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Israeli Hostage Says She Was Sexually Assaulted and Tortured in Gaza


Amit Soussana, an Israeli lawyer, was kidnapped from her dwelling on Oct. 7, crushed and dragged into Gaza by at the very least 10 males, some armed. A number of days into her captivity, she mentioned, her guard started asking about her intercourse life.

Ms. Soussana mentioned she was held alone in a baby’s bed room, chained by her left ankle. Typically, the guard would enter, sit beside her on the mattress, raise her shirt and contact her, she mentioned.

He additionally repeatedly requested when her interval was due. When her interval ended, round Oct. 18, she tried to place him off by pretending that she was bleeding for almost per week, she recalled.

Round Oct. 24, the guard, who referred to as himself Muhammad, attacked her, she mentioned.

Early that morning, she mentioned, Muhammad unlocked her chain and left her within the lavatory. After she undressed and started washing herself within the bathtub, Muhammad returned and stood within the doorway, holding a pistol.

“He got here in direction of me and shoved the gun at my brow,” Ms. Soussana recalled throughout eight hours of interviews with The New York Instances in mid-March. After hitting Ms. Soussana and forcing her to take away her towel, Muhammad groped her, sat her on the sting of the bath and hit her once more, she mentioned.

He dragged her at gunpoint again to the kid’s bed room, a room lined in photos of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants she recalled.

“Then he, with the gun pointed at me, pressured me to commit a sexual act on him,” Ms. Soussana mentioned.

Ms. Soussana, 40, is the primary Israeli to talk publicly about being sexually assaulted throughout captivity after the Hamas-led raid on southern Israel. In her interviews with The Instances, carried out largely in English, she offered intensive particulars of sexual and different violence she suffered throughout a 55-day ordeal.

Ms. Soussana’s private account of her expertise in captivity is according to what she informed two medical doctors and a social employee lower than 24 hours after she was freed on Nov. 30. Their stories about her account state the character of the sexual act; The Instances agreed to not disclose the specifics.

Ms. Soussana described being detained in roughly half a dozen websites, together with non-public houses, an workplace and a subterranean tunnel. Later in her detention, she mentioned, a gaggle of captors suspended her throughout the hole between two couches and beat her.

For months, Hamas and its supporters have denied that its members sexually abused folks in captivity or in the course of the Oct. 7 terrorist assault. This month, a United Nations report mentioned that there was “clear and convincing data” that some hostages had suffered sexual violence and there have been “affordable grounds” to imagine sexual violence occurred in the course of the raid, whereas acknowledging the “challenges and limitations” of inspecting the problem.

After being launched together with 105 different hostages throughout a cease-fire in late November, Ms. Soussana spoke solely in obscure phrases publicly about her therapy within the Gaza Strip, cautious of recounting such a traumatic expertise. When filmed by Hamas minutes earlier than being freed, she mentioned, she pretended to have been handled nicely to keep away from jeopardizing her launch.

Ms. Soussana mentioned she had determined to talk out now to lift consciousness concerning the plight of the hostages nonetheless in Gaza, whose quantity has been put at greater than 100, as negotiations for a cease-fire falter.

Hours after her launch, Ms. Soussana spoke with a senior Israeli gynecologist, Dr. Julia Barda, and a social employee, Valeria Tsekhovsky, concerning the sexual assault, the 2 ladies mentioned in separate interviews with The Instances. A medical report filed collectively by them, and reviewed by The Instances, briefly summarizes her account.

“Amit spoke instantly, fluently and intimately, not solely about her sexual assault but additionally concerning the many different ordeals she skilled,” Dr. Barda mentioned.

The next day, on Dec. 1, Ms. Soussana shared her expertise with a physician from Israel’s Nationwide Middle of Forensic Drugs, in line with the middle’s medical report, which was reviewed by The Instances.

Siegal Sadetzki, a professor at Tel Aviv College medical college who helps and advising Ms. Soussana’s household as a volunteer, mentioned Ms. Soussana first informed her concerning the sexual assault inside days of her launch. Professor Sadetzki, a former high Israeli well being official, mentioned Ms. Soussana’s accounts have remained constant.

Ms. Soussana additionally spoke to the U.N. group that revealed the report on sexual violence, however The Instances was unable to evaluation her testimony.

A spokesman for Hamas, Basem Naim, mentioned in a 1,300-word response to The Instances that it was important for the group to analyze Ms. Soussana’s allegations, however that such an inquiry was not possible in “the present circumstances.”

