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His family members were taken hostage by Hamas. Now they're coming home


Two American hostages have been freed by Hamas. Judith Tai Raanan and her daughter, Natalie Shoshana Raanan, from suburban Chicago will reportedly soon be reunited with family. They were abducted by Hamas while they were staying at the Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Ben Raanan is Natalie Raanan's older brother. He joins us now from Denver. Mr. Raanan, thank you so much for being with us.

BEN RAANAN: Thank you for having me on.

SIMON: What do you know about how they happened to be released?

RAANAN: It's an absurd situation. I first heard from a national news syndicate that texted me and said, hey, do you have any comments? That's how quickly it moved. We were anticipating today to be another day of very sad interviews, exhausting interviews, trying to get Natalie and Judith back home. But we - when this news hit, it was like all the emotions that we had been holding while we were fighting for them just erupted.

SIMON: I gather they were in Israel for your grandmother's birthday. Do you know what happened?

RAANAN: So when they - they were in Israel for my grandmother's birthday, as well as to celebrate the High Holidays. At 7 a.m., my - American time, my father received a text about 13 days ago saying, hey, I'm in the house. Just so you know, there's gunshots and explosions outside. I'm locking the door, and I'm going to stay as quiet as possible. When the city was liberated about four or five hours later, they searched the house, which was empty, and they found glass on the inside of the house, meaning someone had broken in. A couple days later, we had information from a neighbor that he had watched them be escorted out of the house at gunpoint by Hamas.

SIMON: What have these days been like for you? Have you been able to talk to them?

RAANAN: I have not been able to speak with them since my father briefly was on the phone with Natalie when she was released. And apparently her spirits are high, which is wonderful. You know, she seemed very composed. But these days have just been a nightmare. You know, it's 13 days, but it feels like 13 years trying to keep composure because you know that getting emotional isn't going to solve anything. And it seems surreal that suddenly - I won't even say it's over.

SIMON: Yeah.

RAANAN: We're onto the next journey of what this is, which is the - their recovery.

SIMON: May I ask, were you calling congressional offices, the White House, the U.N.?

RAANAN: Yeah. We've been in touch with all authorities. We spoke with President Biden about a week ago. And then my father spoke again with President Biden today, who made a very deep commitment to all American hostages, but really hostages of every nation and people on both sides and letting us know that he was doing everything in his power to help return family members.

SIMON: Do your emotions - let me put it this way - are your emotions tempered by the fact that, you know, your sister and stepmother are still in a zone of conflict, and there are other hostages still being held?

RAANAN: I mean, we're a very peaceful family. And that's what has made this whole situation so absurd - that Natalie and Judith aren't politicians. They aren't soldiers. They're people who love people. And so our family is grieving in this moment of elation. We're grieving for all the families that are still being kept hostage. We are grieving for innocent Israelis and Palestinians who are caught in the middle of this horrid humanitarian crisis.

SIMON: Ben Raanan in Denver, and he is the brother of Natalie Shoshana Raanan, who along with her mother, Judith Tai Raanan, were released from custody by Hamas Friday night. Mr. Raanan, thank you so much for being with us.

RAANAN: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.