‘Didn’t have air to breathe’ – Israelis held in Turkish prison reveal their 8-day Chanukah ‘miracle’

“It’s been our personal miracle,” said Natali Oknin, comparing the couple’s ordeal to the Chanukah story. “Eight days, like the jug of oil.”

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Mordy and Natali Oknin, a married couple from Modi’in who were held in Turkish prison on suspicion of espionage, returned to Israel on Thursday morning and spoke about their time in custody to Hebrew-language media.

The Oknins, both bus drivers, were arrested after taking photos of Turkish premier Recep Erdogan’s presidential mansion.

“There were a lot of bad thoughts and we always had faith,” Mordy Oknin told Channel 12 News.

“We believed in God and that it would be okay, but we did not know the magnitude of the problem and that it was so critical,” he said, explaining that the Turkish government had not been transparent about the reason for their arrests or the charges they were facing.

“We didn’t even think of the word ‘spy.’ It was not in our minds to get into such a situation…We saw that everyone was taking pictures. If it was so critical, they should have told us that taking pictures is forbidden.”

“I didn’t have air to breathe… I felt that my world had ended. I didn’t think I would get home alive,” Natali Oknin told Channel 12. “I keep kosher, so all I had to eat were scraps of bread and water.”

“We are still traumatized, but time will heal things. It’s been our personal miracle,” she said, comparing the couple’s ordeal to the Chanukah story. “Eight days, like the jug of oil.”

During the Oknins’ first court date last week, a judge made the surprise decision to extend their detention by 20 days. The news surprised many, as it was widely expected that the couple would be released at that time.

“The couple photographed Erdogan’s home; they focused on the house and marked it,” Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Tuesday.

“The prosecutor’s office estimates that they committed a crime of military and political espionage, but the court will make the decision in the future.”

The statements worried Israeli officials, who believed that there was a serious risk the Oknins would be convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to decades in prison.

“We were afraid it would take longer, but it was fast. We were afraid it might end badly,” Natalie Oknin added.

“All the same, we knew they would not abandon us; we knew they would do what they could to save us, we knew they would move mountains; that’s what kept me going.”