Mr. Naim solid doubt on Ms. Soussana’s account, questioning why she had not spoken publicly concerning the extent of her mistreatment. He mentioned the extent of element in her account makes “it troublesome to imagine the story, until it was designed by some safety officers.”

“For us, the human physique, and particularly that of the lady, is sacred,” he mentioned, including that Hamas’s spiritual beliefs “forbade any mistreatment of any human being, no matter his intercourse, faith or ethnicity.”

Mr. Naim criticized The Instances for inadequate protection of Palestinian struggling, together with stories of sexual assault by Israeli troopers on Palestinian ladies, which have been the topic of investigations by U.N. officers, rights teams and others. He additionally mentioned “civilian hostages weren’t the goal” of the raid and mentioned “we’ve got from the primary second declared our readiness to launch them.”

A Hamas planning doc present in one village shortly after the Oct. 7 raid, which was reviewed by The Instances, mentioned: “Take troopers and civilians as prisoners and hostages to barter with.” Video from Oct. 7 exhibits uniformed Hamas militants abducting civilians.

Ms. Soussana lived alone in a cramped single-story dwelling on the western aspect of Kibbutz Kfar Azza. After listening to sirens warning of rocket assaults on Oct. 7, she mentioned, she sheltered in her bed room, which was additionally a strengthened secure room. From her bed room, Ms. Soussana listened because the attackers’ gunfire grew nearer.

The small kibbutz stands roughly 1.5 miles from Gaza, and it was one among greater than 20 Israeli villages, cities and military bases overrun that day by 1000’s who surged throughout the Gazan border shortly after daybreak. Some 1,200 folks have been killed that day and about 250 kidnapped, Israeli officers say, setting off a battle in Gaza that native well being officers say has killed at the very least 31,000 Palestinians.

Ms. Soussana was on the kibbutz nearly by likelihood. Sick with a fever, she had been recuperating the day prior to this within the close by metropolis of Sderot, along with her mom, Mira, who pressed her to remain the evening. However Ms. Soussana drove dwelling to Kfar Azza to feed her three cats, she mentioned.

The youngest of three sisters, Ms. Soussana had grown up in Sderot. She certified as a lawyer at a neighborhood school and labored for a regulation agency specializing in mental property. Her colleagues thought of her a diligent, quiet and personal one that stored her distance, her supervisor, Oren Mendler, mentioned in an interview. In Kfar Azza, Ms. Soussana mentioned, she not often concerned herself in village life and was not a part of the native WhatsApp teams, which left her unaware of the extent of the assault on the kibbutz.

Ms. Soussana, left, along with her sister Shira. Credit score…Through Amit Soussana

At 9:46 a.m. that day, she heard gunmen exterior, prompting her to cover inside her bed room closet, in line with messages on her household WhatsApp group reviewed by The Instances. Twenty minutes later, her telephone died.

Moments later, “I heard an explosion, an enormous explosion,” she mentioned. “And the second after that, somebody opened the closet door.”

Dragged from the closet, she mentioned, she noticed roughly 10 males rifling via her belongings, armed with assault rifles, a grenade launcher and a machete.

A part of the home was on fireplace — a blaze that may spoil the constructing.

Over the following hour, the group dragged her via a close-by area towards Gaza. Safety footage from a photo voltaic farm close to the kibbutz, which was extensively circulated on the web, exhibits the group repeatedly tackling her to the bottom as they struggled to restrain her. At one level, a kidnapper picked her up and slung her throughout his again. The video exhibits her flailing so laborious, her legs thrashing within the air, that the person tumbled to the bottom.

“I didn’t need to allow them to take me to Gaza like an object, with no combat,” mentioned Ms. Soussana. “I nonetheless stored believing that somebody will come and rescue me.”

The abductors tried to restrain her by beating her and wrapping her in a white cloth, the video exhibits. Unable to subdue her, the attackers tried and failed to hold her by bicycle, she mentioned. Lastly, they sure her arms and toes and dragged her throughout the bumpy farmland into Gaza, she mentioned.

She was badly wounded, bleeding closely, with a break up lip, she mentioned. The hospital report ready shortly after her launch mentioned that she returned to Israel with fractures in her proper eye socket, cheek, knee and nostril and extreme bruising on her knee and again. The report acknowledged that a number of accidents have been associated to her abduction on Oct. 7, together with punches to her proper eye.

