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The last hostages in Gaza on the threshold of an exit door

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli Agence France-Presse Supporters and families of Israeli hostages blocked a road in Tel Aviv on Monday to demand a truce deal in the conflict.

Fabien Deglise

January 30, 2024

  • Middle East

An agreement is perhaps within reach between Israel and Hamas for the release in the coming days of the hundred Israeli hostages still held in the Gaza Strip, more than 115 days after the start of the conflict. 115 days of anguish for the victims of these massive kidnappings perpetrated by Hamas in the wake of the attack against Israel on October 7, and whose probable return to freedom, in exchange for a ceasefire , risks representing a new ordeal for them to overcome, estimates a former hostage.

“When you are made hostage, you go to the other side of the mirror”, says in an interview with Devoir Christophe André, kidnapped by Chechens in 1997 while he was stationed for Médecins sans frontières (MSF) in Ingushetia, in the north of the Caucasus. Placed against his will at the heart of the war between Russia and the separatists of Chechnya, he was held in captivity for nearly four months, often handcuffed to a heater, before managing to escape. He will thus avoid the NGO which employed him having to pay the sum of one million dollars demanded by the kidnappers.

“You find yourself completely cut off from reality, as if placed on the other side of a glass wall which no longer gives you access to the world and which makes you lose contact with reality. Returning to the right side of the mirror is certainly one of the main challenges that the hostage will have to face once he regains his freedom. »

This prospect seems closer and closer for the last Israelis still detained in the Palestinian enclave. On Sunday in Paris, their fate found itself at the center of discussions between CIA Director William Burns and Egyptian, Israeli and Qatari negotiators with a view to a new truce in this conflict. This truce would be accompanied by the release of all the hostages still held by the Palestinian group in Gaza.

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On Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismaïl Haniyeh, based in Qatar, claimed to have received this proposal and indicated that a response was imminent. The day before, the Prime Minister of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abderrahmane Al-Thani, reported “notable progress” in the ongoing discussions.

There are 132 Israeli hostages remaining out of the 250 people kidnapped during the October 7 pogrom and forcibly taken to the Gaza Strip. 28 are, however, presumed dead, according to Israeli authorities.

“I wish all the hostages to regain their freedom and above all to regain their dignity,” said Mr. André, joined a few days ago by videoconference in Paris, where he now lives and works, in the social and community environment. “Being a hostage means experiencing a lot of humiliation, induced both by the conditions of detention and by the fact that one is reduced to the state of a bargaining chip, and this, without having control over how the captivity will end. »

We must not remain a prisoner of captivity. Having been a hostage can also help us move forward and overcome obstacles.

— Christophe André

This end, the parties seem to want to link it to a truce much longer than the simple week negotiated last November in exchange for the release of a hundred hostages on one side and nearly 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel on the other. The pause could in fact last two months and thereby transform the nature and trajectory of this conflict in the region, which has to date left 1,200 dead on the Israeli side and 26,751 dead in the Palestinian camp, the vast majority of them civilians, according to the Palestinian movement's Ministry of Health.

Based on details reported by the New York Times, in a first phase, the fighting would stop for around 30 days to allow Hamas to release women, elderly people and injured hostages. The two sides would then work during this period on the framework of a second phase of the truce which would suspend military operations for an additional 30 days in exchange for Israeli soldiers taken prisoner during the conflict and remaining civilians. The number of Palestinians released from Israeli prisons under the deal still needs to be negotiated.

Last week, the White House indicated in a press release that a “hostage agreement” had been deemed essential by the parties involved in negotiating this truce, “to establish an extended humanitarian pause in the fighting and ensure additional life-saving humanitarian assistance reaches civilians in need throughout the Gaza Strip,” the Biden administration said.

“It is difficult to know how the hostages in the Gaza Strip are experiencing their detention on an individual basis,” says Mr. André, whose 111-day misadventure in the Caucasus made headlines in 1997 before to find yourself at the heart of a comic strip, 20 years later, under the pen of Guy Delisle. Some will tolerate humiliation, uncertainty and deprivation less than others. But what matters most, when you get through it, is how you reconnect with your loved ones and with reality. »

He adds: “You should not dwell on what happened, but rather try to enjoy every moment with your family, with those around you, with the outside world, but also quickly detach yourself from the attention that the we receive at the moment of his release, to take back his destiny and his life before. »

From his captivity, Christophe André, who was 30 years old at the time of the tragedy, says he has not retained much trauma, moreover, thanks to time, but also to the way in which he found himself -even his freedom by managing to avoid the surveillance of his captors. “It was ultimately the best therapy for me,” a psychiatrist friend once told me, “because I became the hero of my own liberation,” he says.

But this kidnapping continues to accompany him despite everything, assures the former humanitarian worker, “especially when I go through difficulties in my life”. He then says he refers to this period of his life, “to this story”, to remember that he has already faced much worse in his existence: the deprivation of freedom, the loss of bearings over time, the uncertainty linked to several trips, hood on the head, reality reduced to the noise of the daily life of others coming from the other side of a door…

“We must not remain a prisoner of captivity,” he concluded. Having been a hostage can also help us move forward and overcome obstacles. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116