The image of 18-year-old Mika Engel, holding one of the 3-year-old twins released with her from 52 days of Hamas captivity on Monday, was a difficult sight. The video released by the terrorists, showing her dressed in a pink outfit and surrounded by armed men, went viral. Her mother was seen in the clip wheeling her 11-year old sister to the ambulance. Father Ronen is still being held hostage in Gaza.
Idan, the girls' cousin is by their side at the Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv, where they are recovering from their ordeal. "Yuval returned with a leg injury and is being treated. She will be fine," he said.
"They endured a tremendously difficult experience. They were extremely frightened, and it was highly traumatic. Yuval and Mika were taken captive after Karina was abducted and were held apart from her. Luckily, they were together. Yuval is very young and having Mika by her side, saved her in many respects, although Mika has already been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after the 2014 war and it is hard to imagine how hard it was for her in that situation, especially without having her parents by her side," he said.
"They became very thin. There were days when they were allowed to eat more normal food and sometimes less so, he said. "It's crucial to understand that it's still a challenging time for them. They don't divulge much, and we don't press them either. They need time and prefer fewer interactions with people. Despite enduring an incredibly difficult ordeal, they manage to maintain their characteristic sense of humor. Humor is a big part of our family. They've just returned, still in the odorous clothes they were given. When Mika sees us, she hugs us and immediately jokes, 'Look how thin I've become, and that without exercising.' Little Yuval, who calls me 'Tuna' due to my curly hair, joyfully shouts my nickname. Upon seeing my father, she affectionately called him 'Danuzzi' as she always does."
The aunt of 12-year-old Eitan Yahalomi said that the children were compelled to watch terrifying videos of the massacre. "It's true. They were shown these videos, likely via a phone," Idan confirmed. "During their captivity, they became aware of the events that transpired in Be'eri on Black Saturday. They were exposed to the horrors. They have many friends from Be'eri, making it particularly difficult for them."
Idan said Karina said she had resisted her captors and argued with them. "She made their lives difficult. Karina is a hero, but ultimately, they took her without her daughters. It was agonizing for her to constantly worry about them. When she asked the captors about her daughters, they told her 'they are in Tel Aviv.' She initially thought they were safe and didn't realize they were also kidnapped until they were reunited about 30 days later. Seeing them again and being held together gave her strength."
But there has been no word about the girls' father and Karina's husband Ronen who was also believed to have been taken captive. "We still don't know anything. On the morning of October 7, he left the house armed and was the first to be taken. Karina and the girls heard screams and gunshots but didn't see him afterwards. Even hostages who had returned had not seen him or hear anything about him. We have no footage, no sign," Idan said.
The family's eldest son, Tom, who is a soldier, was at his base that Saturday and was thus spared. "One can only imagine what Karina, as a mother, felt when she finally saw him," said Idan. "Tom is a hero. He stayed with me throughout this challenging period. Despite the many mood swings, moments of breakdown, and intense longing for his parents and sisters, he taught himself to remain hopeful but without setting expectations or thinking that they would return the next morning. He waited and waited, and now they are back. All he has to do now is wait for his father's return."
The family home in Kibbutz Nir Oz was devastated on the day of the massacre. "The house didn't burn down, but it was entirely destroyed. Tom and I were there. All the walls were riddled with bullet holes, and the rooms were filled with destruction. We salvaged some items that could be taken, and we've now given them to the family. I believe they will stay in the apartment in Netanya that we arranged for them for the time being. They also have the option to stay with Karina's sisters. They will decide," Idan explained.
Idan's father, Danny Engel, was very active in demonstrations and calls for the return of the hostages. "For him, their release brings immense joy," said Idan, "but until the other hostages and Ronen are returned, or we receive information about them, we've gained nothing."