Post Misrepresents Condition of Israeli Hostages Released by Hamas

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Quick Take

More than 100 hostages taken by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel have been released through a negotiated swap for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. A post on social media misleadingly claims the freed Israelis “look like people finishing a vacation.” But news reports say many of the Israelis returned malnourished, injured and traumatized.


Full Story

About 1,200 people were killed and 240 others were taken hostage during the Oct. 7 surprise attacks on Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. More than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ensuing war, as of Dec. 2, the Associated Press reported based on information from the health ministry in Gaza.

During a week-long pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas — a ceasefire that began Nov. 24 and was mediated by Qatar — the two sides began exchanging some of the hostages held in Gaza and Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

As of Dec. 3, 105 hostages had been released by Hamas. According to the American Jewish Committee, the released hostages included 81 Israelis, some with dual citizenship, as well as 23 Thai nationals and one Filipino. In exchange, Israel released 240 Palestinians, most of them teenagers, the New York Times reported.

Many of the Israeli hostages, according to interviews with family members, returned “malnourished, infested with lice, ill, injured and deeply traumatized,” the Times also reported.

An 84-year-old woman who had been held hostage was in “life-threatening condition after not receiving proper care in captivity,” and another freed hostage required surgery, according to the Associated Press.

But a Nov. 29 post on X, the platform formerly called Twitter, and Instagram presents a distorted view of the hostages’ condition when they were freed.

The post claims, “Videos of Israeli hostages being released look like people finishing a vacation and saying goodbye to the resort staff. They’re smiling, laughing, hugging, blowing kisses, and waving goodbye to their captors. Multiple Israeli hostages have been interviewed and said they were treated with kindness and respect while being well-fed.”

In a deal brokered by Egypt and Qatar before the ceasefire, one Israeli hostage, 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz, was released on Oct. 23, and she was seen on video shaking the hand of one of her captors. At a press conference the next day, Lifshitz said that members of Hamas had treated her with “care” and “gentleness” during her captivity.

But she also described the violence of the Oct. 7 attack and her abduction from her home in Kibbutz Nir Oz. “As we rode, the motorcycle rider hit me with a wooden pole. They didn’t break my ribs, but it hurt me a lot in that area, making it difficult to breathe,” Lifshitz said. 

The accounts of other Israeli hostages did not describe Hamas as treating them with “kindness and respect while being well-fed,” as the X post claims. In interviews with the New York Times, relatives speaking for the hostages said some were given a single piece of bread per day and were held in deep, sweltering tunnels.

A screen grab captured from a video shows the release of an Israeli hostage as part of the exchange agreement during the humanitarian pause in Gaza on Nov. 26, 2023. Photo by Stringer/Anadolu via Getty Images.

Devorah Cohen, whose 12-year-old nephew Eitan Yahalomi was abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz, said he “lived through horrors” during his captivity. “When he arrived in Gaza, civilians hit him,” Cohen said. He and other children were forced to watch videos of the violence committed on Oct. 7; if they cried, their guards threatened to shoot them, she said.

“What we hear from the stories from children –- the captivity’s harsh reality is unbelievable,” Omer Lubaton Granot, who founded the Israeli support group Hostages and Missing Family Forums, told CNN. “Sisters of other children told them that Hamas have told the children that their whole family has died, that nobody wants them back, that they don’t have a home to go to. They tried to scare the children.”

The Red Cross has been denied access to the Israeli hostages, the Times has reported.

“You can predict that the psychological or emotional consequences will be severe — and you could also predict, from what is known in the field, that they’re going to be very different across the hostages because of differences in what they experienced when they were taken captive and their ages,” Dr. Spencer Eth, chief of mental health at the Miami VA Healthcare System, told CNN.

Condition of Palestinians Released by Israel

The social media post also compares the condition of the Israeli hostages with the treatment of the Palestinians released from Israeli prisons in the recent exchanges. “Meanwhile Palestinian hostages, mostly kids and women, come back with burn marks, broken bones, and permanent mental anguish,” the post claims.

