Yocheved Lifshitz, the 85-year-old woman who was released after being held hostage by Palestinian militants in Gaza for 17 days, on Tuesday described being beaten while her captors took her away on a motorcycle.
Ms. Lifshitz said she was marched through a network of subterranean tunnels under Gaza that she likened to “a spider web.” She said that she was later treated relatively well, offering the first public account to emerge from the more than 200 hostages estimated to be held by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza.
“I went through hell,” Ms. Lifshitz told reporters the day after her release, sitting in a wheelchair at a hospital in Tel Aviv amid a thicket of microphones.
She was freed along with Nurit Cooper, 79, on Monday and transferred from Hamas custody to Israeli forces via the International Committee for the Red Cross and Egypt. Both of their husbands are still being held hostage in Gaza.
Her account of the tunnels offered a glimpse of the difficulties facing Israel as it weighs whether and how to launch a ground invasion of Gaza to eliminate Hamas, which led the devastating Oct. 7 attack against Israel.
Hamas has built a labyrinth of underground passages in Gaza for its fighters, military analysts said, complicating both Israel’s anticipated ground operation and any attempt to rescue the hostages.
Ms. Lifshitz’s voice at times faltered as she recalled her abduction and the horrors suffered by her neighbors when Hamas attacked her town of Kibbutz Nir Oz. Her daughter Sharone, who was crouched at her side on Tuesday, occasionally translated for foreign journalists.
“Many people stormed our homes, they beat people, some of them they abducted, like me,” Ms. Lifshitz said. “It made no difference, they abducted the elderly and the young.”
“In my memory, I have these images all the time,” she added later.
She said her kidnappers hauled her onto a motorcycle and beat her painfully in the ribs, making it hard for her to breathe, and also took away her watch. They drove off through the fields surrounding Nir Oz.
They took her through the network of tunnels until they reached a large hall where about 25 people were, she said. After about two to three hours, they separated five people from her kibbutz into their own room, where they were overseen by guards and a medic, she said.
Ms. Lifshitz said that she and others were relatively well taken care of, given medicine and the same food as their captors. Fearing disease, her captors worked to sanitize the area, she said, and doctors would visit sporadically to check on them. “They treated us gently and fulfilled all of our needs,” she said.
Hamas has released four hostages, including Judith and Natalie Raanan, American-Israeli citizens who were freed last week. Ms. Lifshitz is the first released hostage to speak publicly about her ordeal.
Ms. Lifshitz’s husband Oded — an Israeli journalist and peace activist — remains in Hamas captivity, according to Israeli authorities.
The Hamas-led attack against Israel’s border communities shocked and traumatized the country. Israel had repeatedly fought short battles with Palestinian militants in Gaza in recent years, but nothing approaching the scale and brutality of the assault.
Ms. Lifshitz at times criticized the Israeli military, saying that it and the Shin Bet domestic security service had ignored warning signs of the threat to towns near Gaza. The Israeli military’s chief of staff acknowledged after the attack that the military had failed to live up to its mission to protect Israel’s citizens.
Weeks before the assault, Palestinians had rioted and fired explosive balloons near the Gaza border fence, sparking fires in southern Israel, Ms. Lifshitz said.
The Israeli army “didn’t take this seriously,” she said.