A friendship forged over 7 weeks of captivity lives on as freed women are reunited
Nutthawaree Munkan, a Thai hostage who was freed from Hamas, talks to reporters after arriving at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Samut Prakarn Province, Thailand, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. Twenty-three Thai hostages kidnapped by Hamas in its Oct. 7, 2023 attack on southern Israel have been freed so far, and Thailand's foreign ministry says nine remain in captivity in Gaza. There were about 30,000 Thai overseas workers in Israel, mostly in the agricultural sector, but more than 8,000 have returned home since the attack. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, November 30, 2023 6:53AM EST
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — In the depths of captivity, they formed an unlikely but prized friendship. And reunited in a video call this week, the bond between a recently freed Israeli mother and daughter and a Thai woman who had been held hostage alongside them filled an Israeli hospital room with unbridled joy.
“Both of us give you a big hug,” Danielle Aloni, one of dozens snatched by Hamas militants from a kibbutz in southern Israel on Oct. 7, told her friend Nutthawaree Munkan, an agricultural worker who was seized the same day and held captive in the Gaza Strip. “I love you and I told you while we were there that we are family.”
Aloni, 45, spoke in Hebrew in a five minute video of the Wednesday meeting released by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Nutthawaree, speaking from the hospital, replied in Thai — and with a flurry of air kisses and a wide smile that required no translation at all.
With her partner — another freed captive — looking on and a Thai-speaking Israeli psychologist assisting with the conversation, Nutthawaree waved at the screen as Aloni’s 5-year-old daughter, Emilia, sang to her. Nutthawaree, holding a small Israeli flag, counted to 10 on her fingers as Emilia recited her numbers in the Thai that Nutthawaree had taught her during the seven weeks they spent as hostages.
It was not clear where Aloni and her daughter were speaking from, but they had already been discharged from the hospital and had returned to their home.
When Hamas militants stormed into Israeli villages and towns just across the Gaza border, Aloni and her daughter were visiting her sister's family at a kibbutz, Nir Oz. A quarter of the community's 400 residents were either kidnapped or killed.
In all, some 1,200 Israelis were killed and about 240 hostages were taken to Gaza. Nearly 40 Thai agricultural workers were slain and another three dozen were kidnapped.
According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Nutthawaree, 35, came to Israel in search of employment. While working on a farm in the community of Mivtachim, she met her partner, Bunthom Phankong. Both were taken captive on Oct. 7.
The Thai hostages are being released in conjunction with the cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas that has seen Israelis traded for Palestinian prisoners.
Nutthawaree, Bunthom, Aloni and her daughter were all released on Friday, the first day of the truce. Details of their time in captivity were not available and it was not clear if Nutthawaree and the Alonis spent the entire time together.
But on Wednesday, for a few minutes at least, the trauma of their shared ordeal was set aside.
“At the first opportunity, we will come to Thailand. What joy to see her like this,” Danielle Aloni said as psychologist Daniel Porat translated her words into Thai.
“She says that you are also beautiful and Emilia is beautiful,” the psychologist told Aloni on Nutthawaree’s behalf. “She misses you a lot.”
Associated Press writer Adam Geller in New York contributed to this story.