Freed Hamas hostages, attack survivors face long psychological recovery

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones WLS logo
Friday, December 1, 2023
Freed Hamas hostages face long psychological recovery from captivity
There is an overwhelming need for mental health care for the hostages released by Hamas, as well as survivors of the October 7 massacare and families affected.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Recovering the hostages from Hamas terrorists may be easier than the recovery the hostages themselves face as they heal from what's happened to them since October 7.

An Israeli psychoanalyst in Jerusalem is heading up a team of professionals to help provide freed hostages, attack survivors and families with the mental health care they so desperately need.

"I wish I could tell you that what happened on October 7 was our biggest nightmare. But honestly, it's beyond anyone's nightmare," said Professor Ofrit Shapira-Berman.

READ MORE: Truce in Gaza endures another day, 8 Israeli hostages freed Thursday

Shapira-Berman is among hundreds of experts now volunteering to help people begin the difficult task of addressing their emotional wounds. She is a psychoanalyst and expert in trauma care and a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem School of Social Work and Social Welfare in Israel.

When Hamas staged their surprise raid on Israel last month, the rape, torture and murder rampage ended with more than 240 hostages taken.

During the seven days of a ceasefire, nearly half of the hostages, mainly women and children, have been freed. At Israel's First Line Med, therapy experts are helping family members adjust. Among the therapeutic techniques they are using are methods from World War II and the Holocaust.

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"So this is not the Holocaust and it's not a holocaust. But it's not a coincidence that this is my metaphor. And this is actually the metaphor, the way I see it or the people that I've been talking with, not just in Israel, but also in the States. This is basically the metaphor that comes up in the head of all Jews alike," she said.

There are brutal similarities.

"I think the cruelty and the fact that, that there wasn't a cruel act that a human can think about that these people were spared," she said. "This is this kind of things are things that only Nazis did before. And the fact that they were drinking and eating and laughing and taking footage of, of everything is-- that's not something that any civilization, Western civilization, ever had to endure."

Most mental health experts agree that Palestinians and Israelis in the war zone emerge with similar needs.

"They keep asking me 'Will I ever be happy again?' I think they will experience some happy moments in their lives. Yes. The young ones hopefully will be able to get married and have children. The heart wouldn't break down. But they all understand that their lives have changed forever," said Shapira-Berman.

Shapira-Berman said she is heartened by calls from doctors across the United States volunteering to come to Israel and help counsel war victims. Despite the pain and suffering, she believes most people are good and want to live in peace. She said she has one young Israeli patient in her 20s who lost both parents and three siblings. The woman said she's not afraid of dying anymore because what she's seen is much worse.