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Hila Rotem Shoshani had invited her buddy Emily Hand over for a sleepover in Kibbutz Be’eri, Israel. The women, then 12 and eight, woke early the following morning, Oct. 7, to the sound of thundering booms — the beginning of the deadliest assault within the historical past of their nation.

For about six hours, Hila and Emily hid within the dwelling’s protected room with Hila’s mom, Raaya Rotem, 54, as Hamas attackers overran the kibbutz. Then armed gunmen burst in with weapons and knives and took the three out right into a panorama of horror, previous lifeless our bodies and burning buildings, to a automobile. One of many attackers seen Hila clutching a stuffed animal. He grabbed it and tossed it apart.

“I had it in my hand the complete time. I didn’t discover,” Hila mentioned on Friday in an interview in New York, earlier than she spoke at a rally in assist of the remaining hostages. “If you’re afraid you don’t discover.”

Hila was one in every of greater than 30 youngsters kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7, and held till late November, once they, together with dozens of adults, have been launched throughout a short truce. Hila, now 13, is the youngest of the returned hostages to talk out in regards to the harsh circumstances wherein they have been held, in search of to spotlight the plight of greater than 100 hostages who stay in Gaza.

The terrifying drive to Gaza, surrounded by Hamas terrorists, was the primary time, Hila mentioned, that she totally realized how “actually shut” the territory was to the neighborhood she had grown up in.

She mentioned she, her mom and Emily have been taken to a house in Gaza, the place they have been put in a darkish room with a few different hostages. At first, an armed guard stayed within the room, however ultimately moved to the lounge.

“They understood we’re not going to run away,” Hila mentioned. “Exterior it’s harmful too — why would we run?”

They have been warned to not attempt to escape, Hila mentioned, advised that “if we go outdoors ‘the individuals on the market don’t such as you, so that you’ll be killed anyway.’”

Their captors gave them little meals — half a pita and a little bit of halva on some days, canned beans on others — and little or no water, typically nicely water so distasteful, Hila mentioned, that she needed to pressure herself to drink.

At instances, the captors ate whereas the captives didn’t, she mentioned: “There have been days when there simply wasn’t meals, and they might preserve it for themselves.”

Sometimes, Hila mentioned, they heard different youngsters’s voices, and questioned in the event that they have been elsewhere within the dwelling. They needed to request permission to make use of the lavatory, and Hila discovered the Arabic phrase for it, hammam.

As soon as, an explosion close by brought about the window of their room to interrupt, Hila mentioned, however they escaped damage.

A couple of instances, she recounted, they have been woken in the course of the night time and unexpectedly moved within the darkness.

“They advised us at first, ‘you’re shifting to a safer place,’ ” Hila mentioned. “However we didn’t know if we’d be killed.”

The women have been advised to maintain quiet. Emily turned 9, and Hila’s personal birthday was nearing. They tried to maintain themselves occupied, with drawing or video games.

“We performed playing cards, however how a lot are you able to play playing cards, all day, each hour?” Hila mentioned.

Freedom got here abruptly, she mentioned.

A couple of month and a half into their captivity, the captors abruptly separated the ladies from Hila’s mom.

“Mother had began to be scared that one thing wasn’t OK, that they weren’t taking her,” Hila mentioned, including, “after which they only got here and took us, and she or he stayed.”

The women have been then launched and returned to Israel. The separation of mom and youngster violated the phrases of the alternate deal, drawing outrage in Israel. Raaya was in the end launched a number of days later, simply after Hila’s thirteenth birthday.

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