Arnold Schwarzenegger hosts roundtable to hear Israelis' stories about Hamas attack

 December 4, 2023

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger held a roundtable on Friday at his Los Angeles office with survivors and family members of hostages taken in the attack by Hamas on Israel in October. 

The event was hosted by the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem and included the story of a 14-year-old girl who narrowly escaped from Hamas fighters several times during the attack.

“It’s extremely important that the world hears those stories,” Schwarzenegger tells PEOPLE. “We hope that will make this hatred slowly disappear. Because a huge amount of damage is done through hatred, a huge amount of lives are lost.”

"I have never dealt with anything like this before," Schwarzenegger said during the event. "I always want to be there for the Jewish people, and for Israel."

A terrifying story

Ella Shani, 14, shared her story about waking up in her kibbutz and having to run for her life in pajamas.

She, her mother, and her younger brother hid from the fighters in a safe room initially, but her father was killed by the terrorists and her cousin Amit, 16, was held hostage by Hamas until November 29.

Shani shared that her teen group chat that day was filled with terrified teens begging for their lives.

When she later reached a safe room in another house, she saw blood and body parts from a prior attack in the location.

"I remember having a hard time realizing what I'm looking at, but as soon as I realized, my first instinct was covering my little brother's eyes," she said.

Horrific happenings

Shani also saw houses on fire where she knew her friends and their families were hiding, as well as exploded cars and burned bodies.

“Many people say these things didn’t happen. I'm here telling you loud and clear: People were beheaded, people were burned alive. People's body parts were cut off, women were raped, children were kidnapped. All of that happened. I have names of my friends who had to go through these terrible things," she said to the group.

“We’re going through hell,” Yaakov Bohbot said. “Every day is more and more painful."

Bohbot's brother Elkana has been missing since the attack and was recently seen in a hostage video. At least 137 hostages are still being held by Hamas, according to the Israeli government.

Schwarzenegger gave golden eagle statues to the roundtable participants, and they gifted him with a silver necklace that read, "Our hearts are in Gaza."

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