Israeli children held hostage in Gaza face long road to recovery after release

By Nathan Frandino

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Dozens of Israeli children held hostage by the Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza for more than six weeks face a difficult return when they return home under a prisoner swap agreement, doctors and child psychology specialists said.

At least 50 hostages, most of them children, are expected to be returned under a deal which includes a four-day pause in the fighting in Gaza and the return of around 150 Palestinian prisoners.

“They will probably show signs of post-trauma, which means that some of them will be very fidgety, very frightened, some may be very angry,” said Dr. Daphna Dollberg, clinical and developmental psychologist at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo.

Hamas and allied groups captured around 240 hostages when Islamist gunmen rampaged through southern Israeli towns on Oct. 7 in an attack that Israeli authorities say killed more than 1,200 Israelis and foreigners.

According to the Israeli government, up to 40 of the hostages are children, including a 10-month-old baby and preschoolers, some of whom saw their relatives murdered before their eyes just before being kidnapped.

“It will never be a full recovery,” Dollberg said. “It would never be that, whatever happened to them would not affect them or be forgotten.”

Four hostages have been returned so far while a fifth was rescued by Israeli troops. Their accounts suggest that the captives were separated into small groups and held at least part of the time in a web of tunnels built by Hamas under Gaza.

Israeli institutions, including major hospitals and the Israeli health ministry have said they are preparing to receive the hostages and offer treatment after the trauma of weeks of captivity and in some cases the loss of their parents.

“We do have skills and knowledge and it’s going to be very painful to hear the stories and meet the children,” Dollberg said. “We have to support them. We have to support their recovery.”

Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Wednesday that a soldier would be assigned to escort each child and given specific orders about what to tell them and that children would also be assigned social workers after being taken to hospitals in Israel.

“We should not say OK, now the children are released so everything is OK,” said Professor Hagai Levine, head of the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum medical team.

“In real life it’s complex – they have post-trauma,” he said. “We really need to be supportive and be patient for the long run.”

(Reporting by Emily Rose; Editing by Howard Goller)