Israel-Hamas War: Latest Updates – The New York Times

Israel-Hamas War: Latest Updates – The New York Times

Hila Rotem Shoshani invited her friend Emily Hand to a sleepover at Kibbutz Beeri, Israel. The girls, then aged 12 and 8, woke up early the next morning, October 7, to the sound of thunderous bangs – the start of the deadliest attack in their country’s history.

For about six hours, Hila and Emily hid in the home safe with Hila’s mother, Raaya Rotem, 54, as Hamas attackers invaded the kibbutz. Then armed men burst in with guns and knives and took the three men through a landscape of horror, past corpses and burning buildings, to a car. One of the attackers noticed Hila holding a stuffed animal. He grabbed it and threw it aside.

“I had it in my hand the whole time. I didn’t notice it,” Hila said Friday in an interview in New York, before speaking at a rally in support of the remaining hostages. “When you’re scared, you don’t notice it.”

Hila was one of more than 30 children kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 and held until late November, when they were released, along with dozens of adults, during a brief truce. Hila, now aged 13, is the youngest of the repatriated hostages to speak out about the harsh conditions in which they were held, seeking to highlight the plight of more than 100 hostages remaining in Gaza.

The terrifying drive to Gaza, surrounded by Hamas terrorists, was the first time, Hila said, that she fully realized how “really close” the territory was to the community in which she grew up.

She said she, her mother and Emily were taken to a house in Gaza, where they were placed in a dark room with a few other hostages. At first, an armed guard remained in the room, but eventually moved to the living room.

“They understood that we were not going to run away,” Hila said. “Outside is also dangerous – why would we run?

They were warned not to try to escape, Hila said, and were told that “if we go out, ‘people don’t like you, so you will be killed anyway’.”

Their captors gave them little food – half a pita and a little halva some days, canned beans some days – and very little water, often well water so unpleasant, Hila said, that she had to force herself to drink .

Sometimes the captors ate while the captives did not, she said: “There were days when there was just no food, and they kept it for themselves. »

Sometimes, Hila said, they would hear other children’s voices and wonder if they were elsewhere in the house. They had to ask permission to use the toilet, and Hila learned the Arabic word for it, hammam.

Once, a nearby explosion shattered their bedroom window, Hila said, but they were not injured.

A few times, she said, they were woken in the middle of the night and rushed out into the darkness.

“At first they told us, ‘You move to a safer place,’” Hila said. “But we didn’t know if we were going to be killed.”

The girls were told to be quiet. Emily turned 9 and Hila’s own birthday was approaching. They tried to keep themselves busy, by drawing or playing.

“We played cards, but how well can you play cards, all day, every hour?” » said Hila.

Freedom came suddenly, she said.

About a month and a half into their captivity, the captors suddenly separated the girls from Hila’s mother.

“Mom had started to worry that something was wrong, that they weren’t taking her,” Hila said, adding, “and then they just came and took us, and she stayed.”

The girls were later released and returned to Israel. The separation of mother and child violated the terms of the exchange agreement, sparking outrage in Israel. Raaya was finally released a few days later, just after Hila’s 13th birthday.

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Eric D. Eilerman

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