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Doctor who treated freed Hamas hostages describes physical, sexual and psychological abuse

About 100 Israeli hostages, kidnapped during the deadly Hamas raid on Israel, have been released after more than 50 days in captivity. Dr. Itai Pessach (director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv), whose team interviewed and examined many of them, told “CBS News Sunday Morning” the freed hostages were brought to the medical center whether they wanted to come or not.

“We thought they would need a buffer from that time in captivity, underground, in the dark, with very little food, with a lot of psychological stress,” he said. “We have to remember that these people have not been around since October 7.”

For some, they did not have a home to go back to – and it was Pessach who had to inform them. “One of the largest challenges that we had is, how do we break the bad news?” he said. “They look around the room, and they see that someone’s missing. That was something we had to prepare for.”

More Hamas-held hostages freed, as are Palestinian prisoners (“Sunday Morning”)

Except for a brief cease-fire, there’s been an almost-constant Israeli bombardment of Gaza, much of which has been pummeled into wreckage, with half of the population facing severe hunger.

Pessach said he believes both Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza are suffering from PTSD: “When they undergo events such as this, this will take its toll, and it doesn’t matter if they’re on this side or the other side.”

Israel-Hamas war combat resumes in Gaza as Israelis accuse the Palestinian group of violating cease-fireIsrael expands Gaza ground offensive, says efforts in south will carry “no less strength” than in northU.N. says Israel-Hamas war causing “unmatched” suffering in Gaza, pleads for new cease-fire, more aid

He also believes that television pictures of the freed hostages that suggested they had not been physically abused were misleading. “I think it was very deceptive,” said Pessach. “There’s not a single person that came back that didn’t have a significant physical injury or a medical problem. On top of that, some of them were getting medication, to look better than they actually were.”

There were also stories of hostages being branded (a common practice inflicted on Jews and other prisoners of Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust), and of being sexually abused. “Yes, we did see signs of branding,” Pessach said. “We definitely saw signs of being handcuffed. We did hear and see evidence of sexual abuse in a significant part of the people we have treated. We also heard evidence – and that was one of the hardest parts – of abuse against those that [are still there], both physical and sexual.”

Pessach also said hostages were subjected to psychological torture (as in being told that Israel no longer exists). “What really struck me is how prepared the Hamas terrorists were with their psychological torment,” he said. “It was structured and preplanned. They’re constantly saying, ‘Nobody cares about you. You are here alone. You hear the bombs falling? They don’t care about you. We’re here to protect you.’ And this really played with their minds.

“There have been some episodes where they separated two family members, and then put them back together, then separated them, then put them back together. And so, as a parent you would do anything to have your child with you, even when you are in captivity,” he said.

Pessach said that there was no formula in how they treated the hostages upon their return. “There was no protocol; we had to make that up as we went,” he said. “Now, unfortunately, we are the world experts in receiving people that were hostage.”

Don’t miss Lesley Stahl’s interview with freed hostages on“60 Minutes”Sunday, Dec. 17, on CBS and Paramount+. Watch a preview here:

Story produced by Mary Raffalli. Editor: George Pozderec.

See also:

Hamas’ tunnels: Piercing a battleground beneath Gaza (“Sunday Morning”)Israel’s military intensifies shelling of Northern Gaza Strip (“Sunday Morning”)Volunteers mobilize to aid Israeli hostage families (“Sunday Morning”)Truckloads of humanitarian aid finally enter Gaza (“Sunday Morning”)Mideast scholar Hussein Ibish: “Israelis and Palestinians must stop dehumanizing each other” (“Sunday Morning”)With protests over Mideast war, questions arise about America’s role (“Sunday Morning”)

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