It’s been one horror and tragedy after the next since Hamas’s killing and kidnapping attack of Israelis 10 weeks ago. On Friday, three hostages were accidentally killed by Israeli forces even though, we now know, they were waving a white flag. This as the army’s pounding of Gaza continues unabated. As much as 90% of the population has been displaced and the death toll keeps rising.
About 100 Israeli hostages have been released – mostly women and children – but as many as 130 remain in captivity. An open wound in Israel, where we went this past week and spoke to one of the hostages who was freed after 54 days, 36-year-old Yarden Roman-Gat. She and her husband Alon Gat were abducted on October 7th at a kibbutz near the Gaza border.
Alon took us to the rubble that was his parents’ home in Be’eri.
Alon Gat: This is the entrance.
On October 7th, he, his wife Yarden and their 3-yr-old daughter Geffen were visiting his folks when Hamas stormed the kibbutz gate, broke into their home, dragged out his mother and shot her. His sister Carmel disappeared.. and the Hamas fighters shoved the three of them into a car and took off.
Alon Gat: And they’re taking us into Gaza.
Lesley Stahl: You’re driving along there in the car
Alon Gat: Yeah. This is the area where they drove the car to. And there is a small army post over there. And this is the place where they– stopped the car because there was a tank passing. The terrorists went out of the car to hide in the trees.
He and Yarden seized the moment.
Yarden Roman-Gat: And we just jumped off both sides and started running.
Lesley Stahl: You had Geffen?
Yarden Roman-Gat: I had Geffen on me. I’m not a good runner. And running with 12 kilograms of my baby, the best odds is that Alon would take her. And he’s a very good runner. I just passed her on. It was a no-brainer. It was her best chances. So–
Lesley Stahl: You passed your child along to Alon?
Yarden Roman-Gat: Yeah.
Alon Gat: So I took Geffen and I ran in front. We started to hear the terrorists shooting at us. So we’re hearing bullets whistling next to us– on my both sides really close by. I’m talking about that distance of–
Lesley Stahl: And you’re carrying Geffen?
Alon Gat: And I’m with Geffen. And I found a small crack in the ground.
Lesley Stahl: Like a small ditch?
Alon Gat: Yes. and I put Geffen down on the– on the ground. And I was on her, lying there with Geffen, trying to keep her quiet.
Lesley Stahl: And all this time, you still don’t know what had happened to your wife.
Alon Gat: It’s something that I thought about: Should I go with Geffen and search for Yarden? Is Yarden, is she wounded? Is she hurt? I thought about all these things. And I said “No. I have one mission now.” And this is to save Geffen.
Lesley Stahl: How long were you in the ditch?
Alon Gat: From 11:30 a.m. to around 8 p.m.
Lesley Stahl: Nine hours?
Alon Gat: About. And Geffen was amazing. She didn’t cry about food or water once she told me: “Daddy, it’s a shame we didn’t bring water.”
Hours earlier, Yarden – too exhausted to keep running, fell to the ground – as her captors closed in.
Yarden Roman-Gat: I play dead, but holding my breath was next to impossible. So they said, “No, she’s not dead. There is no blood. So pick her up.” And they grabbed my arms and started dragging me on the ground towards back to the car. I was in pajamas. And my clothes started to– swipe off my body. And it was one of– one of the most frightening moments because my thoughts were, “Even if they didn’t have that intention, now they might have, and I’m half naked. So–“
Lesley Stahl: Uh-huh. You’re worried about rape?
Yarden Roman-Gat: Yeah. I was worried to get raped.
Lesley Stahl: Yeah. Of course.
Yarden Roman-Gat: And fortunately enough, they didn’t do it. They were– the goal was get me into Gaza.
Like other hostages, she was driven into Gaza through thick crowds, celebrating.
Yarden Roman-Gat: My kidnappers could not help themselves, showing me off as a trophy and showing my face as an object. I was not a person.
Lesley Stahl: But wait. The windows were up, right? No one could reach–
Yarden Roman-Gat: No. They were not up. There were a lot of people around. And, as we-
Lesley Stahl: Yelling and screaming–
Yarden Roman-Gat: Yeah. Partying.
After similar gauntlets of terror, many other hostages were taken down into the dark, airless tunnels. Yarden was never underground –
Lesley Stahl: And where do they take you?
Yarden Roman-Gat: Eventually we got to a house. I was alone, but I was never alone because I had my guardian– guardians?
Lesley Stahl: Guards.
Yarden Roman-Gat: Guards — with me 24/7, from the second I got to Gaza, to the second I left.
Lesley Stahl: Were they men, or women, or both, or–
Yarden Roman-Gat: Only men.
Lesley Stahl: Only men.
Yarden Roman-Gat: You cannot object to anything. It could cost you your life.
She was given a hijab that covered most of her body.
Yarden Roman-Gat: I got a very strong feeling this is my– that fabric is my only protection. That I don’t know its effectiveness, but it was the only thing I got.
Lesley Stahl: You could feel hidden a little bit behind that, formless–
Yarden Roman-Gat: The word “hidden” has no place. I was watched and seen at all times. I was not hidden, not for a moment. They could do anything to me. I had—
Lesley Stahl: You were helpless?
