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Danielle Aloni (at a demonstration in Tel Aviv on December 16): "Mom, don't cry, I'm fine, I'm fine"


Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

She was one of the first Hamas hostages released on November 24 as part of the prisoner exchange brokered by Qatar and the United States. Now Danielle Aloni has given a detailed account of her fate – in two interviews broadcast on Saturday on the Israeli channels Channel 12 and Channel 13.

The 44-year-old and her six-year-old daughter Emilia visited her sister Sharon Aloni Cunio in Kibbutz Nir Os on October 7. The Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post summarize the statements from the interviews.

When they realized that the kibbutz was under attack, Danielle Aloni and Emilia, her sister Sharon, her brother-in-law David Cunio and their three-year-old twins Yulia and Emma fled to the shelter of the house. But the attackers set fire to the building. David and Yulia escaped from the window, but were arrested by the terrorists.

In the shelter, the sisters discussed the situation. "I had to decide which would be the easier death," she recalls – slowly choking on the smoke or being shot by the terrorists. Channel 13 played a voice message that Danielle Aloni left for her family.

"One way or another we're going to die," she thought, "that's it, that's our end." She told Channel 12 that she hugged her daughter Emilia and told her: "Darling, I'm sorry, we're about to die."

Together with Sharon, she opened the window of the shelter "and waited for the shots." But a group of terrorists was waiting for them and helped them out. The sisters were separated, and Danielle Aloni was sent to a trailer with her daughter Emilia and niece Emma, where other kibbutz residents had already been held.

They were driven to the border – to the cheers of the kidnappers, who had taken numerous photos. "I felt a sense of terror that can't be put into words," Danielle Aloni said in a TV interview. "There are no words in Hebrew for it. You will have to invent new words to explain what happened that day."

In Gaza, the prisoners were beaten by passers-by. She had put her arms protectively around the two children. When she arrived at her destination, three-year-old Emma, her niece, was snatched from her hand. In Arabic, she shouted "My daughter, my daughter" and begged not to be separated from her. The kidnapper only shook his head and made a pistol gesture with his hand.

It was only after her release that Danielle Aloni learned that her niece Emma had also survived the hostage-taking. While she was in captivity, she repeatedly reproached herself for not having protected the little girl better.

When she and her daughter Emilia were taken to Hamas' network of tunnels, Danielle Aloni said, she saw terror and fear on the faces of the other prisoners. Some were tied up, some injured, with open wounds. There was no medical care.

After three days in the tunnels, they were taken to an apartment, where they were held captive for 13 days. When the Israeli army responded to the Hamas attack with bombing raids, they were taken back into a tunnel.

During her imprisonment, she tried to accompany her daughter as gently as possible through the traumatic time. "As a mother, you have powers that you weren't sure of before," she said in the television interview.

Once, however, it was her daughter who had to calm her down. She had a panic attack and shouted, "I'm going to die here! I'm going to die here! I'm going to die here!" Her daughter patted her face and told her, "Mom, don't cry, I'm fine, I'm fine."

When Danielle and Emilia Aloni were finally released, the crowd in Gaza would have attacked the ambulance in which they were being transported to Israel, shaking the vehicles. The six-year-old feared for her life.

Emilia has severe post-traumatic disorders, her mother reports. She is terribly afraid of air alarms and also in shelters, because she fears that "the bad people" might come and get her out of there. Foreign languages also frightened her. When asked how she felt herself, Danielle Aloni said, "I'm here, but my heart isn't here. Our family is not complete."

Danielle's sister Sharon Aloni Cunio, 33, and her three-year-old twins, Yulia and Emma, were released on Nov. 27. But her husband, David Cunio, is still trapped in Gaza. "We have to scream, we have to talk, we have to make a lot of noise" for the remaining hostages, Danielle Aloni said. "Everybody has to come back."