It’s been more than 40 days since Hamas kidnapped some 240 people in Israel. Only four have been released.
Israeli officials say two hostages have been found dead in Gaza.
Hamas has not yet allowed any international group to visit the hostages. Meanwhile, the head of Israel’s national security council says there will be no ceasefire until “the massive release of all hostages.”
So their families wait in despair.
“It’s hard to be in the hands of people who are so cruel, people who have completely different morals than we do,” Gili Roman says. “And I cannot control it.”
Today, On Point: Negotiations, political ramifications and the plight of the hostages in Gaza.
Gili Roman, Israeli whose sister is currently held hostage in Gaza.
Dani Gilbert, assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University. Her research explores the causes and consequences of hostage taking in international security.
Udi Goren, Israeli whose cousin is currently held hostage in Gaza.
Barry Rosen, one of 52 Americans who was taken hostage for 444 days at the U.S. embassy in Iran from 1979 to 1981.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: It’s been more than 40 days since Hamas militants kidnapped some 240 people in Israel. They are grandparents, mothers, fathers and children. This weekend, the Washington Post reported that U. S. and Qatari officials say they’re close to brokering a deal between Israel and Hamas that would allow for the release of some of the hostages in exchange for Israel allowing more aid into Gaza, along with a limited pause in Israel’s continued shelling and ground war in Gaza.
White House Deputy National Security Advisor John Finer was on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday.
JOHN FINER: Many areas of difference that have previously existed have been narrowed that we believe we are closer than we have been to reaching a final agreement, but that on an issue as sensitive as this and as challenging as this, the mantra that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed really does apply and we do not yet have an agreement in place.
CHAKRABARTI: As of 10 a. m. Eastern today, on Monday, there is still officially no deal in place. Gili Roman is among the Israelis anxiously awaiting the news. He’s in Tel Aviv and his sister, Yarden Roman-Gat, is currently being held hostage in Gaza. Gili, welcome to On Point.
GILI ROMAN: Thank you for having me.
CHAKRABARTI: Gili, I understand right now you’re in an Israeli government building anticipating a meeting that families may be having with the Israeli war cabinet?
ROMAN: True. We are gathering a few of the family, I don’t know if most, in preparation for the war cabinet this evening that will host representatives of the families. And I will be joining the meeting soon.
CHAKRABARTI: And did they invite you today? Do you know what the meeting is about specifically?
ROMAN: This meeting is an outcome of a lot of civic pressure on the World Cabinet to meet with the family representative. So after that pressure, important pressure, we were invited to meet with the World Cabinet. And I hope to hear at least the outline of what is on the table at the moment, and the perspective of our government or the leadership of our government towards the possible agreement that we hear about so much on media.
CHAKRABARTI: I see. So just to be clear Gili, is this the first time, as far as that the war cabinet has met with families of hostages?
ROMAN: As a cabinet. Yes. Different members of the war cabinet have met with us. In the last couple of days I met with two of them. Also, the part of family gatherings on the Saturday evening.
My sister met defense minister Gallant yesterday, also with a few other families. So as individuals, we have met them in recent days, but as the cabinet itself, that will be the first time as far as I know.
CHAKRABARIT: The first time since October 7th, on the day that your sister and the 240 others were kidnapped.
Okay. If I may ask Gili, can you tell us a little bit about what happened to your sister on October 7th?
ROMAN: Yes. My sister, on October 7th, actually on October 6th, went to visit the family of her husband alone in kibbutz Be’eri. His parents were living there. It’s a kibbutz really nearby the Gaza border.
They went there for a week, and we just came back from three weeks family vacation in South Africa. We just came back on the 6th. So they more or less strictly went to the kibbutz, stayed there for the weekend. And on Saturday morning, of course, like all of us, as part of the routine, which I hope we will never call it like that again, of the missile attack, they went into the shelter. And not as we did, in Tel Aviv, in the center of Israel that we went out like after an hour, they stayed there for a few hours.
So we were in ongoing communication with them and that stopped around 10 a.m. And we know that roughly 20 minutes later, they’ve been kidnapped from the house of Alon’s parents. First his mother … was taken outside of the house by armed terrorist. They killed her in the streets next to the house.
