Former Israeli hostage held in Gaza awaits her husband’s release

When Hamas last month released a video of Keith Siegel, an American-Israeli hostage held in Gaza, it was the first sign in months that he was still alive. His wife, Aviva Siegel, couldn’t bring herself to see him.

“It would be very difficult for me to see the sadness in Keith’s eyes,” Siegel said in an interview in New York last week, where he met with António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations.

Siegel, 63, was held captive with her husband until late November, when she was one of 105 hostages freed as part of a ceasefire agreement. They were taken from her home in Kibbutz Kfar Azza on October 7 during Hamas-led attacks on Israel.

Nearly eight months into the war, the families of the hostages are increasingly alarmed. Siegel, 65, suffers from an illness and Israeli soldiers have recently recovered the remains of several hostages in Gaza. For months, Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been trying to get Israel and Hamas to agree to a deal for another ceasefire and exchange of captives.

Mrs. Siegel understands the hostage experience like few others. “Knowing what they are going through,” she said, “is too much for me.”

She said she and her husband of more than four decades were moved more than a dozen times and kept in apartments and tunnels, which felt particularly suffocating.

Ms. Siegel said they were denied food and water while their captors ate, and that she lost more than 20 pounds.

She said her captors hit and pushed her, blindfolded her and pulled her hair. They shaved Mr. Siegel’s body to humiliate him, she said. The hostages were not allowed to speak.

The captors played mental games with them, telling them that Israel had ceased to exist, Siegel said.

Ms. Siegel expressed empathy for Gazans and said she wished Israelis and Palestinians could eventually live together in peace. He has been alarmed by what he said was a global lack of care for the hostages.

“Something really bad happened and we need the world’s help,” he said.

Mrs. Siegel often remembers her last conversation with Keith. When it came time for her release from Gaza, she initially refused to leave without him, she said, but soon realized that she had to do it.

“I asked Keith to be strong for me and I told him, ‘I’ll be strong for you,’ and that’s what keeps me alive,” she said.

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