An Illinois teenager released on Friday by Hamas after 13 days in captivity is ‘doing very well,’ her father said, with new footage showing the dramatic moment she and her mother were handed over to the Red Cross.
Natalie Shoshana Raanan, 17, and her mother Judith Tai Raanan, 59, arrived back in Israel late on Friday, the Israeli government confirmed, having left Gaza via an Egyptian-controlled crossing.
The Raanans walked out of Gaza without obvious visible physical injuries, getting out of a car and then being surrounded by ICRC staff wearing vests bearing the red cross. The pair then got into a Red Cross vehicle and drove away.
They are now receiving medical treatment, the governor of Illinois said, without providing details of their condition. The deal to free the pair was brokered by Qatar.
Her brother, Ben, joked that he was ‘annoyed’ because she still looked ‘like a supermodel’, despite her ordeal.
‘She’s doing good. She’s doing very good,’ said Uri Raanan, 71, who lives in the Chicago suburbs, adding that they did not discuss where she was held or her conditions in captivity.
‘She did not tell me anything. But she told me they treat her nice, and she was doing very good.
‘I’m going to hug her and kiss her, and it’s going to be the best day of my life.’
Natalie Raanan and her mother Judith are seen speaking to Joe Biden, in a photo released on Friday night by the US embassy in Israel
Judith Raanan is seen being escorted out of Gaza on Friday, with her daughter Natalie to her right
Judith Tai Raanan and her daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan arrived back in Israel late on Friday, the Israeli government confirmed
Natalie Raanan and her father, Uri Raanan, are pictured in Mexico. He said on Friday she was doing well, despite her ordeal
Knowing Natalie may be able to celebrate her 18th birthday next week at home with family and friends feels ‘wonderful. The best news,’ Uri Raanan said.
He said he believes Natalie and Judith to be in transit to Tel Aviv to reunite with relatives, and that both will be back in the U.S. early next week.
‘I spoke with my daughter earlier today – she sounds good, and she looks good,’ he told a press conference outside his home.
‘I spoke with President Biden. I thanked him for his concern, in releasing them. He was very nice.
‘I spoke to Governor Pritzker and he was nice.
‘And hopefully I will see them next week. Next week is Natalie’s birthday, and we will celebrate it here.’
The father said he first learnt of the possible release through Israeli television, and then received a call from the IDF.
He described the last 13 days as ‘the worst situation,’ adding that he had been kept in the dark by their captors.
‘I did not sleep at night and my head was always in Israel,’ he said.
‘Lots of phone calls, lots of TV. I’ve been glued to the tv for two weeks, hoping for good news – and finally it came.’
He added: ‘I did not lose hope. Praying, and just waiting for this moment.’
An image of the two being taken back into Israel was shared by authorities in the area, with the pair surrounded by armed soldiers.
President Joe Biden has spoken to Uri Raanan – Natalie’s father, Judith’s ex-husband.
‘We have been in touch as a government not only with the families of Natalie and Judith but also with the families of the other missing Americans,’ said Brett McGurk, the Middle East coordinator for the National Security Council.
‘We made very clear that we’re doing all we can to secure their safety, too.’
Ben Raanan, Natalie’s brother, said he was playing video games when suddenly he received a flurry of text messages saying they would be freed.
‘To be honest, I’m super annoyed – how does my sister, after two weeks of captivity, still look like a supermodel?!’
He said their father told him ‘Natalie is doing well, composed.’
He added: ‘We are ready to do this full trauma relief for her – friends, strangers, and people who want her to succeed with whatever she wants to do.’
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters that 10 Americans remain hostages of Hamas, after it was revealed Illinois mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan had been released Friday
Hamas hostages Judith Raanan and Natalie Raanan, a mother and daughter from Chicago, have been released by the terror group
Asked why they were released, while others remained, he said: ‘I do not know.
‘They are not politicians. They are not people with intense feelings about Israel, Gaza, Palestine.
‘They are Israelis, they are loving people, and I think it may be something to do with that.’
He said his heart went out to those whose relatives were still missing.
Ben said he had heard tentatively she may be returning to Chicago early next week.
‘But that’s dependent on what the hospital say, and their physical wellbeing, and making sure their mental health is fit for them to continue this next stage,’ he said.
He thanked the Biden administration and the Qatari government.
‘And I want to thank everyone throughout the country who has been praying for our family.’
Natalie Raanan is pictured with her brother, Ben Raanan, in Chicago
Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, said Hamas is still feared to be holding 10 Americans hostage.
