Gaza hostage recalls eating toilet paper to survive

Jimmy Pacheco was often given only half a pita a day and salty water, and didn’t think he’d survive his six-and-a-half week ordeal.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A recently released Philippine man who had been abducted by Hamas terrorists October 7 from Kibbutz Nir Oz told CBN Asia of needing to eat toilet paper to stay alive in captivity.

In the interview, Jimmy Pacheco, a caretaker who was freed in the first tranche of the hostages-for Palestinian prisoners’ exchange Friday night, said that he didn’t think he’d survive the whole ordeal.

He was often given only half a pita a day for food.

“I didn’t eat it all at once. Every time my stomach growled, I ate a little – but it wasn’t enough,” he said.

In desperation, he decided to “supplement” the tiny diet with toilet paper he was given when he was permitted to go to the bathroom.

“I didn’t use it – I put it in my pocket,” Pacheco said. “It looked like we were 40 meters underground, and that’s why the walls were damp. I attached the paper I had saved to the walls, until it got wet. Then I put it in my mouth and ate it – and that way my stomach wasn’t empty.”

Before-and-after pictures of the caretaker showed how noticeably thinner he was after his six and a half weeks of confinement.

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He was also given salty water to drink, he said, and “I told myself there was no way I would survive because I have a history of kidney problems.”

For the first two weeks the 32-year-old married father of three said he was kept in “a prison cell,” where he “couldn’t do anything inside. I felt like I was going crazy. I kept wondering, ‘Why did they bring me here? I didn’t do anything wrong.’”

He was then taken to a tunnel where there were many hostages. They slept on mattresses on the floor, and were given a toothbrush, and one change of clothes – a shirt and shorts.

The first time he saw sunlight and felt fresh air was the day he was released, he said, but the terrorists only told him that he was being transferred to another tunnel, so he did not know until the last minute that he was going to be free.

“I started crying when we left the tunnel,” Pacheco related. “I got down on my knees and thanked God.”

The caretaker also described what happened on October 7, when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists invaded over 20 Gaza envelope communities, and dozens came to Nir Oz. He ran to the safe room with his 80-year-old employer, Amitai Ben Zvi, ignoring his shouts to “Go, run away, save yourself!”

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The terrorists broke in and shot Ben Zvi to death in his bed.

That was perhaps Pacheco’s worst moment. He had been hiding behind the bed and “I saw how they murdered my employer – without him having the ability to defend himself,” he recounted. “They said I was a soldier, while they pointed weapons at my head. One of the terrorists fired an automatic weapon near my ear, until the bullets ran out.”

He held onto the thoughts of his wife and children to get him through it all, he said, adding that he felt “fine,” and even that “I’ve grown up, I’ve become stronger,” as a result of his horrific experience.

The Ben Zvi family was overjoyed by his return, with Amitai’s sons coming to the hospital where the released hostages were taken for medical checkups.

Ido and Gilad told Israeli media that “It was moving to the point of tears to hug Jimmy. He had a special relationship with dad, he took care of him for four years and trusted him. We felt that a family member had come home and not a caregiver or a foreign worker.”

Pacheco was the single Philippine citizen among 23 Thais whom Hamas released among the six groups of Israelis over the last six days, in a deal that was orchestrated separately through the Iranian government and did not involve Israel giving up Palestinian prisoners accused and convicted of security offenses.

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A total of 77 Israeli hostages have been released so far, in exchange for over 200 jailed Palestinians. Four of them were freed before the agreement was finalized, as Hamas “humanitarian gestures.” One hostage, IDF soldier Ori Megidish, was rescued late last month by IDF forces from a home in which she was being held captive in the Gaza Strip.