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Former hostage held in Gaza says his ordeal 'no comparison' to current hostages

Recently retired head of New Haven-based Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (aka IRIS), Chris George.
Image provided by IRIS
Chris George is the recently retired head of New Haven-based Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services or IRIS.

Chris George has been following the war between Israel and Hamas and the plight of the hostages who have been held for over three months in captivity there.

It's a story he's familiar with. In 1989, George was the first American kidnapped in Gaza. As he watches events unfold, he’s mindful of the fact that, while he was held captive for a day, the hostages taken by Hamas have had it much worse.

“There is no comparison at all between that experience of mine in 1989 and what these hostages are experiencing now,” George said.

Before he was kidnapped, George was a longtime aid worker with Save the Children.

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“It was a wonderful time,” George said, noting that Palestinians in Gaza are "extremely hospitable."

It was a quiet time in Gaza, George said, as he worked in the '80s to help farmers and to build kindergartens.

“It was not so quiet after the [1987] uprising happened, when Palestinians began to resist the Israeli occupation," George said. "And then the occupation [Israel], of course, responded by arresting people and shooting people."

There was also kidnapping, a regularly used strategy for achieving various objectives in the Middle East over the years.

“The person who kidnapped me was emotionally disturbed,” George said. “He was not part of any Palestinian group. In fact, he'd been thrown out of the Palestinian political groups. They took me off to a safe house, and I was held for about 30 hours. I'm glad it was over in a short period of time.”

Once free, George said he was disturbed to discover the false narratives being widely circulated about the circumstances of his kidnapping.

“The Israeli government had hoped to pin this kidnapping on the Palestinian organizations that were behind the uprising,” George said. “And in fact, it wasn't. So, they spread misinformation about it. They actually tried to spin this weird story that I had somehow engineered this myself as a publicity stunt. And, that was out there for a couple of days before the U.S. ambassador, I think, made a phone call and said ‘Hey, we know this guy. He would not do anything like this, so stop it right now.’"

George would eventually return to the U.S. and joined the New Haven-based Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), where he worked for 18 years. Last December, he retired as its executive director.

Based on his experience with misinformation, George said he is wary of any news he hears coming out of Gaza about the current conflict there.

“There are a lot of people out there who are trying to feed misinformation to journalists,” George said. “I don't necessarily blame journalists when incorrect information is spread. But I don't take anything at face value. I look at the source.”

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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