‘I have to dissociate’: Freed hostage hints at sexual abuse during Gaza captivity

Moran Stela Yanai says she was held captive with Noa Argamani and Itay Svirsky, and feels immense guilt over being released: ‘I left someone there alone’

Released hostage Moran Stela Yanai in conversation with Uvda about her experiences in Hamas captivity. (Channel 12 News, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Released hostage Moran Stela Yanai in conversation with Uvda about her experiences in Hamas captivity. (Channel 12 News, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Moran Stela Yanai, a former hostage in Gaza who was freed in late November, hinted at having been subject to sexual abuse during her time in captivity in Gaza in a new interview, saying that she is not yet ready to talk about it.

“There are a lot of things that you [block] out. There’s no time to cope with them. The goal was to survive,” she told Channel 12’s “Uvda” investigative program, which aired Thursday evening, adding that she will be ready to address them more fully at some point in the future.

“There was this constant fear of being raped at any moment. And then a day passes, and another one passes. So you prepare yourself — you neglect yourself,” she said. “I’m not especially beautiful, I don’t smell very good at all. You know, so you repel them. I’m old, I’m 40, I’m ‘hatiar,'” she said, using an Arab slang term that means old person.

Yanai, 40, was abducted from the Supernova music festival on October 7, the site of a bloody massacre of some 360 people and widespread abductions by Hamas terrorists. She returned to Israel with 105 others over the course of a weeklong truce in late November, after some 50 days as a hostage in Gaza.

Yanai said she was held in the Strip with Noa Argamani, 26, who was also kidnapped from the festival on October 7. Argamani was seen in one of the first Hamas videos released during the massacre at the desert rave, seated on the back of a motorcycle behind her Hamas captor, screaming, “Don’t kill me!”

Argamani, who was not among the 105 women and children released in November, is still held in Hamas captivity. Her mother is suffering from terminal cancer and has appealed to the terrorist organization to return her daughter so she can see her before she dies.

Noa Argamani, 26, who was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 during a massacre at the Supernova desert rave. (Courtesy)

It is believed that 130 of the hostages abducted on October 7 remain in Gaza, with 34 of them declared dead by Israeli officials, with some slain in the Strip and others killed on October 7. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military in December.

Yanai said their captors would make them “go through ‘necessary’ [bodily] inspection when we’d arrive at certain places,” declining to elaborate.

“From my point of view, the sexual harassment I suffered doesn’t quite fit the definition of the term,” she said, becoming emotional. “When [the hostages] come back, I will deal with the accurate definition of it.”

“For me, right now, I have to dissociate myself from it. Because however you look at it, they took away your freedom, they took everything, you have nothing, nothing is really yours, you don’t belong to yourself. The only thing that belongs to you is what you have up here,” she said, gesturing to her head.

“We are strong women, and we would strengthen each other all the time,” she said, adding through tears that she rejects being labeled a victim. “You find the strength [to keep going] from places that you don’t even know if you’ll find.”

After asking for a short break to compose herself, Yanai said that the female hostages who were freed in November were “lucky” because “they took us out in time.”

At a speech in February, Yanai said the hostages were going through physical and mental torture. “They are destroying their beautiful souls!” she said at an event calling for the government to reach an agreement to free them.

Moran Stela Yanai, 40, embraces family members at Sheba Medical Center after being released on November 29, 2023 from Gaza, where she was held by Hamas terrorists for 54 days (courtesy)

“What about them? Why not them? And what are they dealing with? The terrorists are getting more frustrated every day. Who do they take it out on? And how are they taking out their frustrations?,” Yanai asked in the ‘Uvda’ interview.

“The biggest possible fear is being left there alone. I know I left someone there alone,” she said of Argamani. The two women know each other from their hometown of Beersheba, where they discovered they went to the same yoga studio.

It was one of the few details they were able to reveal about each other because, she said, their captors would not let them have conversations. “It’s not something they liked.”

The moment in November when the captors told them that one of them would be freed was “absolutely terrible,” she said. “It was like a reality show. They sat us down. A terrorist comes in and says ‘One of you is going home,'” she said, gesturing with her finger from one person to the other to demonstrate a selection process.

“And then there’s the moment when you go home, and she stays there,” she continued, saying that she was able to sneak in a forbidden hug from Argamani.

Yanai said she left thinking that Argamani would also be released in the coming days, and feels immense guilt for being the one to go free.

She also revealed that she was held at least part of the time with Itay Svirsky, 38, who was killed in captivity.

Itay Svirsky was taken captive on October 7, 2023, from his mother’s house in Kibbutz Be’eri, when Hamas terrorists assaulted the community. He was declared dead on January 16, 2024. (Courtesy)

Svirsky was abducted from his parents’ home in Kibbutz Be’eri, where he was visiting to celebrate the Simhat Torah holiday. Both his parents, Orit Svirsky and Rafi Svirsky, were murdered by Hamas terrorists. His 96-year-old grandmother Aviva Sela managed to survive the attack.

Argamani and Svirsky were featured in a pair of propaganda videos published in January.

Yanai said the last thing she told Svirsky was to “write when you get out, we’ll meet for coffee in Tel Aviv.”

“I’m not [really] here,” she said. “Everything I do… [drinking coffee, shopping, strolling] for a moment it [may] bring a smile to my face because it’s pleasant… but then it falls after a second because I remember that there’s someone who is sitting on the same mattress you sat on until just a moment ago.”

“You can’t escape this reality.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (center) meets with freed Israeli hostages Moran Stela Yanai (left) and Nili Margalit in Davos, Switzerland, on January 18, 2024. (Courtesy Hostage Families Forum)

Yanai is very active in the Hostages and Missing Families Forum and travels often to speak abroad on the ordeal of the hostages, including meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“This crazy schedule is to be in constant motion. Maybe this is my way at the moment of… not coping with the situation, to be in constant motion,” she said. “But when the motion stops, and it may stop for just a minute, but in that minute, you are back there.”

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