Yarden Roman-Gat: I was helpless.
Lesley Stahl: Did you try to engage them so they would see you as a human?
Yarden Roman-Gat: I trying to make them care.
Lesley Stahl: Did it work? Do you think they began to want to protect you?
Yarden Roman-Gat: They did not want to protect me. They wanted to guard their trophy. But I do think I managed to make them care, I don’t know, in some levels. And I do think it helped me survive.
Lesley Stahl: Do you think that, at some level, you just shut down, you know? Just almost as if it was happening to another person?
Yarden Roman-Gat: No.
Lesley Stahl: No, you were feeling—
Yarden Roman-Gat: It was happening to me.
There are details about her captivity that she didn’t want to share with us.
Lesley Stahl: Did they feed you? You can’t talk about that? OK.
She lived with persistent anxiety over the fate of Alon and Geffen. Then, three weeks in, because she could occasionally overhear news on a radio, she happened to catch one of Alon’s cousins speaking.
Yarden Roman-Gat: And he mentioned, by the way, the fact that I am and Carmel, my sister-in-law, were held in Gaza.
Lesley Stahl: You heard your name come up on radio.
Yarden Roman-Gat: Yeah. But he didn’t mention Alon and Geffen so I could pretty much assume that they were fine.
Along with relief about her husband and child, she was tormented about Carmel, because of the almost constant explosions of the Israeli bombs, leveling neighborhoods all across Gaza.
Lesley Stahl: Were you afraid that that was gonna kill you?
Yarden Roman-Gat: Yes. It’s a very frightening experience to be on a war zone. You cannot ignore it. It’s very intense.
Meanwhile in Israel there was a growing “bring them home now” movement to pressure the government to prioritize the hostages.
Chant at demonstration: Bring them back home now!
Crowd: Now! Now! Now!
Posters of the hostages are everywhere. This is Romi Gonen who was shot and kidnapped. For her mother meirav, it’s October 7th every day.
Meirav: They’re not fed, they are starved. We know about sexual harassment of the women that left there and of the men, also. They’re treated with cruelty, the ones that stay there. And it’s important to understand that they don’t have time.
Yarden’s family waged their own campaign, setting up a war room to get her and Carmel freed… even traveling to Washington for help. Eventually, all the pressure paid off. Last month, Israel agreed to cease the bombing and free some Palestinian prisoners, and Hamas issued a daily list of hostages it would free the next day.
Gili Roman: Every day, mostly at night – in the middle of the night – we would get a phone call of whether we are on or off the list.
Yarden’s brother Gili.
Lesley Stahl: The way it played out was Hamas would announce who’s coming out tomorrow.
Gili Roman: That was the twisted reality show that we lived in. Yes, that is what happened.
Once the hostage releases started, the entire country was glued to television, as each transfer was covered live. But for five excruciating days, neither Yarden nor Carmel were on the list. Then came day six of the cease-fire. After 54 days, Yarden’s captors told her: you’re getting out.
Yarden Roman-Gat: They wondered, “Why aren’t I’m happy?” They almost demanded it. “Be happy, be happy already. You’re going home.”
Lesley Stahl: You know, some of the hostages were given drugs to make sure that they looked happy, well-treated. If they had given you—
Yarden Roman-Gat: I don’t want to go there.
Lesley Stahl: You don’t?
Yarden Roman-Gat: No.
Lesley Stahl: OK.
On the night of her release, her family, the entire war room, gathered ’round a television and – as she crossed out of Gaza –
Escorted by her captors, Yarden was handed over to the Red Cross and transported to Israel.
Alon Gat: I woke up Geffen around 2 o’clock in the morning. I woke her and I told her “We found Mommy. We found Mommy and she’s coming back.”
The reunion, the embrace took place at a hospital, the first stop for all the released hostages. The last time Yarden had seen her daughter was 54 days earlier when she handed her over to Alon.
Lesley Stahl: So it hasn’t been that long since she came home. Is she still the same person?
Alon Gat: Yeah.
Lesley Stahl: She is?
Alon Gat: I think she is. Yeah.
Lesley Stahl: Are you the same person?
Alon Gat: No, I’m a different person. I’m tearing apart between finding more info about Carmel. My mother was murdered, so also I didn’t have time to mourn that. I was disconnected emotionally. And I think still I am.
Alon’s old kibbutz is now rows and rows of burnt-out houses, with painful reminders.
Alon Gat: This is Geffen’s swing.
The day after Yarden was released, everyone thought his sister Carmel would follow.
Yarden Roman-Gat: The whole day, I kept myself expecting Carmel. I was almost sure she’s the one. (sob)
Lesley Stahl: Oh, dear. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
The cease-fire deal unraveled: no more hostages have come out since. The family war room is still operating, now focused on Carmel.
Lesley Stahl: And now you’re part of the war room.
Yarden Roman-Gat: That’s right.
Lesley Stahl: So why did you decide to do the interview?
Yarden Roman-Gat: My sister-in-law Carmel and a bunch of other hostages are still in Gaza. And it’s wrong. And we have to stop it. And if we can do anything to help that, we will.
Produced by Shachar Bar-On. Associate producer, Jinsol Jung. Broadcast associate, Wren Woodson. Edited by Peter M. Berman.