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Gaza hostage crisis: survivor reflects on 128 days of captivity and miraculous rescue

Suddenly, the terrorists burst in and began firing. The deafening roar of gunfire, the whizzing of bullets close by, and their ricochet off the walls plunged us into shock.

  • 3 weeks ago
  • May 23, 2024
7 min read
Luis Har giving a speech after his release | Photo courtesy of Luis Har Luis Har giving a speech after his release | Photo courtesy of Luis Har
journalist’s notes
interview subject
Luis Har, 71, hails from Lomas de Zamora in the Buenos Aires province of Argentina. Since 1971, he has resided in Israel. He lives with Clara Marman. Luis is a proud father of four and grandfather to 10 grandchildren.
background information
On February 12, 2024, an Israeli soldier squad raided an apartment in Rafah, south of Gaza, discovering Har on the 128th day of his captivity. He had been kidnapped by Hamas during the October 7, 2023, attack on Israel.

Despite minor injuries to the Israeli troops, Har was quickly moved to safety, received medical checks, and was airlifted to Sheba Hospital in good physical condition. For more details, see the full report here.

GAZA STRIP, Gaza — I spent 128 days kidnapped by Hamas. Although they released me several months ago, I feel like a completely different person. The lingering effects of that experience will stay with me for a long time. Simple every day sounds like the roar of a motorcycle exhaust or a plane flying overhead can cause me to freeze and burst into tears. Often, I take a few seconds to compose myself, discreetly managing my reactions, before trying to move on with my day. It has become a continuous struggle, but I keep going, no matter how hard it is.

Discover Clara Marman’s harrowing hostage story at Orato World Media.

Kidnapped by terrorists on October 7

On October 6, 2023, I celebrated the birthday of my 20-year partner Clara’s granddaughter. We enjoyed a pleasant evening and went to sleep at her house, comforted by the warmth of our gathering. The next morning, everything changed. I awoke to the sound of sirens and the flashing red lights, signaling an attack. 

Such warnings occurred frequently, so I did not feel overly alarmed and followed our usual safety protocols. Clara prepared maté and an orange cake for breakfast, and we headed to the shelter, thinking we would be back to our regular schedule in 15 minutes. However, the intensity and spread of the attacks soon made it clear that this situation was far from routine.

As soon as we learned from the media and WhatsApp groups that terrorists invaded the kibbutz, I hurried to secure the door of the room with a metal pipe and a chair. The safe room in the house was built to withstand shelling but not an invasion. As a result, I could not securely lock the door. Soon enough, we sensed the intruders inside the house. Driven by Clara’s advice and our collective fear, the five of us huddled tightly together in a corner on the floor.

Suddenly, the terrorists burst in and began firing. The deafening roar of gunfire, the whizzing of bullets close by, and their ricochet off the walls plunged us into shock. Fear dominated our bodies, but I also experienced a surreal feeling enveloping everything. We quickly resolved to comply with whatever the terrorists demanded, prioritizing our survival above all.

Enroute to captivity: Our captors were led by a man we nicknamed “Homeowner”

The Hamas men forced us out of the house. Outside, I saw that neighboring homes had been invaded. Terrorists overran our streets in celebration. They made us cross a wire fence and herded us into a white van, its floor littered with weapons and explosives. They forced us to sit on top of these menacing items. The drive felt brutal; the van sped recklessly, bouncing violently over the road while the jubilant terrorists fired shots into the air. Amidst their erratic movements, a gun repeatedly banged against my head.

I remained silent, enduring the kidnapping without complaint, focused solely on survival. Arriving in Gaza, they herded us out of the van and into a tunnel so dark we could barely see. We stumbled and ran, my head frequently hitting the low ceiling. I struggled to maintain my footing on the steep, uneven terrain. The tunnel remained unfinished, lined with loose sand and crumbling concrete, and we were barefoot.