After reaching the sting of Gaza, Ms. Soussana mentioned, she was shoved right into a ready automotive and pushed a couple of hundred yards into the outskirts of Gaza Metropolis. She was untied, wearing a paramilitary uniform and transferred to a different automotive stuffed with uniformed militants. A hood was positioned over her head, although she might nonetheless catch glimpses of her environment from underneath it, she mentioned. After a brief drive, she was hurried up a staircase and onto a rooftop, she mentioned.

After the hood was eliminated, Ms. Soussana mentioned, she discovered herself in a small construction constructed on the roof of what she would later understand was an upscale non-public dwelling. She remembered that militants have been busy taking extra weapons from a field. Then the gunmen hurried downstairs, and she or he was left alone, dealing with a wall, with a person who mentioned he was the proprietor of the home and referred to as himself Mahmoud, she recalled.

“After a few minutes, he mentioned I can flip round,” Ms. Soussana mentioned. “And I used to be shocked,” she added. “I discover myself sitting in a home in Gaza.”

She mentioned Mahmoud was quickly joined by a youthful man, Muhammad. She remembered Muhammad as a chubby, balding man of common top with a large nostril.

Later that day, they dressed her in a thick brown garment that lined her physique, she mentioned. They gave her three drugs, which they mentioned have been painkillers. It was the one time that she remembers receiving any sort of medication in Gaza, not to mention medical therapy.

Fitted with a fan and a tv, the room appeared to have been ready for her arrival, she mentioned. There have been three mattresses, she mentioned, one for her and two for the guards.

Early in her captivity, her guards chained her ankle to the window body, she mentioned. Round Oct. 11, she mentioned, she was led by the chain to a bed room downstairs. She understood that it belonged to one among Mahmoud’s sons, and that his household had been moved to a different place.

The chain was reattached to the door deal with, she mentioned, subsequent to a mirror. For the primary time since her seize, she might see what she regarded like.

“I noticed the chains and I noticed that my face was all swollen and blue,” she mentioned.

“And I simply began to cry,” she mentioned. “This was one of many lowest moments of my life.”

For the following two and a half weeks in October, Ms. Soussana mentioned, she was guarded solely by Muhammad.

She recalled that the room was nearly completely shrouded in darkness. The curtain was normally drawn shut and there have been rolling energy outages for a lot of the day, she mentioned.

She mentioned Muhammad slept exterior the bed room, within the adjoining lounge, however incessantly entered the bed room in his underwear, asking about her intercourse life and providing to therapeutic massage her physique.

When he took her to the lavatory, Ms. Soussana mentioned, he refused to let her shut the door. After giving her sanitary pads, Muhammad appeared notably within the timing of her interval, she mentioned. She mentioned she had spoken in a mixture of primary English and Arabic; she had discovered a bit Arabic at college and her mom’s household — Jews from Iraq — had generally spoken it throughout her childhood.

“Every single day, he would ask: ‘Did you get your interval? Did you get your interval? Whenever you get your interval, when will probably be over, you’ll wash, you’ll take a bathe and you’ll wash your garments,’ ” Ms. Soussana recalled.

When it arrived, Ms. Soussana mentioned, she was exhausted, afraid and undernourished; her interval lasted simply at some point. She managed to persuade him that her menstruation continued for almost per week, she mentioned.

She tried to humanize herself in his eyes by asking the that means of Arabic phrases she heard on tv. She additionally promised that her household would reward him financially if she was returned with out additional hurt to Israel, she mentioned.

Within the afternoons, two associates of Muhammad would be part of him on the residence, bringing him a cooked meal, she mentioned. A few of this meals was given to her as her one meal of the day.

The Israeli strikes on the neighborhood grew to become extra frequent and horrifying, Ms. Soussana mentioned, noting that some shattered the home windows. Because the bombing intensified, she mentioned, she began feeling sorry for the civilians, questioning why Hamas had by no means constructed bomb shelters for its folks.

“I felt for them,” Ms. Soussana mentioned. “Simply take into consideration rising up like this — it’s scary.”

Early on the morning of the assault, she mentioned, Muhammad insisted she take a bathe, however she refused, saying the water was chilly. Undeterred, he unchained Ms. Soussana and introduced her to the kitchen and confirmed her a pot of water boiling on the range, she mentioned.

