Held Hostage in Gaza, a Thai Worker’s Prayers for Freedom Come True

Some things she does not want to remember. Some things she cannot.

But one image is seared in Nutthawaree Munkan’s mind from Oct. 7, the day when Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel, taking her hostage in Gaza for nearly 50 days. As the percussive sounds of war drew closer, her boyfriend, Bunthom Phankhong, a fellow Thai farmhand working just five miles from the border, scrambled for his bicycle. Ms. Nutthawaree hopped on the back and looped her arms around him as he pedalled hard toward what they hoped was safety.

She recalls his churning legs over sere earth. Then armed men stopped the pair on the bicycle. That was the last time she saw her boyfriend before she was taken to Gaza, she said.

In captivity, huddled in an underground cell with four others, Ms. Nutthawaree prayed that her boyfriend would survive. She prayed that she would one day see her children back in Thailand, her hopes sustained by the affection of one of the hostages confined with her, an Israeli girl. She prayed that she would see her mother, to whom she sent money each month to support the household and pay off the family debt.

Surviving on bites of round bread and barely enough water, Ms. Nutthawaree, 35, made a vow: If her boyfriend made it through, they would marry. But first they would ordain, for a time, as a Buddhist monk and nun. This was love: to submit to the absence of worldly desire, for the promise of life.

Thai hostage Nutthawaree Munkan was held by Hamas for nearly 50 days. During her time underground, a 5-year-old Israeli child gave her hope that she’d make it out alive.

A photo of Ms. Nutthawaree and Mr. Bunthom from their time as farm workers in Israel.

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