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Psychiatrist explains treatment of child hostages’ mental toll

American psychiatrist Dr. Renana Eitan tells ‘FOX & Friends Weekend’ about the work being done to help child hostages in Israel.

JERUSALEM – As more of the Israeli hostages kidnapped by Hamas during the Oct. 7 terror attack in southern Israel are freed as part of a U.S.-Qatari-Egyptian brokered cease-fire deal, stories of the horrors endured during their 50-plus days in captivity are slowly coming to light.

Instead of the usual chatter, crying and laughing typical in pediatric wards, Dr. Yael Mozer Glassberg, a senior physician in the Department of Returned Children at the Schneider Medical Center in Tel Aviv, who is part of the specially assembled team of professionals tasked with treating the returned hostages, told Fox News Digital, “It is very, very quiet here.”

Mozer Glassberg, who usually heads the hospital’s liver transplant unit, said so far, she and her team have worked with 22 of the freed hostages, including 15 children, in a specially created ward.


According to Israel’s Ministry of Health, a total of 69 hostages have been freed so far, 51 of them Israeli citizens and 18 foreign nationals, mostly from Thailand.

While most of the returned hostages appeared to be physically stable, many lost up to 15% of their body weight during captivity, and all are afraid to raise their voices after their 50-day stay with terrorists.

“At the moment they are being wrapped and hugged by family members and by the psycho-social medical team,” Mozer Glassberg said. “At this stage, it is too early to discuss the outcome of what they have been through.”

While Israeli authorities have requested that the hostages and their family members not share in-depth details of their time in the hands of Palestinian terror groups over fears for the safety of some 170 others still being held in Gaza, the information that has come to light so far shows the sheer brutality and inhumanity of their captors, especially toward toddlers, young children and the elderly.

On Tuesday, Deborah Cohen, the aunt of 12-year-old Eitan Yahalomi, who was freed on Monday, told French TV Channel BFM that the terrorists forced her young nephew at gunpoint to watch raw video footage of the horrors they carried out on Oct. 7.

“It is the kind of horror film that no one wants to see,” she said. “They forced him to watch it and if he or any of the other children cried, the terrorists threatened them with a gun to keep quiet.”

Cohen also recounted how Yahalomi, who was kidnapped during the Oct. 7 attack from his home on Kibbutz Nir Oz without his family, was put on the back of a motorcycle by the terrorists and driven across the breached border fence into Gaza. As they drove him through the streets there, she said, people came outside and began to jeer and beat him.

Ambulances in Gaza

Hamas hands over 11 Israeli hostages to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza City on Nov. 27, 2023. (Stringer/Anadolu via Getty Images)


“I wanted to hope that he would have been treated well there, but apparently not… they’re monsters,” said Cohen, adding that Yahalomi’s father, Ohad, is still a hostage.

Yahalomi’s grandmother, Esther, told Israeli media outlets that “For the first 16 days, he was alone in a closed room.”

“Imagine for yourselves what he went through there,” she said, adding that he was later put together with a group of other hostages from his kibbutz.

“It was much easier for him there because his caregiver from the kibbutz nursery was there,” the grandmother said, describing how he returned thinner and now refuses to smile.

In another rare testimony, Thomas Hand, the father of 9-year-old Emily Hand, told a media outlet that his daughter, who was freed on Saturday, still speaks in whispers.

“The most shocking thing about meeting Emily was the fact that she spoke in whispers, to the point it was really hard to hear her,” the father, a dual Israeli-Irish national, said. “I had to put my ear very close to her mouth to hear…. in captivity she was told not to make any noise and you can see the terror in her eyes.”

Hand said that when he asked his daughter how long she thought she had been in captivity in Gaza, the 9-year-old replied, “about a year.”


Emily and Thomas Hand reunion

The Israeli Defense Forces released a photo of Emily Hand, 9, and her father meeting again after Emily was kidnapped and spent 50 days as a hostage of Hamas terrorists. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

He also retold how he had to share with Emily the harsh news that Narkis, the woman who raised her on Kibbutz Be’eri where she grew up, was murdered.

“Her eyes sparkled, and she took a sharp breath. It was very difficult,” Hand said, adding, “Last night she cried until her face was red, she couldn’t stop. She didn’t want any comfort. I guess she forgot how to comfort herself. She got under the covers, covered herself, and cried quietly.”

Alma, 13, and Noam Or, 16, siblings who were released by Hamas on Saturday, received similarly devastating news, according to reports from those close to them. Relatives said the two teenagers were imprisoned in a secluded room for 50 days and through that time had been hoping to see their mother, Yonat, as soon as they were released.

Greeted by their grandmother and an older brother, the two were immediately informed that Yonat was murdered by the terrorists on Oct. 7. Their father, Dror, remains a hostage, Israeli authorities said.