Minutes later, he introduced her to the lavatory and gave her the heated water to pour over herself, she mentioned.

After washing for a couple of minutes, she heard his voice once more from the door, she mentioned.

“‘Shortly, Amit, rapidly,’” she recalled him saying.

“I rotated and I noticed him standing there,” she mentioned. “With the gun.”

She remembered reaching for a hand towel to cowl herself as he superior and hit her.

“He mentioned, ‘Amit, Amit, take it off,’” she recalled. “Lastly, I took it off.”

“He sat me on the sting of the tub. And I closed my legs. And I resisted. And he stored punching me and put his gun in my face,” Ms. Soussana mentioned. “Then he dragged me to the bed room.”

At that time, Muhammad pressured her to commit a sexual act on him, Ms. Soussana mentioned. After the assault, Muhammad left the room to scrub, leaving Ms. Soussana sitting bare at midnight, she mentioned.

When he returned, she recalled him exhibiting regret, saying, “I’m dangerous, I’m dangerous, please don’t inform Israel.”

That day, Muhammad repeatedly returned to supply her meals, Ms. Soussana mentioned. Sobbing on the mattress, she turned down the preliminary choices, she mentioned.

Figuring out that Ms. Soussana craved daylight, she mentioned, he refused to open the curtains, leaving the room in darkness. Determined for daylight, she accepted the meals, believing that she had no different choice however to placate her abuser.

“You possibly can’t stand him — however it’s a must to: He’s the one who’s defending you, he’s your guard,” she mentioned. “You’re there with him and you already know that each second it could occur once more. You’re fully depending on him.”

Ms. Soussana mentioned her captors moved her away from the border after a serious, hourslong bombardment in a single day. Primarily based on the extent of the explosions and snippets she caught on tv, she later concluded it was across the begin of Israel’s floor invasion of Gaza on Friday, Oct. 27.

On the next day, she was hurried right into a small white automotive, she mentioned. The motive force headed southwest towards what she would later be informed was the central metropolis of Nuseirat.

“Muhammad is sitting within the again seat subsequent to me, and with the gun pointed at me,” she mentioned.

The automotive stopped exterior what regarded like a United Nations college and Ms. Soussana was ushered right into a busy avenue, she recalled.

She mentioned she was handed over to a person who referred to as himself Amir. He marched her up the steps of a close-by residence block and into one other non-public dwelling, she mentioned.

For the primary time in weeks, she was freed from Muhammad — however terrified to be getting into yet one more unknown. “‘Oh my God,’” she remembered questioning. “‘What’s going to occur to me?’”

The person ushered her right into a bed room and shut the door behind her, she recalled. Inside, she discovered two younger ladies taking part in playing cards, subsequent to an older man mendacity on a mattress and an older girl sitting in a chair, she mentioned. Ms. Soussana was carrying conventional garments from Gaza, she recalled.

“They checked out me and I checked out them, for like half a minute,” she mentioned. “Then I requested, ‘Are you Israelis?’”

“Are you Israeli?” Ms. Soussana remembered one of many ladies replying.

Three weeks after her kidnapping, Ms. Soussana had been united with 4 different hostages. Hugging them, Ms. Soussana broke down in tears, she mentioned.

The identities of the 4 others have been shared with The Instances on the situation that their names wouldn’t be used to guard these nonetheless in captivity.

A number of days after her arrival, she was summoned to the residence’s lounge, Ms. Soussana recalled. Amir usually performed right here along with his kids.

On that day, the guards wrapped her head in a pink shirt, pressured her to take a seat on the ground, handcuffed her, and started beating her with the butt of a gun, she mentioned.

After a number of minutes, they used duct tape to cowl her mouth and nostril, tied her toes, and positioned {the handcuffs} on the bottom of her palms, she mentioned. Then she was suspended, hanging “like a rooster” from a stick stretching between two couches, inflicting her such ache that she felt that her arms would quickly be dislocated.

They carried on beating and kicking her, specializing in the soles of her toes, whereas concurrently demanding data they believed she was hiding from them, Ms. Soussana mentioned.

She nonetheless doesn’t perceive what precisely they wished or why they thought she was concealing one thing, she mentioned. At one level, the top guard introduced over a spike, and made as if to poke her eye with it, pulling away simply in time, she mentioned.

“It was like that for 45 minutes or so,” she mentioned. “They have been hitting me and laughing and kicking me, and referred to as the opposite hostages to see me,” she mentioned.

