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Doctor who treated freed Hamas hostages describes physical, sexual and psychological abuse

Doctor describes abuses suffered by Hamas hostages
Doctor describes abuses suffered by Hamas hostages 05:18

About 100 Israeli hostages, kidnapped during the deadly Hamas raid on Israel, have been released after more than 50 days in captivity. Dr. Itai Pessach (director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Children's Hospital at Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv), whose team interviewed and examined many of them, told "CBS News Sunday Morning" the freed hostages were brought to the medical center whether they wanted to come or not. 

"We thought they would need a buffer from that time in captivity, underground, in the dark, with very little food, with a lot of psychological stress," he said. "We have to remember that these people have not been around since October 7."

For some, they did not have a home to go back to – and it was Pessach who had to inform them. "One of the largest challenges that we had is, how do we break the bad news?" he said. "They look around the room, and they see that someone's missing. That was something we had to prepare for."

Except for a brief cease-fire, there's been an almost-constant Israeli bombardment of Gaza, much of which has been pummeled into wreckage, with half of the population facing severe hunger. 

Pessach said he believes both Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza are suffering from PTSD: "When they undergo events such as this, this will take its toll, and it doesn't matter if they're on this side or the other side."

Dr. Itai Pessach. CBS News

He also believes that television pictures of the freed hostages that suggested they had not been physically abused were misleading. "I think it was very deceptive," said Pessach. "There's not a single person that came back that didn't have a significant physical injury or a medical problem. On top of that, some of them were getting medication, to look better than they actually were."

There were also stories of hostages being branded (a common practice inflicted on Jews and other prisoners of Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust), and of being sexually abused. "Yes, we did see signs of branding," Pessach said. "We definitely saw signs of being handcuffed. We did hear and see evidence of sexual abuse in a significant part of the people we have treated. We also heard evidence – and that was one of the hardest parts – of abuse against those that [are still there], both physical and sexual."

Pessach also said hostages were subjected to psychological torture (as in being told that Israel no longer exists). "What really struck me is how prepared the Hamas terrorists were with their psychological torment," he said. "It was structured and preplanned. They're constantly saying, 'Nobody cares about you. You are here alone. You hear the bombs falling? They don't care about you. We're here to protect you.' And this really played with their minds.

"There have been some episodes where they separated two family members, and then put them back together, then separated them, then put them back together. And so, as a parent you would do anything to have your child with you, even when you are in captivity," he said.

Pessach said that there was no formula in how they treated the hostages upon their return. "There was no protocol; we had to make that up as we went," he said. "Now, unfortunately, we are the world experts in receiving people that were hostage."

Don't miss Lesley Stahl's interview with freed hostages on "60 Minutes" Sunday, Dec. 17, on CBS and Paramount+. Watch a preview here: 

The Hostage Story | Sunday on 60 Minutes 00:29

Story produced by Mary Raffalli. Editor: George Pozderec. 

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