A Filipino caregiver held hostage in Gaza for exactly seven weeks has given thanks to God that he’s still alive after describing his horrific ordeal in captivity underground. Thirty-three-year-old father of three Gelienor ‘Jimmy’ Pacheco had been working in Israel for five years, caring for 80-year-old Amitai Ben Zvi for the last four years in a kibbutz near Gaza. Mr. Ben Zvi’s daughter said he served his employer with “quiet, admirable devotion, always attentive to his needs and supportive in countless ways.”
In an exclusive interview with CBN News, Jimmy described his harrowing experience when Hamas terrorists stormed his house. “I heard gunfire from another house. I sent a message to my wife back in the Philippines to take care of our children. When I was taken out of the house, I didn’t expect them to spare me because I witnessed my employer being killed mercilessly. Hamas asked me if I am a soldier. They set a rifle on automatic and fired beside my ear until the ammo ran out. After that, I heard a buzzing sound in my ears.”
He was then taken into Gaza and held in the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the enclave. ”Our supplies were scarce, they only gave us one pita bread for the whole day. But I didn’t eat it in one sitting. I just got a pinch whenever I felt hungry,” he revealed.
“As time passed, the water supply became salty. I worried because I had a history of kidney illness. So I kept toilet paper and hid it in my pocket, so I could eat it. For me it was food. I would take the toilet paper and dab it on the moist walls. We were about ’40 metres’ below the ground, so it was cold and there was condensation on the walls. When the paper got wet enough, I ate it. It filled my empty stomach as well as quenched my thirst.”
“They also tasked me to clean seven toilets. I said it’s okay because the smell would get worse. During the first and second weeks, I was staying inside a small prison with a toilet right beside me. I kept thinking and wondering, ‘Why would they capture me?’ It was driving me crazy. Why would they capture me if I didn’t do anything to them?”
Jimmy’s Christian faith ensured he didn’t lose his will to survive.
“I got my strength for my children. I had the strength to eat toilet paper because I needed to survive for my children. I pleaded to God because I was 12 years old when my father died. I prayed, ‘Please don’t do this to me. Please let me live. Even if I stay here for 10 years, just let me live.”
After seven weeks in captivity, Jimmy was included in the first batch of hostages released by Hamas.
“They told us we would be leaving the tunnel where we were held captive. That’s when I started to cry. When I first saw the sun and came out from the tunnel, I just knelt down and thanked the Lord because I saw the sun again, and breathed fresh air.”
“My strength came from the Lord, and for my children. Now I am more mature and stronger in many respects. I want to stay here and keep working, even after what they did to me. I want to provide for my family because I do not want my children to experience the hardships that I experienced when I was a child. And I would like to thank you all for your prayers,” he told CBN News.
Jimmy hopes to be back in the Philippines for Christmas. The only other Filipino hostage 60-year-old Rosalyn Babadilla has also been freed. She has dual citizenship. Her Israeli husband was killed in the Hamas attacks. So were several other other Filipinos. Jimmy may not have to return to Israel because both he and Rosalyn are entitled to lifetime benefit payments from the Israeli government as victims of terrorism.
Photo: Philippines Embassy in Israel