Ms. Soussana recalled that after the abductors untied her and returned her to the bed room, telling her she had 40 minutes to supply the data they wished or else they might kill her. She mentioned one of many younger ladies was so frightened that she requested Ms. Soussana if she had any final messages for her household.

In mid-November, the hostages have been separated: The 2 youngest ladies have been taken to an unknown location, she mentioned, whereas Ms. Soussana and the older couple have been pushed to a home surrounded by farmland.

They discovered the home filled with gunmen, who ordered them to take a seat on the ground. All of the sudden, the older girl started to scream, Ms. Soussana mentioned.

The girl was trying right into a shaft that descended into the bottom, Ms. Soussana mentioned. “I hear one of many drivers telling her: ‘Don’t fear, don’t fear. It’s a metropolis down there.’”

“Then I noticed,” Ms. Soussana mentioned. “We’re going into the tunnels.”

A ladder, a number of stairs and a sequence of slender sloping passageways led the three hostages deep underground, she mentioned.

By the point they reached the underside, the guards mentioned they have been 40 meters deep, one thing they hoped would reassure the hostages, she mentioned: The Israeli bombs couldn’t attain them there.

Ms. Soussana mentioned an enormous gunman in a masks was ready for them on the backside. Initially, he began shouting at them, telling them that Israel had killed his household, she mentioned, however then rapidly stopped, eliminated his masks and took a unique tone.

She mentioned the person launched himself in English as Jihad and informed them his father had labored in Israel and had even had his Israeli boss to dinner, within the years when Israeli civilians might nonetheless enter Gaza. He spoke in Hebrew at occasions. Jihad mentioned he had discovered some from watching Israeli tv and sang them a well-known track that he had heard on a kids’s present, Ms. Soussana remembered.

“I used to be shocked,” Ms. Soussana mentioned. “All of the sudden, he was probably the most humane man we met there.”

The bottom shook each time a missile struck close by, making her worry they is likely to be buried alive, she mentioned. The tunnels have been darkish, damp and too slender for 2 folks to move one another. And their subterranean cell was so wanting air that they have been left dizzy and panting after taking a couple of steps, she mentioned.

Israeli troops would later seize and {photograph} the tunnel. Ms. Soussana recognized materials and mattresses within the photos.

Their captors spent little greater than an hour a day within the tunnel, ascending to greater ranges in a single day for contemporary air, Ms. Soussana mentioned. The hostages pleaded with the guards to convey them, too.

After a number of days, the abductors gave in, introduced them again to the floor and drove them to a different non-public home, Ms. Soussana mentioned.

They have been nonetheless there when Israel and Hamas agreed to a hostage deal and a brief truce, which went into drive on Friday, Nov. 24. The next day, the three hostages have been pushed to an workplace in Gaza Metropolis — Ms. Soussana’s last detention web site.

Every single day introduced hope and disappointment. It was by no means clear which hostages could be freed, or when.

On Thursday, Nov. 30, which turned out to be the final full day of the truce, the guards have been making lunch when one among them completed a telephone name and turned to Amit.

“He says: ‘Amit. Israel. You. One hour,’” Ms. Soussana recalled.

Inside an hour, Ms. Soussana mentioned, she was separated from the older hostage and pushed via Gaza Metropolis. The automotive stopped, and a girl in a hijab climbed inside. It was one other Israeli hostage: Mia Schem, who was additionally being launched.

They have been taken to a junkyard, Ms. Soussana recalled. Round them, she mentioned, their guards modified from civilian garments into uniforms.

Lastly, the 2 ladies have been pushed to Palestine Sq., a serious plaza on the coronary heart of Gaza Metropolis, the place a raucous crowd waited to see them handed over to the Crimson Cross. Social media video confirmed that Hamas struggled to manage the onlookers, who surrounded the automotive, pressed up in opposition to its home windows and at one level started to rock the car, Ms. Soussana mentioned.

After a tense jiffy, the Crimson Cross officers managed to switch the ladies to their jeep.

As they approached the Israeli border, a feminine Crimson Cross official handed Ms. Soussana a telephone. An individual who mentioned he was a soldier greeted her in Hebrew.

“He mentioned, ‘A pair extra minutes and we’re going to fulfill you,’” Ms. Soussana mentioned. “I bear in mind, I began to cry.”

Aaron Boxerman and Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.

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