Over the past five days, relatives of the hostages have told of the difficulties they have faced in sharing with their now-released loved ones some of the terror stories from the Oct. 7 massacre, which saw more than 1,200 people murdered in some 22 communities in southern Israel, army bases and a music festival.

Hamas operatives

Hamas hands over 11 Israeli hostages to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza City on Nov. 27, 2023. (Stringer/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Adva Adar, the granddaughter of 85-year-old Yaffa Adar, who was released on Friday night, said that her family is working hard not to overload the elderly woman with too many details about the massacre on her kibbutz or the fact that her home was completely destroyed.

“She is only getting the information now of what happened, and is piecing it all together slowly,” said Adva Adar. “We want to give it to her in a way that she can process it, and it won’t be too much.”


Adva said her grandmother, who was released from the hospital on Tuesday, is getting professional help to deal with all the trauma, but the family understands that the recovery process will be long.

She said that right now, the most difficult task facing her elderly grandmother is “starting over again.”

“To be an 85-year-old woman and have your home and all your memories, your photo album, and everything, destroyed is really tough,” Adva said.

Merav Raviv, a relative of Ruthy Mundar, 78, her daughter, Keren Mundar, 54, and Keren’s son, Ohad, 9, who were all freed on Friday night, said they were also trying to catch up on the horrors of the past eight weeks.

“They were fed but not regularly,” Raviv said in an interview on Sunday. “Some days they did not get anything but some a few pieces of bread and both Keren and her mom, Ruty, lost about six to eight kilograms in weight,” (approximately13-17 pounds.)

Israeli hostages transported in Red Cross ambulances

International Red Cross vehicles reportedly carrying Israeli hostages released by Hamas cross the Rafah border point in Gaza on the way to Egypt, from where they would be flown to Israel to be reunited with their families, on Nov. 24, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)

Raviv said that the family was forced to sleep on plastic benches and begged their captors to take them to the bathroom. Sometimes they had to wait for more than an hour and a half to be allowed to go, she said.

As for Ohad, who celebrated his 9th birthday in captivity last month, Raviv said that he had been visiting his grandparents on Kibbutz Nir Oz the day he was kidnapped and was “very scared” when rocket fire began and the terrorists broke into the kibbutz.

At the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital in Tel Aviv’s Sheba Medical Center, Deputy Director Dr. Moshe Ashkenazi told Fox News Digital that he had so far treated around 21 of the freed hostages.

“There are some really shocking stories,” he said. “I can’t go into too much detail but some of what we heard has not been easy and, I must say, the strength of these people is amazing.”

Ashkenazi said that while no one under his care required urgent medical intervention, “it is quite obvious when you look at them all, they have all been through a very difficult period – as you would expect from any person who has been kept in captivity for 50 days.”


Hamas terror attacks

Hamas terrorists killed at least 1,200 civilians, including women, children and the elderly, when they attacked Israel on Oct. 7. (Israel Defense Forces via AP)

In Israel, medical professionals began preparing for the scenario of returned hostages almost immediately following the Oct. 7 attack, when it was confirmed that hundreds of people, including children, had been kidnapped.

With few similar scenarios worldwide to draw from, Ashkenazi said the hospital, like others in Israel, put together a multidisciplinary team of experts including psychologists, psychiatrists and other experts to help with the rehabilitation of those they hoped would soon return.

At Soroka Medical Center in southern Israel, one hostage, Elma Avraham, 84, who was released Sunday night, arrived in critical condition, her daughter, Tali Amano said in a statement.

“We waited for my mother for 52 days,” she said. “My mother is 84 years old, a grandmother and great-grandmother. She is a happy woman, incredibly optimistic. She was taken out of her house and kidnapped on a motorcycle; she was functioning. She lived independently, cooked for herself, and took care of all of her needs – including taking her prescription medication to deal with her chronic illnesses.”

Amano said her mother, who suffered from a thyroid disease, heart disease and autoimmune disease, “was completely neglected medically” and “arrived home on the brink of death.”

On Tuesday, the hospital said that Avraham’s condition had improved and that she was awake and breathing on her own.


Avigail Idan and family at hospital

Avigail Idan with relatives at Schneider Children’s Hospital. (Schneider Children’s Hospital spokesperson’s office)

According to Israel’s Ministry of Health, a total of 69 hostages have been freed so far, 51 of them Israeli citizens and a further 18 foreign nationals, mostly from Thailand who had been working in Israel on the day of the attack. Out of those released, 30 are children, 20 are women, mostly mothers and senior citizens, and one man.

Israel believes that nine Israeli children, including a 10-month-old baby, remain in captivity.

Ruth Marks Eglash is a veteran journalist based in Jerusalem, Israel. She reports and covers the Middle East and Europe. Originally from the U.K, she has also freelanced for numerous news outlets. Ruth can be followed on Twitter @reglash

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