The strangest part of her seven-week ordeal, said Chen Goldstein-Almog, formerly an Israeli hostage of Hamas, were the long, almost intimate conversations she had with her captors.
They talked about their families, their lives and the extreme danger they all faced.
One of the gunmen holding her even apologized for the killing of her husband and one of her daughters by other Hamas gunmen, she said.
“It was a mistake and against the Quran,” he told her, Ms. Goldstein-Almog remembered.
She said a long silence followed, and the room she and three of her children were being held in immediately filled with tension.
“I didn’t respond,” she said. She was distraught about their deaths, but at that moment, she said, “I didn’t feel I could express any negative feelings.”
Ms. Goldstein-Almog, 48, and the three children were kidnapped on Oct. 7 from the Kfar Aza kibbutz, near the border of Gaza and one of the worst hit during the Hamas terrorist attacks. Her husband and eldest daughter were killed.
She and the surviving children — another daughter, Agam, 17, and two sons, Gal, 11, and Tal, 9 — were released in late November as part of the exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hamas that has since ceased.
In an interview this week, she shared details about her ordeal.
She said she and the children were held together, treated “respectfully” and not physically harmed. But she said that over the course of various moves during their captivity, she had met other hostages who were badly treated, including two women who said they were sexually abused.
Mostly, they were held in a room in an apartment in Gaza, she said, with the windows closed except fora bit of fresh air in the early mornings. But the heavily armed captors also moved Ms. Goldstein-Almog and her children to different apartments, tunnels, a mosque, even a destroyed supermarket, she said.
With the Israeli military pounding Gaza, each transfer was terrifying, and the men holding them, she said, didn’t always seem to know what to do.
Describing one move, she said: “It was the middle of the night. Everything was dark. They started deliberating among themselves. I could see the helplessness on their faces.”
“When we were out into the street, in total darkness, there was a shot above us,” she continued. “We were pressed against the wall, and I could see a laser pointer, as if we were being targeted from above.”
And she was thinking: That’s our air force up there.
“It was crazy,” she said, “this absurdity.”
Three of Ms. Goldstein-Almog’s children, Agam, Tal and Gal, were kidnapped with her on Oct. 7 from the Kfar Aza kibbutz, one of the communities hit hardest in the Hamas-led terrorist attacks. Her husband and eldest daughter were killed.
Her conversations with her guards sometimes went on for hours, she said, maybe because she was once a social worker and knew how to keep someone in a long, deep conversation — her only way of trying to make sure, she said, that she and the children would be safe.
The guards taught her son Gal 250 words in Arabic to keep him occupiedand brought him a notebook to study. She said the family and the guards regularly discussed what to eat. Most days they survived off pita bread with cheese, usually feta. In the early days there were also a few vegetables. She said the guards told her they were members of Hamas.
The lead guard seemed educated and spoke Hebrew, she said. In the apartment where they stayed the longest, he sometimes invited the family to join in cooking in the kitchen, though even in these moments, the guards carried pistols. The guards would escort them to the bathroom on request, and allowed them to sleep.
Each member of the family had emotional ups and downs. Sometimes they would talk about what happened on Oct. 7, or would realize no cease-fire was near. The captors didn’t like it when the children cried, she said. They asked immediately for them to stop.
“And if for a moment, I would sit and sink in my thoughts,” she said, the lead captor “would directly ask me what I was thinking. I couldn’t move from room to room without an armed guard accompanying me. Once, my two sons were arguing, and the guard raised his voice at one of them, which was scary.”
There were even moments when the guards cried in front of them, she said, worried about their own families.
“We were in daily danger,” she said. “It was fear at a level we didn’t know existed.”
She couldn’t stop replaying the death of her husband, Nadav, 48, whom she started dating in high school and who was killed in front of their eyes along with their oldest daughter, Yam, 20, a soldier just two months from the end of her service.
At the end of their captivity, the lead guard turned to Ms. Goldstein-Almog and gave her a warning: Don’t go back to your kibbutz, he said. Don’t return to a place so close to Gaza. Go to Tel Aviv or somewhere farther north, she remembers him saying. Because we are coming back.
Ms. Goldstein-Almog’s response?
“Next time you come,” she said she told them, “don’t throw a grenade. Just knock on the door.”