An analysis by the New York Times found that most Palestinians released by Israel were 18 and younger: 107 teenagers younger than 18, including three girls, and 66 who were 18 years old. Three-quarters of them had not been convicted of any crime. They had been detained for what Israel said were offenses related to Israel’s security, the Times reported.

Ian Lustick, a University of Pennsylvania political science professor specializing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told us in a Dec. 1 phone interview that he had seen “no reports or evidence that the batch of prisoners was released [in exchange for hostages] with signs of mistreatment. I have not seen that.”

He also said “some of the released [Israeli hostages] have been in much better shape than most Israelis expected. That is fair to say. But to say they look like they were on vacation, that’s ridiculous.”

Lustick said the content of the social media post comparing the conditions of the Israeli hostages with the Palestinian prisoners uses “two extreme examples.”

On one hand, the 85-year-old Israeli hostage Yocheved Lifshitz was seen “shaking hands and thanking her captors and she remarked how well she was treated by them,” Lustick said. “She received tremendous criticism in Israel” for those actions and comments, and “that became a well-known incident.”

On the other hand, Lustick said, an Oct. 19 article on the news website Middle East Eye cited a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about three West Bank Palestinians who were detained on Oct. 12 for hours and beaten, burned and abused by Israeli soldiers and settlers before they were released later that night. They were not among the 240 Palestinians released as part of the Israel-Hamas exchange.

Lustick said it appeared the social media post was referring to the incident in the West Bank. The post, while “trying to make a drastic argument, conflated a report about mistreatment of Arabs by the military in the West Bank since the [Oct. 7] attack with the condition of the released [Palestinian] detainees,” he said.

But Lustick also said that “prisoners are not treated well” in Israeli prisons. “They’re kept alive, but they’re mistreated systematically right now.” Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, “has been trying to reduce their living standards, taking away privileges, and making life much more miserable for Palestinian prisoners of all types,” Lustick said.


Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

American Jewish Committee. “What is Known About Israeli Hostages Taken by Hamas.” 30 Nov 2023.

Associated Press. “Live updates | Hamas and Israel free more hostages and prisoners as deadline to extend truce nears.” 29 Nov 2023.

BBC. “Hamas hostages: Stories of the people taken from Israel.” 1 Dec 2023.

Carroll, Rory and Jason Burke. “Israeli hostage, 85, shown shaking hands with Hamas captor after release.” The Guardian. 24 Oct 2023.

Clarke, Rachel. “Little food, a beating and lice: What freed Israeli hostages are saying about being held by Hamas.” CNN. 1 Dec 2023.

Goldenberg, Tia. “Freed Israeli hostage describes deteriorating conditions while being held by Hamas.” Associated Press. 28 Nov 2023.

Howard, Jacqueline. “Released hostages, detainees may face severe psychological effects, experts say.” CNN. 28 Nov 2023.

Jobain, Najib, et al. “Israel-Hamas war: Israeli offensive shifts to southern Gaza, driving up death toll despite evacuation orders.” Associated Press. 2 Dec 2023.

Lustick, Ian. Professor of political science, University of Pennsylvania. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 1 Dec 2023.

Middle East Eye. “Israel-Palestine war: Settlers and soldiers ‘severely abuse’ Palestinians and activists.” 19 Oct 2023.

Rosman, Katherine, et al. “Hostages Freed From Gaza Recount Violence, Hunger and Fear.” New York Times. 30 Nov 2023.

Shurafa, Wafaa, et al. “Mediators scrambling for Israel-Hamas truce extension, as hostages-for-prisoners swaps get harder.” CNN. 1 Dec 2023.

Vinograd, Casandra and Isabel Kershner. “Israel’s Attackers Took About 240 Hostages. Here’s What to Know About Them.” New York Times. 20 Nov 2023.

Westfall, Sammy and Helier Cheung. “Here are the hostages released by Hamas and those remaining in Gaza.” Washington Post. 30 Nov 2023.

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