Biden adviser downplays differences with Israel over war effort: live updates

Biden adviser downplays differences with Israel over war effort: live updates

The strangest part of her seven-week ordeal, said former Israeli Hamas hostage Chen Goldstein-Almog, was the long, almost intimate conversations she had with her captors.

They spoke about their families, their lives and the extreme danger they all faced.

One of the gunmen who detained her even apologized for the killing of her husband and one of her daughters by other Hamas gunmen, she said.

“It was a mistake and it went against the Koran,” he told her, Ms. Goldstein-Almog recalled.

She said a long silence followed and the room in which she and three of her children were held immediately filled with tension.

“I didn’t answer,” she said. She was upset by their deaths, but at the time she said, “I didn’t think I could express negative feelings. »

Ms. Goldstein-Almog, 48, and the three children were kidnapped on October 7 from the Kfar Aza kibbutz, near the Gaza border and one of the worst hit in Hamas terrorist attacks. Her husband and eldest daughter were killed.

Buildings in Kfar Aza that were damaged during the October 7 attack.Credit…Avishag Shaar-Yashuv for the New York Times

She and the surviving children – another daughter, Agam, 17, and two sons, Gal, 11, and Tal, 9 – were released in late November as part of the prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas that has since ended.

In an interview this week, she shared details of her ordeal.

She said she and the children were held together, treated “with respect” and without physical violence. But she said that on different trips during their captivity, she met other hostages who had been mistreated, including two women who claimed they had been sexually abused.

Most of the time, they were held in a room in an apartment in Gaza, she said, with the windows closed except for some fresh air early in the morning. But the heavily armed kidnappers also moved Ms. Goldstein-Almog and her children to different apartments, tunnels, a mosque and even a destroyed supermarket, she said.

As the Israeli army pounded Gaza, each transfer was terrifying, and the men holding them, she said, didn’t always seem to know what to do.

Describing one movement, she said: “It was the middle of the night. Everything was dark. They began to deliberate among themselves. I could see the helplessness on their faces.

“When we were on the street, in complete darkness, there was a gunshot above us,” she continued. “We were pressed against the wall and I could see a laser pointer, like we were being targeted from above.”

And she thought: that’s our air force up there.

“It was crazy,” she said, “this absurdity. »

Three of Ms. Goldstein-Almog’s children, Agam, Tal and Gal, were kidnapped with her on October 7 from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, one of the communities hardest hit by Hamas-led terrorist attacks. Her husband and eldest daughter were killed.

Her conversations with her guards sometimes lasted hours, she said, perhaps because she was once a social worker and knew how to keep someone in a long, deep conversation — her only way of trying to communicate. ‘ensuring, she said, that she and the children would be safe.

The guards taught her son Gal 250 words in Arabic to keep him busy and brought him a notebook so he could study. She said the family and guards regularly discussed what they were going to eat. Most of the time, they survived on pita bread with cheese, usually feta. At the beginning there were also some vegetables. She said the guards told her they were members of Hamas.

The main guard appeared educated and spoke Hebrew, she said. In the apartment where they stayed the longest, he sometimes invited the family to cook in the kitchen, although even then the guards carried pistols. The guards escorted them to the bathroom upon request and let them sleep.

Every member of the family has experienced emotional ups and downs. Sometimes they talked about what happened on October 7 or realized that no ceasefire was near. The kidnappers didn’t like it when the children cried, she said. They immediately asked them to stop.

“And if for a moment I sat down and fell into thought,” she said, the main kidnapper “would ask me directly what I was thinking.” I couldn’t move from one room to another without an armed guard accompanying me. Once, my two sons were arguing and the caretaker raised his voice at one of them, which was scary.

Residents of Kfar Aza watch news of the hostages’ release from their kibbutz in Shefayim, Israel, last month.Credit…Amit Elkayam for the New York Times

There were even times when guards cried in front of them, she said, worried for their own families.

“We were in danger every day,” she said. “It was fear on a level we didn’t know existed.”

She couldn’t stop replaying the death of her husband, Nadav48 years old, with whom she started dating in high school and who was killed before their eyes with their eldest daughter, Yam, 20 years old, a soldier just two months from the end of his service.

At the end of their captivity, the head guard turned to Ms. Goldstein-Almog and gave her a warning: Do not return to your kibbutz, he told her. Do not return to a place so close to Gaza. Go to Tel Aviv or somewhere further north, she remembers telling him. Because we are coming back.

Ms. Goldstein-Almog’s response?

“Next time you come,” she told them, “don’t throw a grenade. Just knock on the door.

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Eric D. Eilerman

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