Although dazed, we experienced some fortunate breaks. A man we nicknamed “Homeowner” was the leader of our captors and he surprisingly treated us decently. He prevented his companions from being too harsh. The other guards, always armed, looked at us with undisguised hatred. One of them frequently boasted about his victory on October 7th, waving a large knife dangerously close.

Each night, in our dimly lit room with boarded-up windows, Clara’s niece Mia would ask me to tell a story. I recounted tales from my days in a dance troupe that toured Asia and Europe. Through these stories we momentarily escaped our confines. On other nights, I shared anecdotes from my childhood. 

No release: 76 more days in captivity

As I narrated my experiences to my niece, I realized they truly belonged to me. A comforting thought crossed my mind. If it all ends here and I don’t make it back alive, at least I lived a full life. It felt comforting to know I left a mark and a legacy on my children, grandchildren, and all the people who shared my memories. That thought helped me endure my darkest hours.

After over 50 days in captivity, the terrorists informed us of our release as part of a hostage exchange agreement with Israel. They set up a camera in front of us and prompted us to say we had been well-treated, and our experience was positive. They sat close, embracing us like old friends. I felt incredibly uncomfortable, but knew I needed to comply to ensure our survival.

Initially, the Hamas terrorists released the women in our group, leaving me with my brother-in-law Fernando. They promised to release us in the following days. However, when the scheduled day arrived, just as we thought we were going home, the bombing began at 7:00 a.m. When we realized we would not go home, it felt crushing.

We spent that day in silence, submerged in despair. That night, Fernando looked at me and said, “Luis, it doesn’t matter, every day that passes is one day less in prison.” His words became our mantra, fueling our hope despite not knowing when the ordeal would end. We held on to hope for another 76 days.

Israeli army frees captive men: “We came to take you home”

On February 12, 2024, a massive explosion jolted us awake at 2:00 a.m.. Disoriented, we believed an Israeli airstrike might kill us. They must be unaware of our location, we thought. Then, amid the familiar explosions and the sounds of gunfire, something changed. 

After another blast, I felt a hand on my leg and a voice in Hebrew called out my name. “We are the Israeli army, and we came to take you home,” it said. At that moment, all the fear and tension dissolved. Suddenly, I felt a profound sense of safety. I knew these soldiers came to rescue us and take us home.

A group of soldiers encircled us. As instructed, Fernando and I kept our heads down and moved forward with the unit. The sound of gunfire continued as we made our way to safety. After a short distance, they ushered us into a vehicle where I finally felt I could breathe and was safe from harm. We sped off to a helicopter, and within minutes, we landed at a hospital in Tel Aviv.

Simultaneously, the Israeli authorities notified our families of our rescue and they came to Tel Aviv to meet us. My eldest daughter was the first to arrive. When I saw her, I burst into tears. We came together in a tight embrace, making up for months of separation. Gradually, all my grandchildren arrived, and my tears of joy continued to flow. 

Each night in Gaza, I longed for their hugs, yearning for the human warmth only they could provide. Reconnecting with the deep love that binds us was one of the most profound experiences of my life. “Grandpa, I missed you so much,” they told me. It was a moving day.

Survivor lives to celebrate 71st birthday: “The celebration felt less like a birthday and more like a rebirth”

Two weeks later, on my 71st birthday, we celebrated in Herzliya where I currently reside. Clara’s entire family and my family gathered for a big lunch at the port, and a local group serenaded us. The celebration felt less like a birthday and more like a rebirth. It felt like a miracle that the five of us, kidnapped on October 7, 2023, were now free and united despite everything.

Today, I reside in a house lent to me by individuals eager to support those affected by the Hamas attack. I live in a city that isn’t my own, adapting to an unfamiliar routine. I feel changed, and now my focus remains solely on enjoying life and my family, free from resentment or anger. Life taught me that things can change in an instant. I learned to understand the new person I became.

I keep up with the news, continually reminded of the devastating impact of this conflict. They killed a dozen of my friends. Everything about me, my family, and Israeli society changed irreversibly. I believe we can rebuild from the physical and emotional ruins, but this experience will stay in our memories forever.

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