was sure he was going to rape me and kill me," she said, as translated by Israel's i24 News.

As she was moved to Gaza, she and the other hostages were assaulted by onlookers. 

It was "a scenario where you don't even know if you’re being taken hostage, or going to be lynched in front of a crowd," Aloni-Cunio said.

She said her sister and daughter Emma were abducted separately and at one point during her time in captivity, the terrorists dressed her in civilian clothing and had her husband appear as a corpse to move them to a local hospital. 

"Around midnight they told us that they wanted to make a video for Al-Jazeera. About four people entered the room, one of them with a camera. Suddenly we heard crying. And that's when I grabbed David and told him: 'That's Emma's crying,'" she said, referring to the media outlet funded by the Qatari government. 

Another hostage, 12-year-old Eitan Yahalomi, was kidnapped from his home alongside his father, mother and 10-year-old and 20-month-old sisters. He was separated from his family on Oct. 7 and had no idea what happened to them until he was released last month and arrived back in Israel, he told Israeli outlet YNet on Tuesday.

His mother and sisters were able to escape their captors at the border of Gaza when the terrorists fled after seeing an Israeli tank, but that did not stop Eitan's captors from telling him that his mother was also a hostage. 

"They told me that my mother had been kidnapped. Sometimes they told me that they would take me to be with her soon, and then I had hope. I imagined what was happening to them, and I tried to talk to them in my head. I was afraid that something might have happened to them. The terrorists also told me that the kibbutz was no more and that there was no more Israel in general," Eitan said. 

"I thought she was also kidnapped and only when I was released and got out of the van they told me that she was waiting for me. I was happy and asked how it is that she is here," Eitan also said.

Moran Stela Yanai, a 40-year-old jewelry designer who was kidnapped during the music festival, said in a video released Saturday during a rally in Tel Aviv: "I was a prize. They brought people to look at us from outside to see what they had managed to catch."

Yanai said she was "degraded" but "determined" to make her captors like her so she could receive food, but she was still "humiliated" and forced to beg for food. 

Chen Goldstein-Almog, 48, and her 17-year-old daughter Agam Goldstein-Almog spoke with Channel 12 on Friday about their experience being kidnapped alongside sons Gal, 11, and Tal, 9, from their home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza.

Father Nadav Goldstein, 48, was "shot in the chest at point-blank range" on while daughter Yam Goldstein-Almog was "shot in the face," in front of the family on Oct. 7, Chen Goldstein-Almog said, according to The Times of Israel.

Agam said her captors taunted her that she would be "married off" to someone in Gaza. 

Reflecting on her drive into Gaza, she said: "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."

Earlier this month, Chen Goldstein-Almog separately told outlet Kan Bet that she heard about multiple examples of hostages being sexually assaulted. 

"We heard three stories from a first-hand source and another story that was told to us. Things that happened a few weeks after the stay in Gaza [began]. They are physically injured. With the way they sexually assaulted them and desecrated their bodies—they don’t know how they will cope," she said, according to news service JNS

An Israeli military official and two doctors who treated the freed hostages confirmed reports of violent sexual assaults to USA Today last week. The International Criminal Court explicitly declares that rape in these types of circumstances is a war crime.

One of the doctors said that "many" of the female Israelis ages 12 to 48 who were released were sexually assaulted in Gaza. All of the freed captives who were of reproductive age were given sexually transmitted infection screenings and pregnancy tests. 

Speaking about the hostages, the Israeli military official said: "We know they were raped in Hamas captivity." The official also said the hostages are being beaten and kept in "very bad mental and physical conditions."

In total, about 240 people were taken hostage by Hamas and other terror groups on Oct. 7, and approximately 1,200 people were killed. While 105 civilians were released during a temporary ceasefire in November, Israel believes that 129 hostages remain captive in Gaza, although not all of them are believed to be alive. 

Follow Madeleine Hubbard on X or Instagram.

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