The Secretary of State revealed the number still missing during a press conference in which he announced the release of Judith and Natalie Raanan.
‘I can’t speak publicly about the details of these efforts, and I know you understand that, but the urgent work to free every single American, to free all other hostages continues – as does our work to secure the safe passage out of Gaza for the Americans who are trapped there,’ he said.
‘In this particular instance, I want to thank the Government of Qatar for their very important assistance.’
He also refused to comment further on how the Raanans are doing after being handed over.
Blinken told reporters: ‘We welcome (the Raanans’) release. We share in the relief that their families, friends and loved ones are feeling.
‘But there are still ten additional Americans who remain unaccounted for in this conflict.
‘Some of them are being held hostage by Hamas along with an estimated 200 other hostages held in Gaza. They include men, women and young boys, young girls and people from many nations. Every single one of them should be released.’
The Daily Mail was first to confirm the identities of Judith Raanan and Natalie Raanan, a mother and daughter from Chicago who were visiting Israel for a relative’s birthday when they were kidnapped.
Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida issued a statement announcing the release on Friday, almost two weeks after the militant group took around 200 hostages during an October 7 attack that killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians.
Judith and Natalie were handed over to the Red Cross at an Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip and are now en route to a military base in the center of the country, where their family awaits them.
‘Two of our abducted are home,’ said Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
‘We are not giving up the effort to bring all of the hostages and missing people home. At the same time, we are continuing to fight until victory.’
This photo provided by the Raanan family shows Natalie Raanan and her dog, Panda, in Chicago
Judith Raanan was released on Friday along with her daughter
Jeremy Bash, former CIA chief of staff, said Qatar was valuable as an intermediary because Hamas’ political leadership works and lives out of Qatar and Turkey.
‘When there has been a need to get messages to Hamas in the past, usually Qatar is one of the go-betweens,’ said Bash.
Bash said Judith and Natalie Raanan will likely be carefully debriefed by the IDF and the Israeli security agency Shin Bet about any information they heard from their time under captivity.
That could include intelligence about other hostages and Hamas’ communication tactics, he told NBC.
‘This is going to be very actionable intelligence.’
President Biden released a statement saying his administration had ‘secured the release’ of the Raanans and sympathized over the ‘terrible ordeal’ they’d endured.
He added that he was ‘overjoyed’ by the women’s release and that he was continuing to work to free other captured Americans.
‘The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) helped facilitate this release by transporting the hostages from Gaza to Israel, underscoring the real-life impact of our role as a neutral actor between the warring parties,’ the ICRC said in a statement.
‘More of this kind of humanitarian action is urgently needed so that even more families can be reunited. Many people are still desperately waiting for news of their loved ones.’
The government of Qatar confirmed it helped secure the release of the mother and daughter, in coordination with the Red Cross.
‘Two American civilian hostages have been released by Hamas and handed over to the Red Cross in the Gaza Strip,’ said Dr Majid Al-Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
‘Today’s breakthrough comes after many days of continuous communication between all the parties involved.
‘We will continue our dialogue with both the Israelis and Hamas, and we hope these efforts will lead to the release of all civilian hostages from every nationality, with the ultimate aim of de-escalating the current crisis and restoring peace.’
J.B. Pritzker, the Democrat governor of Illinois, said he was looking forward to welcoming the pair home to their state.
‘I am incredibly relieved that Natalie and Judith Raanan of Evanston have been released from captivity in Gaza,’ Pritzker said in a statement.
‘In what was supposed to be a visit to their loving family in Israel, they were violently abducted by a terrorist organization.
‘After being held against their will for nearly two weeks, they are now safe and receiving necessary medical treatment.’
He praised their fortitude while in captivity.
‘I cannot wait to welcome them back home after demonstrating immense strength and bravery in the face of unthinkable terror. We must continue to advocate and pray for the safe return of those still held by Hamas. We will not let those who use terror as their weapon win,’ Pritzker said.
Rabbi Meir Hecht with Chabad of Evanston, talks with reporters outside his home about the release of Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie
Hecht said they were all overjoyed at the news of the Raanans’ release
A friend of Judith’s, Chavah Rochel Golden, broke down in tears when she was told they had been freed.
‘Baruch Hashem,’ she told NBC News – a Hebrew phrase meaning ‘blessed be God.’
Golden, who lives in Chicago, added: ‘Judith, we love you — go home and get some sleep, then let’s visit and hug each other.’
