'My love, I'm sorry, we're about to die': mother's harrowing tale of Gaza captivity with her daughter

Danielle Aloni, who was held hostage alongside her 6-year-old daughter Emilia, says 'It's a fear that cannot be explained, these are emotions that the human mind can’t contain'
Danielle Aloni, who was abducted into the Gaza Strip with her 6-year-old daughter Emilia and released after 49 days in captivity, recounted the moments of her abduction.
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"It's a fear that cannot be explained, these are emotions that the human mind can’t contain. We understand that we are going to end our lives in the cruelest way possible, by inhaling smoke and choking to death. I hug Emilia and say to her, 'My love, I'm sorry, we're about to die,'" she said.
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דניאל אלוני
דניאל אלוני
Danielle Aloni
(Photo: The Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum)
In addition to Danielle and Emilia, Danielle's sister, Sharon Aloni Cunio, was also kidnapped, alongside her husband David Cunio, and their 3-year-old twin daughters, Emma and Yuli. While Sharon and the girls were released, David remains in Gaza.
"Sharon received a message in the kibbutz's WhatsApp group saying terrorists infiltrated the area," Aloni recalled. "I remember that at some point, I already began to enter a kind of panic. I grabbed my child, and all that came out of my mouth was 'God save us.'"
"My sister didn't stop trying to call for help, but no one came. We wondered, 'Where is the military?' We started hearing gunfire, and suddenly there was silence. We heard them coming in, and that was already a terrifying scenario. They entered in a frenzy, shouting 'Allahu Akbar.' Only the door separated between us," she described.
She recalled how the terrorists tried to open the door to the safe room, where the family members were huddled. "David held the door - and then they let go. It went quiet, and we were all in shock," she said.
"Two minutes passed, and we heard the sound of something lighting on fire. Then we realized they set our house on fire. We sat in the safe room without electricity, without light, and without air. Emma started coughing, and then Emilia screamed, 'I can't breathe!'"
"We left farewell notes, and then I had to choose how I’d die - which death would be easier, quicker. Death by smoke inhalation felt very close. Sharon no longer argued at this point; she got up and helped me open the room’s window. We closed our eyes and waited. We heard gunfire outside, shouting.”
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שרון אלוני קוניו עם בנותיה אמה ויולי
שרון אלוני קוניו עם בנותיה אמה ויולי
Sharon Aloni Cunio with her daughters
“I opened my eyes and saw terrorists with drawn rifles. They pulled us outside and helped us get out, and we were all choking on our breath. They grabbed our hands, and we started walking. Suddenly, I looked to the left, and Sharon wasn’t there. They separated us. I looked to the side, I saw all our cars being burned," Aloni recalled.
She added, "They just surround us, and I have no idea what’s happening; are they going to kill us? Rape us? Kidnap us? It wasn’t an option that occurred to me at first. Their vehicle is this kind of truck that they probably took from the kibbutz; they load us onto it, Sharon is no longer with me at this point. And they start driving through the fields, and then I start to understand that I’m being kidnapped to Gaza.”
“I and two other girls are being kidnapped to Gaza. I‘m in shock, standing inside the vehicle, I look, and see a wave of civilians coming from Gaza. I see the number, and I say, 'This is a lynching.' Meanwhile, they lift a soldier onto the truck that's gasping and dying, and all of his blood is streaming down the girls' legs," she added.
According to Aloni, "I tell the girls, 'close your eyes,' while getting beaten by all these people who arrived. All I am trying to think about is how I can protect these two girls. We drive those kilometers, and I don't lift my head. And then we reach some point, so I lift myself again, and someone comes and snatches Emma from my hands. He pulled her by the hands, and at this point, I opened my mouth and tried to shout, but it didn't help.”
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סיור עצוב בניר עוז, אחד מכל ארבעה חברים נרצח, נחטף או נעדר
סיור עצוב בניר עוז, אחד מכל ארבעה חברים נרצח, נחטף או נעדר
Kibbutz Nir Oz after Hamas' attack
(Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
“He directed a gun at my daughter, signaled for me to sit, and I had nothing to do. If I die here, then my daughter will die as well. I couldn't protect my child, a three-year-old. The next thing I remember is a tunnel shaft, they take us down. I see them going below the ground using some ladder, and the first thing they do is strip me of my jewelry; this is how our journey of 49 days begins.”
“I and Emilia are alone. Emilia is in shock, Emilia doesn't ask anything. The only thing I said to her was 'Honey, do what they tell us, walk next to me,' on the way, I saw all sorts of nooks that looked like dungeons with iron gates. I was afraid that Emilia would collapse."
Aloni added, "We've been walking for a very long time, hours. In the middle of the way, I see someone sitting on a chair, just sitting. Then I see that he’s injured. I don't say anything because I don't know if he’s friendly or not, and he suddenly asked me in Hebrew, 'Where are you from?' Then I understood that he was one of ours.”
“Later, it turned out that he was also from Nir Oz, and they let him rest for a few minutes. After that, I saw the elderly, Yocheved Lifshitz recognized me. I believe that there were maybe 12-13 people there, and there my daughter collapses. They give her water, and she simply falls asleep on top of me. We started talking among ourselves, trying to find out about other people.
"We begged our captors to let us know what’s happening. At some point, I received an answer that my sister is held in a hospital with her family. The days passed very slowly, after three days in the cave, they tell us, 'Now get up and go.' Every transfer is done at the moment, with no preparation. The first move was terribly frightening; they took us to some dark apartment. After a few days, our senses sharpened, and then we hear the explosions and felt the ground shaking."
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סיור עצוב בניר עוז, אחד מכל ארבעה חברים נרצח, נחטף או נעדר
סיור עצוב בניר עוז, אחד מכל ארבעה חברים נרצח, נחטף או נעדר
Torched house in Kibbutz Nir Oz
(Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)

