The Israeli who wants peace despite his mother being shot dead

Or Gat tells of how some members of his family broke free, while two remain in Hamas captivity

Yarden Roman Gat with her young daughter Geffen in happier times in Israel. Here, her family share their dramatic story. Photo: Gat family
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To escape impending captivity or perhaps even death, a fearful Israeli father grabbed his three-year-old daughter in his arms before jumping out of a car being driven by Hamas militants towards Gaza, his relatives have said.

His brother Or Gat has shared the family’s story of survival but also of anguish – their elderly mother was shot dead at point-blank range, while his sister and sister-in-law remain among the hostages still held by Hamas.

Or Gat was the only one of his family not present at his parents’ home in Kibbutz Be’eri when Hamas militants smashed through the Gaza border on October 7 and killed more than 1,400 Israelis in the south.

“My family’s story is horrible but there are many families who have lost everyone," Mr Gat told The National from Tel Aviv.

His mother Kinneret, 69, was killed and his sister Carmel, 39, and sister-in-law Yarden Roman Gat, 35, were kidnapped.

His brother Alon Gat, 37, and daughter Geffen, 3, were also abducted but managed to escape.

Making a break

Mr Gat has pieced together the story by talking to his father and brother and from family text messages.

He messaged his family at 6.30am for four hours before Hamas fighters closed in on their home.

His 69-year-old father was in the bathroom when gunmen stormed into the house.

His mother gestured for her husband to stay hidden, as he watched his family being led out by armed militants.

Mr Gat said his father survived the militants spraying bullets and torching their home.

The rest of the family was pushed into a car and driven towards Gaza.

It was then that Alon and his wife Yarden attempted to make a break for it.

“When they started driving to the Gaza Strip, Alon – with Geffen in his arms – and Yarden jumped out of the car,” Mr Gat said.

“Alon escaped with bullets whistling by his ears. He is a tour guide and familiar with the field so he stayed camouflaged in the bushes for 15 hours.”

But Yarden, a German-Israeli citizen, was recaptured by Hamas fighters and listed as kidnapped with their sister Carmel.

Alon continued hiding, calming his terrified daughter before slowly making his way home.

He needed to be careful as they could have been discovered by Hamas or targeted by Israeli forces on the lookout for the militants.

The brothers have since returned to the spot where the couple jumped out of the car in a desperate attempt to trace information about the hostages.

“The last time Alon saw Yarden, she was hiding behind a tree,” Mr Gat said.

“She hid to avoid the bullets but could not run as fast as Alon.

“We did a lot of searching. The only indication we have that she was taken again was that we didn’t find any blood, we didn’t find a body.”

Ocean of pain

Their mother Kinneret was separated from the young family when they were pulled out of their home.

With her hands tied, she was filmed walking alongside other elderly residents being led by Hamas fighters through the kibbutz before they were shot.

Watching the footage released by Hamas has had a significant effect on the family.

“You can see her and the others walking in the first video and then on the ground lifeless in the second,” Mr Gat said.

More than 100 bodies were found in Kibbutz Be’eri, according to Israeli military officials.

“It’s like an ocean of pain,” Mr Gat said of losing some of his loved ones.

“We have a mission to take care of the living, who seem OK but are in trauma.

“There is sadness, sorrow, pain and anger.”

'Bring back our girls'

Mr Gat cannot stop crying as he relives the attacks.

“I want to bring back our girls,” he said.

“They are caught on the wrong side of the fence right now.

“We need to bring them back, all of them, this is not just my family’s story.”

Despite the pain caused to his family by the Hamas attack, Mr Gat holds on to the lessons of peace that his mother, a teacher, lived by.

“Put down weapons and make peace,” Mr Gat said was the only path.

In retaliation to the Hamas attacks, Israeli has cut off water, electricity and fuel to Gaza. It has bombarded the small city with one of the heaviest and sustained spells of air strikes in the history of the conflict, which have killed more than 5,000 Palestinians, mainly women and children.

“Even right now when Carmel and Yarden are held by Hamas and my mother has been murdered by Hamas – peace is the only solution," Mr Gat said.

“We don’t want to hurt innocent civilians in Gaza – my mother would have told me that."

Updated: October 24, 2023, 4:28 PM