Golden said Judith Raanan was a talented painter with a generous soul, and a determined streak.
‘She never stops. If one thing doesn’t work, she tries something else, so it doesn’t surprise me that she’s coming home,’ Golden said, adding that all the other hostages should now be freed.
‘I want to tell [Hamas] to let everybody go,’ she said. ‘There’s no use. There’s no purpose.’
Earlier this week, Martin Fletcher, one of MSNBC’s long-term Middle East correspondents, broke down on air while revealing the hostages Judith and Natalie Raanan are members of his wife’s family.
‘They were last seen, their hands tied, being dragged away by the Hamas terrorists. So it’s personal, it’s real, and nobody is really confident that it’s possible to get them back alive. Of course, everybody’s hoping,’ Fletcher told Stephanie Ruhle on Thursday.
Through tears, Fletcher said: ‘Hamas is using the hostages for psychological warfare.’
He described the conflict as a ‘very personal thing.’
‘Nobody is really confident that it’s possible to get them back alive,’ he added.
Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said the mother and daughter were released ‘for humanitarian reasons’ in response to Qatari mediation efforts.
In a defiant statement, Abu Ubaida said the move would ‘prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by Biden and his fascist administration are false and baseless.’
Israel responded to the Hamas massacre and hostage crisis by pounding Gaza with air strikes, killing more than 4,000 people according to Hamas, and has said it will act to free the hostages while wiping out the terror group.
Seventeen-year-old Natalie (above) and her mother were visiting family in Israel for the Jewish holidays and a relative’s 85th birthday
Israelis, whose close ones were taken hostage during a Hamas attack, demonstrate during a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Israeli leaders earlier this week
Israeli tanks and troops are massed near the perimeter of the enclave for an expected ground invasion, calling on Palestinians to evacuate the north of Gaza, where it says Hamas is dug in.
Israel has also said that there will be no end to its full blockade of the enclave unless Israeli hostages are freed.
Hamas says it has some 200 hostages and that 50 more are held by other armed groups in the enclave.
The group claimed more than 20 hostages have been killed by Israeli air strikes, but has not given any further details.
Mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan were visiting Israel from Chicago when they were abducted
Natalie Raanan is a typical 17-year-old: she loves art, makeup, fashion, and DoorDash – ‘she hates eating at home,’ her brother, Ben Raanan, told The Associated Press this week.
She graduated from high school in the Chicago suburbs this year, and has a birthday coming up, according to her brother, who is 34 and based in Denver.
Before she left on a trip to Israel to celebrate her grandmother’s 85th birthday and the Jewish holidays with her mother, Judith Raanan, the teenager was deciding between going to college to study interior or fashion design and taking an apprenticeship with a tattoo shop.
The pair had been sending updates as the trip progressed and were enjoying ‘this really special mom and daughter time together,’ said their rabbi, Meir Hecht.
But the family hadn’t heard from either mother or daughter since Hamas launched an unprecedented surprise attack.
Natalie Raanan was visiting family for the High Holidays with her mother, Judith, when the assault began on October 7
Judith Raanan was also taken hostage along with her daughter
Natalie is ‘just a very loving, kind person,’ said her older brother, Ben Raanan.
Their middle brother, Adam, is nonverbal and much older than she is, but Natalie makes it a priority to maintain a strong bond with him, he explained.
The family has been in touch with both U.S. and Israeli government officials, who confirmed Natalie and Judith are alive and being held hostage by Hamas, according to Ben Raanan, speaking prior to news of Friday’s release.
‘This whole situation is surreal,’ he said. ‘We are a very peaceful family. We do not advocate at all for any violence to be done to anyone in this world.’
Judith Raanan is very active in her faith community, Chabad of Evanston, said her friend and the rabbi’s wife, Yehudis Hecht.
Judith came to Shabbat almost every week, helped prepare the Kiddush lunch – the meal served after the service – and just before she left for Israel, dropped off a pink prayer book for the Hechts’ seven-year-old daughter, who loves the color, said Yehudis Hecht.
A few dozen community members gathered to pray for the Raanans’ safe return in the days after the Hamas attack – and are set to be delighted at news of their safe release.
‘Judith, we’re thinking of you,’ said Yehudis Hecht at the event.
‘Of your resilience, your hope, your love, your generosity, your faith and your strength.
‘We know you’re a strong woman and we pray that we see you safely very soon with your dear Natalie.’