Cousin of Hamas Hostage Carmel Gat Expresses Fears of Abuse in Gaza
Ever since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and took more than 240 hostages back to the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem-based medical student Shay Dikman has spent her days worrying about her cousin, Carmel Gat, who was last seen being taken captive by the Hamas terrorists who stormed Kibbutz Be’eri.
Although more than 100 women and children were released from captivity in a hostage release deal in late November, Carmel Gat, 39, is one of about 14 women still being held in Gaza.
Based on stories heard from the released hostages, Dikman said there is grave reason to worry about the conditions in which her cousin and the other captives are being held, and it is the world’s responsibility to return all the hostages home.
Dikman spoke with The Media Line about her deep concerns for her cousin’s mental and physical health and her worries about whether she is being fed, and, especially, whether she has been sexually abused.
She also discussed how international humanitarian organizations have neither inquired about the conditions in which her cousin is being held, nor reached out to her family.
The Media Line: It has been two months since Carmel was kidnapped. What have you heard about her abduction from the Israeli government and from other hostages who might have seen her?
Shay Dikman: Yes, it’s true. Carmel was kidnapped from her parents’ house on October 7. And since then, we’ve heard from hostages who have been released that they were with her together. We were actually glad to hear that she was not alone.
We heard from them something that we were very excited to hear. She was actually having yoga sessions with them. She was practicing with them. She was doing whatever in her power to make herself and them as safe as possible in this horrible situation where her mental state and physical state are in question.
We were really glad to hear at least that the powers that she has inside her were able to make her stronger and give this strength to others as well.
TML: That says a lot about her. And I know this is very difficult to ask, but as the days keep passing, what is your greatest fear?
Shay Dikman: I feel a lot of fear inside me. I’m worried about her mental health. I’m worried about her physical health. 76 days, 77 soon. In 77 days, I found out what happened in Kibbutz Be’eri, and I found out about people who I knew were dead, and I found out that other relatives of mine had been kidnapped. Some of them, such as Yarden [Roman-Gat, sister-in-law of Carmel Gat], were even released, and so much has happened since, and I just can’t imagine what Carmel has been through in 77 days.
I know that the hostages that have been released were not eating well. They were not fed well. We know that the women might have been touched, and this is my deepest fear about Carmel, that she will be scarred mentally because of being abused there. I’m worried every day that passes.
I’m thinking about her when I’m going to sleep. I think about who is next to her when she’s asleep. When I go to the toilet and I lock the door, after hearing what Yarden who came back from there, her sister-in-law, was saying, that she was not alone for one moment, I’m thinking, is she safe? Is someone keeping her safe for us?
TML: Now that you mentioned Yarden, she was recently released by Hamas and came back to your family. Can you share with us some things that she shared with you that give you hope, and some things that concern you, particularly being a woman in Gaza?
Shay Dikman: At the beginning of October 7, my heart locked up. So much horror, so much disaster, so many horrible things that happened to everybody I knew, and I just shut down. But then, when the [hostage release] deal started, and when people came back safe, not in the best physical situation, and some of them also [in a poor mental situation] but [at least] they came, some of them alive. It gave me so much hope.
When Yarden came [home], it was amazing. Her daughter got her mother back. Geffen, her daughter, is three and a half years old, and she was kidnapped with her, and she managed to escape with her father [Alon Gat] alone. But Yarden was left and dragged into Gaza. Geffen has been through it. She has been through the kidnapping. And she knew that her mother was still held there. And you need to explain to a three-and-a-half-year-old girl that her mother was taken by, we told her, bad people. And we managed to tell her that she is alive, and she is back. The difference between the Friday meal before Yarden came back and after, you can’t believe what it made to our family.
But their happiness is not whole. Then speak about experiences from her captivity. You can see it also in an interview that she gave. The one moment when she broke [down] was with the hope that Carmel would come back the day after Yarden came back. We were certain that the next day, Carmel was going to come back to us. I was looking out for a yoga mattress. I wanted her to have it the moment she’s back, and I was at her house in Be’eri. The house is shattered, but some of the things are still kept safe. I put aside some stuff for her. I knew in my heart that she would get them. I was sure that she was going to be here the next day, and I’d be able to hug her and give her stuff, and give her a feeling of home even though there was no house to come back to.
Then the deal was canceled. Hamas did not stand for the[ir] word, and we did not get Carmel back.
Since then, I’ve been waiting. Since the moment we heard that the hostages were released, Carmel was with them and practicing yoga. Three weeks have passed, and I’m still waiting. I’m waiting for the next deal.
TML: Was Yarden being kept with Carmel at any point?
Shay Dikman: No, they did not see each other. Carmel was kidnapped out of her parents’ house. First, her mother was taken. Her father saw her mother taken from the window of the toilet where he was hiding. Before they took her mother, she managed to tell him [to be silent] with her finger over her lips and told him to run away. He hid in the toilet and from the window of the toilet, he saw his family members taken, one after the other, by terrorists.
We found out later from videos that Kinneret, my aunt and Carmel’s mother, was murdered on the pavement in front of her house. And then when Carmel was taken, she probably saw her mother shot. So as far as she knows, her mother is dead. Her father, her brother, the wife of her brother, her niece. She does not know what is going on with them. Even the hostages who were staying with her were taken from her and she doesn’t know that they are alive and that they came back to Israel safe.
I’m afraid that she thinks that she is left there and that we all have forgotten about her, that we do not know that she is alive. She doesn’t know that we are still alive. She does not know that the Israeli people are fighting for her, and she does not know that the world is fighting for her life.
TML: Can share with us some of the stories that Yarden shared with you so that people can understand what it’s like to be in Hamas captivity?
Shay Dikman: What Yarden said about her experience in captivity is the feeling of constant fear and constant worry. She says that being in a war zone is frightening, and she says that she was being watched 24/7. She was there for 55 days, and 24/7 guards were looking at her. Every single moment was a risk for her life for her safety, and as a woman, in fear for her body, for the wholeness of her body. This feeling is something that, as a woman, I cannot even imagine. Being in the hands of strangers, of the enemy, of someone who took you from your house and separated you from your family, who doesn’t give you enough food, and doesn’t let you go back to where you belong.
It must end for Carmel and for all the other hostages. They have to come back home, and we owe it to them as humanity.
TML: Has anyone from the Red Cross or any other international humanitarian organization reached out to you?
Shay Dikman: I do not know if Carmel is looked after, I don’t know if she is getting any medical support. I’m a medicine student myself, and they have recently released videos of them, which is almost optimistic because we see they are alive, but at the same time, you can see their eyes are sunken, that they are thin. You can see that they are not fed well, and you can see that they are not in good health.
I don’t know who’s looking out for her, but I know that they are not looked out for as they deserve, and as they should be back at home.
TML: A cease-fire was thought to be in motion, and Hamas not only did not accept it, but it has been firing rockets en masse at Israeli cities. What should the world be doing to help get the hostages out?
Shay Dikman: I think that the world’s responsibility is to call out for a deal, to call out first Hamas and understand that it is a terror organization. We need every support that we can get to get to a deal and to be able to get back our people safe.
I think that we know from history that the world’s support has influence over our government, and most importantly, over Hamas. Hamas is dependent on the world, and the world has to support us in our effort to make a deal with Hamas. We want our people back, and we need to have your help.
TML: What can you tell us about Carmel that might help the public understand who she is?
Shay Dikman: Carmel is my cousin. She is a strong woman, a smart woman. She is someone that at the same meeting with her you can both have the silliest laugh and the deepest conversation about anything in the world. You can be sure that you will come out with insights for the next year or two. Every single conversation with her is meaningful.
Carmel is a person that loves every human being in this world. She accepts everybody. She has connections with people from all over the world. She has been many times to India, and it’s the place she loves the most to go travel to. For the last two and a half months that she is not here, I have made connections with the people who love her. And there are so many of them, and they are from different origins, different sexes, different races. All kinds of people that she has touched with her compassion and wisdom. I love her, and I miss her, and so does her father, her brothers, our family, her friends, and so many people who are missing Carmel. She has to come back as soon as possible.