‘Fighting pure evil’: Hostage families rip Biden for ignoring U.S. citizens

By David Brummer

Joe Biden speaks on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Thursday, July 4, 2024, in the Oval Office. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)
Joe Biden speaks on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Thursday, July 4, 2024, in the Oval Office.

JERUSALEM – People say the worst thing imaginable for a parent is the loss of a child. The parents of the Israeli hostages languishing in Hamas captivity – particularly of late teenage and early-twenties women – seem to take this maxim and increase the pain and suffering, as little is known about what exactly condition they are in.

A specially convened virtual press conference – titled “Nine Months in Captivity: Sexual Violence and the Fear of Forced Preganancies” – between the Hostages Families Forum and Media Central, explored this vexed issue Tuesday evening.

The parents who presented were Orly Gilboa, mother of Daniela, whose hostage video was released earlier Tuesday; Shlomi Berger, father of Agam; Meirav Leshem Gonen, mother of Romi; and Simona Steinbrecher, mother of Doron. Also present on the panel was Dr. Einat Yehene, senior rehabilitation psychologist, head of rehabilitation, health division, the Hostages Families Forum, who specializes in trauma, loss, and adaptation to life-changing events.

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Gilboa, who briefly addressed the release of the hostage video earlier Tuesday, spoke first. She described Daniela – who turned 20 just three months ago – as someone who likes to sing, write songs, and play the piano.

Of the video, she said her family had agreed to release it as there seemed to be a window of opportunity for a hostage deal. She also spoke of her daughter’s apparent condition.

“Hamas published something around six months ago, and we are 170 days further on from then. You can maybe imagine [from the footage] that she is strong; but as her mother I see her in a very bad mental state. We got a psychological opinion which suggested she’s in a bad way – and after 170 more days I assume it’s not now a better situation.”

Orly Gilboa, left, and her daughter, Daniela (Courtesy)
Orly Gilboa, left, and her daughter, Daniela

“Every day of these past nine months has been hard,” she said, “but this was a very symbolic day. It’s usually a very happy day when a baby is delivered, but when we know a young lady is in the hands of terrorist, who we know are sexual abusers and have committed rapes. As a mother, I cannot imagine if this nine-months day [sic] is a sad day for my daughter, if she has been impregnated.”

Gilboa added she tries not to dwell on what might be, even expressing a feeling of optimism because there is a deal on the table, where there has been an assumption that humanitarian hostages – some women, the elderly or infirm, and children would be released first.

“We hope both sides want this deal -– but sometimes in negotiations there are parties who try to make it hard for both sides. I call on [Prime Minister] Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu and the whole Israeli government to not give up – and make this deal. After 9 months it’s too much. And to the international community I call on them to do everything they can to get this deal signed.”

Steinbrecher, whose now 31-year-old daughter Doron, which means “a gift” and is a veterinary nurse, was snatched by Hamas terrorists mere meters away from her home in Kibbutz Kfar Azza. She said she wished she could switch places with her daughter, and most of all she wanted her and all the other hostages to come home.

“It was terrible to see the Hamas surrounding our houses; I know she’s alone there and I can’t help her. We are afraid for the young women there. We must do everything we can to ensure there is a deal. We feel this might be the last opportunity to make one.”

Simona Sternbrecher, center, flanked by her daughters, Doron, left, and Yamit (Courtesy)
Simona Sternbrecher, center, flanked by her daughters, Doron, left, and Yamit

Berger, whose daughter Agam will turn 20 on Aug. 6, and who was kidnapped from Nahal Oz said it was important to talk to journalists: “I feel you are my voice to the world. Most people don’t understand what is happening here.”

His initial remarks centered around the assessment that several parties – the international community, a plurality at least of Palestinian society, and the majority of Israelis – want the war to end.

“The only way to stop this is to make Hamas give back all the hostages – both the living and the dead. We have to pressure Qatar; they could have stopped it by now if they had wanted. We continue to pressure the Israeli government and we call on Netanyahu to conclude the deal, before he goes to the United States to speak to Congress.”

Leshem-Gonen was the final hostage parent to speak. Her daughter, Romi, who will turn 24 in August, is one of five children. She attended the Nova Music Festival and was shot in the hand while she was trying to escape with her friends in her car.

Romi Gonen (Courtesy)
Romi Gonen

“I was on the phone with her for 45 minutes, and I could hear the terrorists’ voices as they approached the car and said something about her still being alive. They dragged her by her hair – her beautiful hair, hurting her. She lifted her head for a moment and was instantly punched in the face.”

Leshem-Gonen then had a moment that hundreds of parents of the dead and the missing have felt, namely the dissonance between being unsure of whether it was better for her daughter to have been killed or to have been taken alive. She said “It was joyful when we understood she was alive. And we have fought since Oct. 7 to bring her, the other girls, and everyone else back.”

“The world is confused,” she added. “It needs to be reminded of what is right and what is wrong. We are fighting the pure evil Hamas represents.”

Dr. Yehene outlined key points regarding the psychological support and adaptation needed for potentially pregnant returning hostage: “The trauma of captivity coupled with the sexual abuse can have a profound, long-lasting impact on both physical and mental wellbeing. This may include symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression among others.”

“The addition of potential pregnancy on top of the trauma of captivity can add layers of complexity to the recovery process. Not only for the returning hostages but also for the families who accompany them. The discovery of pregnancy can induce shock, confusion, fear, and conflicting emotions regarding the pregnancy itself. It’s important to create a safe and non-judgmental environment to deal with their various needs. Lack of exposure to light, poor nutrition and lack of access to medical care, their pregnancies are at greater risk. Pregnancy is a visible thing, something that can make them feel exposed; their trauma might feel like it is on public display, and we are approaching this topic with delicacy and care.”

“The journey toward rehabilitation and recovery is expected to be a long-term one, and nonlinear. The public’s investment in the hostages’ return, getting attached to their stories without really knowing them before Oct. 7, naturally this raises a lot of anticipation, hope, concern, curiosity and more. Ensuring their privacy and keeping their dignity can be significantly important in their healing process.”

In response to questions from journalists, the parents addressed two main issues; the international community’s ignominious failure to take the accounts of rape and sexual assault seriously, and also whether Netanyahu’s government was doing enough to secure the hostages’ release.

On the former, Leshem-Gonen answered it was inconceivable “Israeli women were paraded around Gaza as trophies … but they were not touched.”

Meanwhile, there was a widespread belief “Israeli soldiers committed systematic acts of rape and sexual assault. The U.N. has some countries which just lie and use propaganda against Israel to deflect from the acts Hamas committed. It’s too easy to lie today on social media.”

Of the latter question, Berger answered very simply, “Our girls are not here, so can I say everyone is doing their best? We hope it will happen, we want our kids home and for our families to be reunited.”

He added one of the most difficult thoughts to contend with, and one which is hard to forget.

“We are able to speak and we are trying to be strong for all our captives in Gaza, but many of the families are just too broken by this experience to say anything. Even if my daughter is returned, I don’t want to stop the fight until the last hostage comes back from Gaza.”

Leshem-Gonen concluded, “This is also the responsibility of the international community. Everyone is tied to everybody else. Where is the U.S. president? There are eight U.S. citizens held, and they don’t seem to be doing very much. As the civilians of Israel, we have to make sure our leadership will do what we need them to do.”

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