We know that because they published the video of her murder on social media. They took pride in that, of course after, they took his sister Carmel, and she’s also held hostage in Gaza at the moment. And lastly, they took Yarden, my sister, with Alon and their three-year-old daughter, Gefen, my niece, all together inside a vehicle.
They put the neighbor at the trunk of the vehicle and start going towards Gaza. And just a few meters before crossing into Gaza, they seized an opportunity when the terrorist took off, in order to tackle a certain threat and they just jumped. Then was holding Gefen, her baby in her arms, jumping out of a moving car alongside with her, Alon.
They started running for their lives. They didn’t get far before the terrorist noticed them and started chasing them and shooting at them. And at that point, they then realized that she cannot run fast enough in order to find a hiding spot with Gefen. So she just gave Gefen to Alon so he can do that.
And he did. He managed to find a hiding spot. Then was stopping to try to shelter herself and detained the terrorist and Gefen and Alon were able to find a hiding spot. They hid there for over 12 hours until nightfall and only through the night, they started to slowly walk back to the kibbutz and in the 8th, in the morning, Alon called us to tell us that he and Gefen and I are safe, but my sister was last found in the part where they diverted.
CHAKRABARTI: So she was taken hostage and taken into Gaza.
ROMAN: What we have done, after I heard that I immediately went to this area and for the whole first week of the war, I just conducted searches with the army forces to try to locate her if she’s hiding somewhere inside of Israel.
But the trackers conclude by the footsteps that she was taken again by the terrorists. And now she’s a hostage in Gaza.
CHAKRABARTI: What has the past six weeks been like for you and your family?
I would say it’s an ongoing agony. Obviously also a roller coaster. We’re just talking now in the midst of another cycle of possible agreement. Maybe we’ll see some releases. We’re under severe manipulations, psychological manipulations by Hamas. And it’s not the first time.
I know that for many people, the 7th of October is the day of terror against Israel. But for us and for my sister and for many other hostages and families, we are still under terror. We’re still under attack. And this hasn’t stopped even for one minute since the day they have been taken. So we sometimes feel helpless, but we try to be completely hopeful and be determined in our efforts to vocalize the needs for their return inside Israel and outside Israel, like what we’re doing right now, which is crucial for me to deliver this message also to the American people.
CHAKRABARTI: As you well know, under recent, in recent days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been questioned more vigorously about why the hostages have not been brought home yet. And in one interview, he said that the priorities are two. One, the destruction of Hamas. Two, bringing the hostages home, I presume in that order.
What do you make of the Israeli government’s and military’s efforts as they’re being carried out in Gaza so far?
ROMAN: Yeah. First of all, I do not accept this order. And obviously I will say it and vocalize it also today in the war cabinet. I think it’s not the current order. And we’ve heard it from other cabinet members in recent days. The hostage issue is an urgent issue and the issue of deterring and dismantling Hamas, it’s a crucial issue.
But it’s a long-term battle that will not be settled in the upcoming days. So I think it’s clear that bringing back the hostages who are still alive and can be saved is more urgent than the other crucial goal of the war. And I think he also needs to say it. I think he can.
And what I understand from the military efforts, that so far they have been serving both goals. Because we understood in the first two weeks that Hamas is stalling and trying to manipulate Israel into hold back. And not getting into Gaza in the promise they might bring hostages back, and maybe in very small quantities.
I think that it was a smart step to create a calculative and gradual ground operation, and we see the outcome. It’s very sad that this is a situation that only military force pushed the leadership of Hamas to seriously negotiate and get us into this point. That they are willingly considering to release hostages for a humanitarian pause.
Otherwise, I think that that would not be on the table for a long time.
CHAKRABARTI: Gili, if I may ask you one more question about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Do you see him as holding any responsibility for the fact that it’s been this long and the hostages are not yet home?
ROMAN: It’s a hard question to answer, because it’s a two sides problem.
It’s not that if he would be willing to necessarily give everything. There was somebody else in the other side that was willing to negotiate and willing to bring the hostages back. That was not the case, as far as I understand that. At least not in most of the time frames that we are talking about. Of course, he is responsible.
He is the prime minister in the end every outcome is his responsibility, but I cannot hold him solely responsible for this. We are dealing with a very vicious, unexpected organization with malicious intentions. So it’s hard to say that it’s only the Israeli side’s fault.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit