Hostage freed in Israeli raid recounts his Hamas captivity in Gaza Luis Har, 71, was taken hostage on Oct. 7 with his family. The accountant, actor and dancer drew on a lifetime of memories to help comfort them in captivity in Gaza. He was freed in an Israeli raid.

129 days: How one Israeli hostage in Gaza told stories to endure captivity

129 days: How one Israeli hostage in Gaza told stories to endure captivity

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Luis Har, shown here in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 27, was taken hostage during the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and freed by an Israeli special forces operation in February. In captivity, he says, "Every time we fell into depression, we overcame it with stories. We started to say, where are we going to travel to today in our minds?" Tamir Kalifa for NPR hide caption

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Tamir Kalifa for NPR

Luis Har, shown here in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 27, was taken hostage during the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and freed by an Israeli special forces operation in February. In captivity, he says, "Every time we fell into depression, we overcame it with stories. We started to say, where are we going to travel to today in our minds?"

Tamir Kalifa for NPR

TEL AVIV — Every evening when it turned dark, before guards turned on a light, Israeli hostage Luis Har told his fellow captives a story.

"I have a rich past of stories," Har, 71, says. "It helped us pass the time."

Storytelling, and traveling in his imagination, were some of the ways that Har, an accountant, dancer and actor, endured 129 days in captivity in southern Gaza. A dramatic Israeli commando raid Feb. 12 rescued him and another hostage — the last time any Israeli hostages in Gaza were freed.

More than 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 hostages were taken captive in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, according to the Israeli government. About half the hostages were released in a November cease-fire deal. More than 130 remain. Many of them are still presumed to be alive.

In an interview with NPR at the headquarters of the main advocacy group representing families of Israeli hostages in Gaza, Har revealed personal details of his captivity, his reflections on his rescue operation — and why he does not want Israel to carry out military raids to free the remaining hostages from Gaza.

The capture

When Hamas rockets started flying into Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, it didn't seem unusual to Har and his family.

Originally from Argentina, he lived in a kibbutz near the Gaza border. He was with his partner and her brother, sister and niece on Oct. 7. As the rocket fire intensified, they turned on the TV and watched coverage of Hamas attackers entering towns and kibbutz communities nearby.

"We all gathered in the safe room and we said, a few minutes and we'll get out," he says. "We heard pounding at the door, breaking glass windows. Suddenly, we heard Arabic. They broke into the house ... We were in total shock."

A view of the house from where Israeli hostages Luis Har and Fernando Simon Marman were kidnapped during the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, in the Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, Israel. Marman and Har were freed in a special forces operation in Rafah, Gaza, on Feb. 12, the same day this photo was taken. Dylan Martinez/REUTERS hide caption

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Dylan Martinez/REUTERS

A view of the house from where Israeli hostages Luis Har and Fernando Simon Marman were kidnapped during the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, in the Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, Israel. Marman and Har were freed in a special forces operation in Rafah, Gaza, on Feb. 12, the same day this photo was taken.

Dylan Martinez/REUTERS

The captivity

Armed men forced all five of them onto the back of a pickup truck, making them sit on a pile of weapons. They were driven away and led on foot through a tunnel for hours. Then they climbed up a ladder to daylight in Gaza.

Har says they were moved from one home to another, and eventually brought to an apartment, where they were all kept in one room. Four armed men guarded them. His partner's 17-year-old niece had brought along Bella, her Shih Tzu.

"In the beginning, they were always suspicious and with their weapons, and they would shout. And we ignored it," Har recalls.

Har says the guards did not harass anyone physically, but the captives were most afraid for the 17-year-old girl.

"One of the guards fixated on her and would tell the girl all the time he wanted to marry her," he recalls. "And we told her to turn around, to pretend she was sleeping. She was very tense and stressed and cried several times, quietly, so they wouldn't hear. We tried to calm her. We didn't say it out loud, but each one of us, within ourselves, was worried."

The stories

The five captives didn't have a radio or TV. Their captors would tell them bits and pieces about the war, like when the Israeli army mistakenly killed three other hostages. It was true, but they didn't know whether to believe what they were told.

Every evening, it would grow dark before the guards turned on the light, and the captives had a ritual: Har's partner's niece would ask him to tell a story. He's a folk dancer, so he'd talk about dance. He acts in musical theater. He drew on his experiences and did his best to amuse his loved ones.

"Once, we were in a show. And one of the girls lifted her leg, and her shoe flew off her foot. And it did this in the air, boom, and fell on the audience. We burst out laughing," he says. "Stories like that, usually funny things to pass the time."

The farewell

After 53 days, Har's partner and her sister and niece were freed, along with Bella the dog, as part of a November cease-fire and hostage deal. Har was overjoyed that his family back in Israel would learn he was alive. He and his partner's brother, Fernando Simon Marman, were told by their captors that they'd also be freed in a few days. Then the cease-fire broke down.

"It was Friday, 7 in the morning. We suddenly heard the explosions. We understood, that's it. We're not leaving," he says.

"Every time we fell into depression, we overcame it with stories. We started to say, where are we going to travel to today in our minds? So today we are in Argentina. And we're doing this, and we're doing that."

The rescue

On Feb. 12, 129 days into their captivity, Har and Marman were woken up in the middle of the night by a huge explosion. Har thought the Israeli military, known as the Israel Defense Forces, was bombing the building they were in.

"Someone grabbed my leg. He said my name — Luis. He said, IDF, IDF. We came to take you home."

During the rescue raid, the Israeli military carried out large-scale airstrikes in Rafah as a diversion to provide cover to the special forces. More than 70 Palestinian men, women and children were killed in those strikes, and more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, according to Gaza health officials.

"I don't know," Har says, when asked about Palestinians killed in the rescue raid. "It's not my business. The military can answer you. I see that most of the people there are Hamas. They don't intend to pet us and to love us, and I have no mercy toward them at the moment."

The word "rescued" and a heart are written on a poster in Tel Aviv, Israel, showing Luis Har, an Israeli hostage who was freed in a special forces operation in Rafah, Gaza, Feb. 12. Susana Vera/REUTERS hide caption

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Susana Vera/REUTERS

The word "rescued" and a heart are written on a poster in Tel Aviv, Israel, showing Luis Har, an Israeli hostage who was freed in a special forces operation in Rafah, Gaza, Feb. 12.

Susana Vera/REUTERS

The aftermath

To cope with life after captivity, Har is working with psychologists who recommend he not go back home yet to his kibbutz on the Gaza border. He and his partner are living temporarily in a hotel.

What has given him strength is getting back to what he loves: folk dancing with a dance troupe.

Har says the only way for Israel to rescue the remaining hostages is not through a rescue raid — which he says would endanger both soldiers and captives — but through negotiation with Hamas, leading to an agreement for exchanging Israeli captives for Palestinian prisoners, including those convicted of killing Israelis.

"An exchange," Har says. "Our people for their murderers. Because even if they're murderers, the main thing is to return all the hostages to their homes. They need to be here and be given treatment here."