Just 24 hours after Hamas terrorists stormed Israel’s southern border towns on Oct. 7 and brutally slaughtered 1,200 people and abducted 240 more, Israel's Health and Welfare Ministry began creating protocols for hospitals and doctors to provide specialized medical treatment for the hostages who would return.
Dr. Yael Mozer-Glassberg, along with her team of six female physicians, nutritionists, psychologists and social workers at Schneider Children’s Medical Center, have so far attended to 19 children, and seven women who were recently released from Hamas captivity with a deal backed by the U.S. and negotiated by Qatar and Egypt.
Mozer-Glassberg, director of Israel’s pediatric liver transplantation service at Schneider Hospital, said the reports of the hostages generally being in stable condition are not accurate.
Over the past 10 days, since she began treating the returnees, the pediatrician says she’s discovered more details about the 45 days of captivity; details that have impacted her emotionally.
“From the medical point of view, this was a terrible event. Reports that everyone is giving that the returnees are in more or less stable condition are not true,” said Mozer-Glassberg.
Without violating privacy laws about the conditions and experiences of specific hostages, she shared the details in an online press conference on Monday.
Mozer-Glassberg said the kidnapped women and children lost 10-15% of their body weight, similar to the report from Prof. Itai Pessach at Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center, where other freed hostages were taken to receive treatment.
“The hostages shared with us stories about how limited the food they were given was. If they were given food at all, it was sometimes only a cup of tea and a biscuit or a single dried date in the morning and rice in the evening,” Mozer-Glassberg explained.
Food deprivation resulted in irregular eating habits once at the hospital. When appropriate nutrition was provided through a variety of food options, the hostages were only interested in a few crumbs of bread. However, the team of practitioners had been preparing to prevent the malnourished hostages from developing Refeeding Syndrome caused by overeating.
“It wasn’t like what we prepared for,” Mozer-Glassberg said.
According to Mozer-Glassberg, in cases where siblings were alone, without their parents in captivity, the older sibling would not eat until the younger one did. For all the hostages, access to drinking water was limited.
“The captors would inflict psychological terrorism on them by forcing them to eat everything given to them after their stomachs had shrunk and hunger pains diminished after having eaten nearly nothing for days,” Mozer-Glassberg said.
The pediatric doctor said water was extremely limited in captivity, resulting in almost no ability to care for themselves. Some did not bathe at all during the nearly two-month captivity.
“They returned with extremely deficient hygiene. I have never seen hygiene this bad,” Mozer-Glassberg said. “Their head lice was the worst I have ever seen. Even with five or six treatments, the lice were not gone.”
The released hostages also arrived in the Israeli hospitals with skin rashes and lice bites on their bodies, as well as infected wounds that had not been properly treated.
It took the child hostages a number of days to speak at normal volume levels due to the psychological trauma and being told to keep quiet. Mozer-Glassberg said the designated area for the former hostages was “painfully quiet” for the first several days because the children did not speak at all or only in a low whisper.
While in captivity, they were locked in small spaces and told not to speak. They couldn’t make any decisions for themselves, even as basic as going to the bathroom.
“They had to knock on the door and wait for who knows how long for someone to come ask what they needed. They needed permission to go to the bathroom. Can you imagine having to deal with telling a toddler or young child that they have to wait to go to the bathroom?” Mozer-Glassberg said.
The children and teens who were on their own were psychologically tortured by the terrorists who told them repeatedly that nobody cared for them and no one was looking for them or fighting for their release, according to Mozer-Glassberg. They were told they would remain in captivity for a year or even indefinitely.
“A lot of the kids we received had a skewed sense of time. They didn’t know how long they were in Gaza and when we said they would stay with us in the hospital for four to five days, they confused that with a month,” Mozer-Glassberg told reporters.
Another aspect of the trauma the hostages experienced was the shock of finding out their family members or friends were murdered on Oct. 7. The release from captivity by Hamas is only the beginning of the process of dealing more trauma for these women and children.
According to Mozer-Glassberg, the former hostages can stay in the hospital for as long as they want. When they are ready to return to their community, adjusting back to life in Israel will be difficult Mozer-Glassberg admitted, but said they will have ongoing medical and psychosocial care coordinated by the hospital and their health clinics
Returning to normalcy will be different for each individual, Dr. Mozer-Glassberg explained and said she was particularly concerned about the adolescents. During their captivity, their ability to make decisions for themselves was stolen at a pivotal time of development.
Mozer-Glassberg said that she has been crying for the last 10 days during the hospital treatment for the freed hostages and continues to be impacted by the hostages who remain hospitalized.
“We teach our kids that monsters aren’t real, but they are,” she said.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.