'Someone estimated it'd take two years, I started crying'

Later, Aloni and her daughter were moved to another hiding spot. "It is clear that it was a family's home that's been removed. We were in the central room, a guard sits at the entrance 24 hours a day. We need to ask for permission for anything we do. We found a small 'Pop-It' there and played with it.”
“I tried to have the girl sleep in in the afternoon because there's nothing to do. There was nothing there that could engage a nearly 6-year-old girl. I trusted the IDF; I knew they would rescue us. One of the elderly from Nir Oz said, 'I estimate two to three months before we’re out.' He's still there, and we're out," she said.
"Someone estimated it would take two years, and when he said that, I started crying. Everyone thought that we were a very strong bargaining chip, in what world would someone leave children in captivity? But they left children in captivity, they left adults in captivity. We had no idea what happened on October 7. Sometime before we were released, we heard a rumor from one of the guards who said that 1,200 people were killed.”
Aloni explained that her daughter was the one who helped her hold herself together in captivity. "There was a girl that needed to be taken care of; who needs to have this reality explained to her. When Emilia goes to sleep, I cry a lot. I feel like banging my head against the wall, to take a sleeping pill and not wake up, that we might not leave here. But I show her that we will leave here, even though I didn't think we would really see the light of day.”
“One time in the tunnels, I had a severe panic attack. Yarden Bibes held my hand, and Adina from Nir Oz tried to practice breathing with me. I lost it for half an hour. My daughter saw it, and they took her away so she wouldn't see. To this day, in places she doesn't know, she asks, 'Are there bad people here?'"
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אמילי אלוני עם סבתא אמיליה והמשפחה
אמילי אלוני עם סבתא אמיליה והמשפחה
Emilia after returning to Israel
Three days before being released from Hamas captivity, one of the terrorists came to Aloni and told her, "You’ll be released with the girl when the cease-fire comes into effect." According to her, "They said it would happen 'tomorrow,' and that 'tomorrow' didn't happen. It's very hard, and then you refuse to believe it.”
“On the day we were released, they told us, 'Get up, take the mattresses outside.' We walked in the tunnel to the exit near the shaft. Our release process was very complicated; they took us out blindfolded to some yard and from there to a car," she added.
"They rocked the Red Cross vehicle we were in. If we survived 49 days and didn't die from the many opportunities we had since October 7, then we are going to die here. It was a déjà vu of the day we were abducted. There were mobs; they attacked the Red Cross vehicles, and dragged them around. You think for a moment that you might flip over.”
“Emilia was panicking, screaming, 'They're killing us.' There are injured people there, people in a bad mental condition. We left broken people there. We can’t leave them there for one more day, because we'll get bodies in return, not hostages."
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