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The cousin of a 9-year-old Israeli hostage released by Hamas speaks on his return

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Families of some of the Hamas-held hostages had emotional reunions with loved ones released on Friday and Saturday. Similar scenes unfolded in the West Bank as Palestinians held in Israeli prisons for years reunited with their families. They were freed as part of an internationally brokered agreement between Israel and Hamas. The deal includes the release of a total of 150 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 50 hostages taken from Israel by Hamas in the October 7 attacks. It also allows for a temporary cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. But just as Hamas was expected to release the second group of Israeli hostages yesterday, it said in a statement it was delaying their release over what it said were violations of the cease-fire agreement. Egypt and Qatar intervened and brought the agreement back on track. More hostages were released late last night in exchange for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons. Three of the Israelis who were released by Hamas are relatives of Itay Raviv, including his 9-year-old cousin. We spoke to him yesterday about his family.

Now your cousin, Ohad Munder-Zichri, his mother and grandparents were all kidnapped from a kibbutz and taken into Gaza. Ohad turned 9, as I understand it, while being held hostage. He was released on Friday along with his mother, Keren Munder, and grandmother, Ruti Munder. First of all, have you been able to see them? How are they doing?

ITAY RAVIV: So I haven't been able to see them yet, but I have spoken to them on the phone. They're doing OK, not the best. They seem fine physically. Mentally, they're still in shock. It's been quite a nightmare for us and obviously for them. And they were for almost 50 days in the hands of Hamas. And they're slowly, gradually getting back into reality, into understanding what happened in Israel, what happened to their family. One family member, Ruti and Avraham's son and Keren's brother, he was murdered on October 7. And also, they learned - Ruti, Keren and Ohad, the three of them were together, but they weren't with Avraham, the grandfather. And they learned that he is probably still alive, and he's in captivity - because they thought he was murdered on October 7 as well.

MCCAMMON: Did they seem to understand or what - how much did they seem to understand about what had actually transpired on that day?

RAVIV: No. So they didn't understand the scale of everything. They knew that something was happening in their kibbutz. They had no idea of the scale of it and what we've been doing outside, how we've been advocating for their release. They thought maybe we think that they're dead, and they're just missing. They didn't know that we know that they're kidnapped. And we knew that they were kidnapped thanks to videos that Hamas published of them kidnapping people. They didn't know that these videos exist.

MCCAMMON: What else do you know about the conditions under which they were being held these past seven or so weeks?

RAVIV: Not too much - I know that they've been moved from place to place and that they got some food. I know that in the past few weeks they didn't get too much food, but sometimes they did get - sometimes they didn't. They lost some weight. I know that they didn't shower, and it was difficult to go to the bathroom. Not the best conditions, you know, it's in captivity. It's difficult. They're still in shock. So we try to be easy on them and not ask too many questions, but this is what we understand from them so far.

MCCAMMON: I saw - there have been lots of photos and videos of these reunions being released. I saw a video of Ohad smiling and running toward a family member.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS RUNNING)

RAVIV: Yeah, that's his father.

MCCAMMON: How have they been spending their time in these hours since they've been released? What are they doing?

RAVIV: They are in the hospital, in Schneider Hospital in Israel, which is a kids' hospital. They're surrounded by many professionals of both doctors and therapists and social workers and just anyone who can assist them - and obviously family members. And Ohad was visited by his friends from school. Now they're still in the hospital. They're going to stay there probably for a few more days, just to make sure that they are, in fact, healthy physically and mentally. And mentally, it's going to take some time. I don't think you can recover that quickly from being held by a terrorist organization for seven weeks, especially if you're a 9-year-old boy.

MCCAMMON: As we've mentioned, a temporary cease-fire is currently in place as part of the deal to release a limited number of hostages. Ohad's brother, Roy Zichri, said in a statement that, quote, "we are happy, but we are not celebrating."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROY ZICHRI: (Non-English language spoken).

MCCAMMON: What do you hope will happen going forward?

RAVIV: I hope that all hostages are released. I think this is the most important thing that should happen as soon as possible. And I hope that both Israelis and Palestinians can live peacefully without the threat of Hamas or any other terror organization. And this is what I hope to see in the future. But first, again, all the hostages should be back home immediately because this is the No. 1 human rights issue that started this tension and this war. And once it's solved, I think everything could go more peacefully in this region.

MCCAMMON: Three of Itay Raviv's relatives who were held hostage by Hamas were released on Friday. Another remains in captivity. Itay, thank you for speaking with me.

RAVIV: Thank you for speaking with me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.