July 19, 2024

When Hamas released video last month 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 watch it.

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

Ms. Siegel, 63, was held captive with her husband until late November, when she was one of 105 hostages released as part of a cease-fire deal. They were taken from their home at Kibbutz Kfar Azza on Oct. 7 during the Hamas-led attacks on Israel.

Nearly eight months into the war, the families of hostages have grown increasingly alarmed. Mr. Siegel, who is 65, has a medical condition, 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 accept a deal for another cease-fire and exchange of captives.

Ms. Siegel understands the hostages’ experience like few others. “Knowing what they’re going through,” she said, “is too much for me to handle.”

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

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

She said her captors would hit and push her, blindfold her and pull her by the hair. They shaved Mr. Siegel’s body to humiliate him, she said. The hostages were not allowed to talk.

The captors would play mind games with them, telling them that Israel had ceased to exist, Ms. Siegel said.

Ms. Siegel expressed empathy for Gazans and said she wished Israelis and Palestinians could eventually live alongside each other in peace. She has been alarmed by what she said was a global lack of focus on the hostages.

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

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

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

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