Israeli hostage describes 51 days in captivity

During the 51 days she was held by Hamas in Gaza, Hagar Brodutch never lost track of what day it was. She says that every morning she made it a point to remember the day of the week and how many days she had been held hostage.

Six months later, he’s still counting.

“Today is 235 days and it is incredible,” he says.

Brodutch, her three children and her four-year-old neighbor Abigail Idan were kidnapped by Hamas-led militants from their home in Kfar Aza, Israel, on October 7. They were released in November as part of the brief ceasefire, but she says thoughts are never far from those still detained in Gaza.

“I can’t imagine what they feel,” he says. “I know what I’ve been through and that was only 51 days.”

Brodutch, her husband Avihai and their children, Ofri, 10, Yuval, 9, and Oriya, 4, just arrived in Toronto, where they will spend part of the summer visiting relatives.

Avihai, Hagar, Ofri, Yuval and Oria Brodutch. (Supplied)

“I think we’re getting better every day,” he says. “We lost a lot of friends and we lost our home and our community. But we will continue.”

October 7

Brodutch says it was around 6:30 a.m. when the sirens started going off on October 7. Shortly after, someone knocked on her door and outside was her three-year-old neighbor, Abigail Idan. Brodutch remembers that she was not injured, but she was covered in the blood of her parents, who had just been murdered in the house next door to her.

Brodutch took the girl inside and went to the safe room of the house with her children. Avihai, a member of the community’s civil guard, put on her safety equipment and left the house to help.

Brodutch remembers that they spent four hours in the safe room waiting for “the all-clear.” Instead, he estimates that 15 Hamas fighters entered his home and forced their way into the safe room.

He says that they asked him for the car keys, “and then they told me ‘shoes,’” he remembers. “That was the moment I understood what was happening.”

Brodutch says the five were driven to Gaza in their own car, where a crowd was waiting for them.

“There was a huge crowd, clapping and dancing,” he says. “Happy to see us, a wife and four children.” She says the man driving the car kept trying to pick up 10-year-old Ofri to show him to the crowd.

“They took off his shirt and tried to show the crowd that he had a little girl. A Jewish, Israeli girl,” she says.

51 days

Brodutch says they were taken to a family’s home and locked in a small room with another hostage who was injured. She says there was no running water and electricity was minimal; At night it was so dark that she says she couldn’t see her hand.

“The kids kept asking, ‘When are we coming home? What’s going on?’” she remembers. “I couldn’t believe that my children were going to sleep there at night, in Gaza, in someone else’s house.”

They were kept there for just over two weeks, until the house was hit by a strike.

“And then the house collapsed from the IDF bombs,” he says. Ofri was injured, but Brodutch says they were lucky to survive.

After the house was attacked, they were separated from the other hostage and moved to a different location. Brodutch says they were put in an ambulance and taken to another family’s house, but it was empty.

“It was a nightmare, it was just hell,” she says, “You’re locked in a small room with four of them. We had cards, so we tried to use them to get through the day. But we suffer. We were hungry”.

Brodutch says they were each given small amounts of water and a piece of pita a day. They could hear the bombs all day and night and lived in fear of being hit.

When the bombs stopped in late November, Brodutch said he knew something was happening outside. She and her four children were released on November 26 as part of the ceasefire agreement.

For weeks before his release, Avihai sat in front of the Defense Ministry building in Tel Aviv, one of the first to call on the government to prioritize the release of the hostages. 112 have been released, while Israel says more than 130 remain; It is unclear how many are still alive.

“We have to stop everything and bring them back home,” he says. “Nothing is as important as them.”

Stop the fire

The hostages have been at the center of ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas, talks that have broken down several times as the war in Gaza continues. Prospects for a resumption of negotiations have increased recently, even as Israel carried out new attacks in Rafah.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a “tragic mishap” occurred in an Israeli attack that set fire to a camp housing displaced Palestinians. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, at least 45 people were killed. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say they have opened an investigation into the deaths.

The attack added to fresh international criticism over how Israel is carrying out the war, which has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

While no date has been set to renew ceasefire talks, new proposals from mediators from Egypt and Qatar are being prepared.

As for Brodutch, he is hopeful that one day there will be peace.

“I want to live in peace with my neighbors,” he says. “We have to find a solution for both of us. For Israel and the Palestinians. War is not an option. “We can’t live like this anymore.”