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Released Israeli hostage Yarden Roman-Gat fights for sister-in-law’s return from Gaza

Israeli hostage Yarden Roman-Gat, now reunited with her husband and daughter after 54 days in Gaza, spent the day after her release hoping her sister-in-law Carmel would be the next to come home.

But Carmel wasn’t released. Though more than 100 hostages taken into Gaza during Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack have been released, roughly 130 remain in the hands of Hamas. Yarden Roman-Gat, along with her husband Alon, are still fighting for Carmel’s return.

“I want to get Carmel back,” Alon Gat said. “I’m afraid she’s going to break, if it’s gonna last for a long time.”

What happened to the family on Oct. 7?

The couple were in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Gaza border, visiting Alon’s parents when Hamas stormed in, they said. Alon’s mother was dragged outside and shot dead. His sister Carmel disappeared.

Fighters shoved Alon, Yarden and their 3-year-old daughter Geffen into a car and took off. When an Israeli tank passed by, the captors got out and hid in some trees, leaving Alon, Yarden and Geffen behind with an unarmed driver.

The parents seized the moment and took off. Yarden had been holding Geffen, but she’s not a good runner, so she passed their daughter to Alon.

“He’s a very good runner,” she said. “I just passed her on. It was a no-brainer. It was her best chances.”

Alon ran ahead with their daughter, gunfire ringing out as he ran for safety.

“We’re hearing bullets whistling next to us,” he said.

He found a ditch and hid with Geffen, wondering if he should go out and look for his wife.

“I thought about all these things,” he said. ” And I said ‘No.’ I have one mission now. And this is to save Geffen.”

The pair were in the ditch from around 11:30 that morning until about 8 p.m.

Yarden’s capture

As her husband and daughter hid, Yarden, too exhausted to keep running, fell to the ground as her captors closed in. She tried to play dead, but was quickly found out.

“They grabbed my arms and started dragging me on the ground towards, back to the car,” she said.

Yarden, who’d been in pajamas, said her clothes were pulled from her body as she was dragged.

“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,” she said.

Like other hostages, she was driven into Gaza through thick crowds of celebrating people.

“My kidnappers could not help themselves, showing me off as a trophy,” she said.

54 days in captivity

Many hostages were taken into dark tunnels, but Yarden was never underground. She was kept in a house. The 36-year-old physical therapist said men guarded her 24/7.

“I was watched and seen at all times. I was not hidden, not for a moment,” she said. “They could do anything to me.”

There are some details of her time in captivity Yarden did not want to share. The mom said that while she was held hostage, she tried to make her guards care about her.

“They did not want to protect me. They wanted to guard their trophy,” she said. “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.”

Sometimes Yarden could hear news on the radio. About three weeks into her captivity, she happened to catch one of Alon’s cousins speaking. The cousin mentioned that Yarden and Carmel were being held, but he didn’t mention Alon or Geffen, so Yarden assumed her husband and daughter were OK.

Israelis advocate for hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza

Though she felt relief about Alon and Geffen, she was tormented thinking about Carmel because of the almost constant explosions of the Israeli bombs leveling neighborhoods all across Gaza.

“It’s a very, very frightening experience to be on a war zone,” she said. “You cannot ignore it. It’s very intense.”

Returning to her home in Israel

Yarden and Carmel’s family waged a campaign for their release. They even traveled to Washington for help. Eventually, all the pressure paid off; late last month, Israel temporarily ceased the bombing and Hamas agreed to release some hostages, mostly women and children, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners. Under the terms of the deal, three Palestinian prisoners were to be released for every one hostage freed.

Every night, the phone would ring with news of who was on the release list, Yarden’s brother, Gili Roman, said.

“That was the twisted reality show that we lived in,” Roman said.

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 temporary cease-fire. After 54 days, Yarden’s captors told her she was going home.

“They wondered, ‘Why aren’t I’m happy?'” Yarden said. “They almost demanded it. ‘Be happy, be happy already. You’re going home.'”

The family gathered around a TV that night and watched as Yarden crossed out of Gaza and was transported to Israel. Alon woke Geffen up around 2 a.m.

“‘We found Mommy,'” he remembered telling her. “‘We found Mommy and she’s coming back.'”

The temporary cease-fire ended on Dec. 1 without Carmel’s return.

Alon is still fighting for his sister, now with his wife by his side.

“My sister-in-law Carmel and a bunch of other hostages are still in Gaza,” Yarden siad. “And it’s wrong. And we have to stop it. And if we can do anything to help that, we will.”

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