Israel documenting hostage stories amidst emotional testimonies

The project is called ‘Hostages Documentation Project’ which will be a collection of testimonies accessible to the public.

By Sveta Listratov, TPS

Former hostages released from captivity in Gaza along with the families of current hostages shared insights into their harrowing experiences on Monday as the government partially unveiled a project to document their stories.

“There is no justification for the things we’ve been hearing here. If there is such a thing as a free world, it should be on our side without any conditions, trying to free the hostages who are still in the hands of Hamas,” insisted Moshe Or. His brother, Avinatan, was kidnapped to Gaza with his girlfriend at the Nova music festival.

Israel’s Government Press Office partially unveiled its “Hostages Documentation Project” which is gathering testimonies and will be accessible to the general public, academic researchers and the media.

“Why is it so hard to believe that people were actually abused, who saw their loved ones attacked and killed before their eyes? Why is it so easy to believe the words of a terror organization dedicated to eradicating the Jewish people?” said GPO director Nitzan Chen.

“This project is an opportunity to hear firsthand about the unspeakable events of October 7, the time that the hostages suffered at the hands of their captors, the abuse and terror that they underwent.”

During a panel discussion, freed hostages shared harrowing accounts of their experiences, emphasizing the harsh reality of captivity under Hamas.

“Some of the Hamas guards were walking around us in a barbaric manner, carrying weapons and a commando knife, doing things that put us under stress… serious distress…” said 70-year-old Louis Har who was abducted with his family from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak. Har, a dual Israeli-Argentine national, was freed with Fernando Simon Marman during a dramatic rescue mission in February.

Har struggled to finish his sentences, his voice faltering, his legs trembling as he attempted to compose himself.

What he did confirm was the first-hand testimonies he heard himself about the sexual abuse suffered by men in captivity.

“I heard there were rapes of boys who were raped on purpose in front of the children hostages. It’s a terrible thing,” he said with visible pain.

On hearing Har’s account and witnessing the distressing videos gathered by the project, Malki Shem Tov, father of the hostage Omer Shem Tov, said his heart was shattered by the harrowing revelations.

“There’s no way to express what I feel hearing these stories for over 200 days,” Shem Tov said in a quiet voice. “If Omer hears me I want to tell him we are doing everything to bring them back home.”

Omer, now 21, was abducted from the Nova music festival, where 364 people were killed and 40 more were taken hostage.

Of all the locations attacked by Hamas on October 7, the highest death toll was at the music festival, on the grounds of Kibbutz Re’im.

“As to his abductors, I would like to say, try to be human. Omer is a young man. He has a soul. Don’t hurt him physically and don’t hurt his soul. I hope he is strong enough to make it,” Shem Tov said as tears brimmed in his eyes.

Chen Goldstein-Almog was abducted with her children from their home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza and taken to Gaza with three of her children, ages 9-17 on October 7.

Her husband and oldest daughter were murdered in their safe room in front of Chen and the children.

Goldstein-Almog said encounters with abducted female soldiers, ages 18 and 19, gave her and the children hope.

“In the week they spent with us, they exhibited incredible strength, displaying remarkable resilience in their determination to survive. I can only hope that they still hold onto that sense of hope,” Goldstein-Almog said.

She recounted how one hostage resorted to self-surgery to remove metal fragments from her body.

Goldstein-Almog also shed light on the sexual abuse the hostages endured.

“At gunpoint, they put their fingers in those girls everywhere possible, in such a shocking way. They are demanding from them to do things for them, sexual acts. The girls went through very difficult things there,” Goldstein recalled.

She added that her captors showed no remorse for their atrocities.

Read  Israeli pavilion at Cannes Film Festival highlights movies from Gaza border communities impacted by Oct. 7 attacks

“It appears they had long prepared for the prospect of capturing numerous Israelis. Emboldened by their perceived success on October 7th, they discussed future incursions, suggesting we not return to Kfar Aza,” Goldstein-Almog said.

“They said, ‘How many of us do you think will come next time? Twenty-thousand, forty-thousand? We will rehabilitate ourselves and, in a few years, we’ll be back.’ They don’t seem to have anything to lose.”

The event took place hours before the Israeli military launched its long-anticipated invasion of Rafah, Hamas’s last Gaza stronghold.

On Tuesday morning, the IDF confirmed it had seized control of the Palestinian side of Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

“Yes Rafah, no Rafah, I’m not interested in it right now. I want my little brother at home,” said Moshe Or. “The nations of the world should force Hamas to return the hostages. We demand that you intervene not only in words but in actions. There are rules in war, and the hostages should not have been taken captive at all, and now they have to be released, already today, already now.”

At least 1,200 people were killed and 240 Israelis and foreigners were taken hostage in Hamas’s attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border on October 7. Around 30 of the remaining 133 hostages are believed dead.