12 year old freed hostage now waits for his father's release

Eitan Yahalomi says Gazans beat and abused him when he was taken by Hamas terrorists; was held alone before being moved to where others were kept; 'they said there is no more Israel'

Almost a month has passed since Eitan Yahalomi returned from Hamas captivity to his new reality. His father, Ohad, is still held captive by the terrorists and his mother Batsheva along with his sistersmoved to a new kibbutz in the center of the country. On Tuesday he took another step back to normalcy, and started attending the seventh grade at the local school. "I'm excited but I also don't want to go," he says. "A new school is stressful, meeting new people."
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Batsheva says that even at home, in Nir Oz, Eitan had just started school, so these are normal fears of a child facing a new chapter in life. He is still getting used to the situation that was imposed on him. According to Eitan, the children in the new kibbutz don't ask many questions, but it's actually the adults who are very interested in what he went through. "A lot of people ask me a lot of things, I don't have a problem with that, but I don't understand why it's interesting," he naively wonders.
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תיעוד החזרת החטופים - משפחתו של איתן יהלומי
תיעוד החזרת החטופים - משפחתו של איתן יהלומי
Eitan Yahalomi returned to his family in Gaza deal
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
As someone who is used to living near the Gaza border where life revolves around the bomb shelter, the quiet of his news home is foreign to him. There, you can almost imagine that nothing is happening in Israel. "I've been here for only in two sirens," he says, "in Tel Aviv. We didn't hear them at all, and we just went to the stairwell for protection. It's very strange."
On the morning of October 7, Eitan was kidnapped with his mother and sisters, ages 10, and 20 months, from their home in Nir Oz. His father was wounded, and when the four were led out of the house, he stayed at home with the terrorists, and only had time to tell them that he loved them. Eitan was put on one motorcycle, Batsheva and the girls on a second. The terrorists began driving towards Gaza, but when they approached the fence they spotted an IDF tank and panicked. The girls' motorcycle fell and they managed to escape, having to watch Eitan being taken away across the border.
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איתן יהלומי עם אימו שבת שבע ואחותו
איתן יהלומי עם אימו שבת שבע ואחותו
Eitan Yahalomi with mother Batsheva and sister
(Photo: Abigail Uzi)
Eytan says that when they reached Gaza, Gazan citizens in the street beat him and the other abductees. "It was a terrifying experience," he says. During the first few days in captivity, he was held alone, "It was very bad, scary. I sat in bed the whole time, that's the only thing I did. The guards didn't let me move, only go to the bathroom. They let me listen to the radio a bit, I don't like it and I've never heard it before, But it was nice to hear things in Hebrew."
After that, Eitan was moved to where other hostages were held. "I met a good friend from the kibbutz," he says, "we made cards and drew the numbers on them, so we could play card games and I also drew cars, mainly racing cars. I also wrote and documented the days, especially special days. If I was was suddenly moved to a different room, it was a special day."
When he was hungry, he sometimes had to wait six or seven hours until he received his portion of food: pita with a pickle or rice, which he describes as "disgusting". All his time in captivity, he fantasized about the food from home, imagined hamburgers and his father's stuffed vine leaves.
They told me that my mother had been kidnapped. Sometimes they told me that they would take me to be with her soon, and then I had hope. The terrorists would also tell me that the kibbutz was no more, that there was no more Israel
During his time in captivity, he did not know what had happened to his family. "They told me that my mother had been kidnapped. Sometimes they told me that they would take me to be with her soon, and then I had hope. I imagined what was happening to them, and I tried to talk to them in my head. I was afraid that something might have happened to them. The terrorists also told me that the kibbutz was no more and that there was no more Israel in general," he says.
The first time Eitan realized that his mother was not kidnapped was when he arrived back in Israel. "We were told the night before that we were being released. I was happy, but I didn't believe it until the end. I didn't know that my mother was doing things for me to come back. I thought she was also kidnapped and only when I was released and got out of the van they told me that she was waiting for me. I was happy and asked how it is that she is here." There are conflicting versions of their reunion. Eitan is ashamed to say that he hugged his mother, but she insists, "You gave me a very nice hug." Finally, he concedes. "Fine, a hug, but a weak one."
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אוהד יהלומי
אוהד יהלומי
Ohad Yahalomi, still in Hamas captivity after more than 80 days
(Photo: Private album)
Now he has a message for his father, Ohad. He misses him and is waiting for him to come back already. "I worry about him. I remember the sounds of the explosions, it was really scary. I think he hears them too and maybe it scares him too. I tried to ask what happened to him when we were there, but they couldn't tell me anything. He has to come back as soon as possible. He and everyone else should be brought back."
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