Teenagers freed by Hamas 'were not aware their mum was murdered'

Emerging from captivity after 50 days of being locked in a room, teenage siblings Noam and Alma Or were confronted by a new horror.

After being greeted by their grandparents and checked over at a hospital, the pair were told the devastating news that their mother, Yonat, had been killed and their father, Dror, remained missing.

The fate of their parents had been hanging over Noam, 16, and Alma, 13, as they were held captive in a room in Gaza with one other hostage – a 39-year-old woman with whom they formed a close bond.

Ahal Besorai, the teenagers’ uncle, told the Guardian it was tough for the family to deliver the news on Saturday evening, hours after the children were released as part of a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.

“Unfortunately, they were not aware that my sister, their mum, was murdered,” he said.

“Suddenly they come to see their loved ones for the first time in 50 days and the first piece of news that they are confronted with is that their mum is no longer alive. I think it was very traumatic, there were a lot of tears, a lot of pain.”

Alma Or
Alma Or. Photograph: AP

Besorai, 60, a British-Israeli lawyer who lives in the Philippines, had a lengthy conversation with the pair on Saturday after they were reunited with their older brother, Yali, 18, who escaped the attack as he was volunteering with the Israeli army, and their paternal grandparents.

For the first time, the wider family learned how the two siblings became separated from their parents as Hamas stormed the Be’eri kibbutz on 7 October.

The children said they had been sheltering in a safe room with their parents when Hamas gunmen set their house on fire.

“When Hamas terrorists burned their house in order to force them out of the safe room, the kids jumped from the window and tried to hide in a different place but the terrorists found them and took them to Gaza in a stolen car from the kibbutz. They put Noam in the trunk and my niece in the front with eight other Hamas terrorists,” Besorai said.

Yonat, 50, was shot as she tried to hide, while Dror, 50, is believed to have been abducted.

In Gaza, the children were confined to a single room in a house with one other woman. “It wasn’t easy for them there as well. It wasn’t just straightforward, sit in the room and eat,” Besorai said.

He did not want to elaborate on the teenagers’ plight so as to not upset the families of the remaining hostages, who were abducted on what some in Israel now refer to as “Black Saturday”.

Besorai said: “They were held the two of them together with another lady. I know who she is and they left her behind, they did not release her, so she’s now on her own in that godforsaken place.

Noam Or
Noam Or. Photograph: AP

“I think what they did is, they smuggled the children to the toilets so she wouldn’t know that they’re going to be released and then taped the children’s eyes and took them in their car to wherever in order to hand them over to the Red Cross.”

Besorai, who grew up in the kibbutz before moving to the UK in 1991 to study law at the University of Cambridge, believed the children had formed a close bond with the woman.

“I asked them how did you manage to survive and they said that they supported each other in this triad, if you like. So when someone was down, the other would encourage them and lend moral support,” he said.

The children were not kept in a tunnel, Besorai said, but added: “There were other things that happened that made the experience difficult, very difficult.”

He said Hamas appeared to get “sadistic enjoyment” out of torturing the families by delaying the release of the second tranche of hostages on Saturday. It came after Hamas accused Israel of failing to honour the aid agreement that had been brokered.

Besorai said he was reduced to tears after finally seeing the faces of his niece and nephew on a Zoom call on Saturday night.

“They are really happy to be back,” he said. “The first image of Alma on the screen was her bright, glittery eyes and big smile. Obviously she has lost weight and looks much, much slimmer, but her beautiful smile and glittering eyes warms your heart so I started to cry.”

He added: “Noam was very talkative and wanting to share. He shared some personal stuff that he was going through – maybe talking about it for the first time with someone who loves him and cares for him will help him to heal.”