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Survivor stories

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They went from house to house. Tormenting. Butchering. Slaughtering. Looting. Torching. Kidnapping

  • Almog H.'s story

I positioned the children so that if someone came and sprayed us with gunshots, he might miss them

So what really happened in that safe room all those hours and how did we survive...

A few warnings before we begin:

1. Even in better times I tend to write long texts. Here it will be especially long.

2. I don't manage to write fluently these days, but a dear person told me to write and not worry about how it will turn out. So I wrote something, and it evolved the way it evolved.

3. The content is mixed - love and fear, regret and guilt, dreams and loss, spirituality and earth. And chances are that some of it will be far-fetched for some of you. But this is who I am...

4. Please don’t be offended. Everything I wrote was true to that moment.

Kibbutz Nirim, Saturday, way too early in the morning....

On Friday I went to bed too late. Our silly puppy, the one I took in because of a short-term mental crisis, turned out to be a professional home wrecker (I intended to write an amusing post about him), and peed all over the house while we were at the kibbutz festival on Friday night. So I found myself sweeping water all over the living room in the middle of the night. And just to be sure, I rinsed all the rooms. Please note: Not just mopping the floor. rinsing, with chairs folded on tables and lots of water.

So, on Saturday morning when the attack began, my house was incredibly clean, polished and smelled pleasant, and only for that, ladies and gentlemen, and only for that, there should be a special section in the property tax appeal. But there is no such option in the form (yes, I checked, don't make a big deal out of it).

"A rain of missiles, marking war, sounded. 'Mom', I told my mother: 'This is serious, they started a war'"

At about 06:30 am the first red alert siren sounded. I woke up and discovered that my eldest, 8-year-old Sahar, was sleeping in my bed next to me. For a second I thought not to wake him up because who cares about one red alert, we are used to this. Red alert, I kind of felt it was unnecessary for one alert to wake up a child, especially since I was so tired. But then there was another red alert siren and he woke up. "Darling”, I told him, “there's a red alert, let's run to the safe room." The beauty is that we are all used to red alerts and don’t make a fuss of it, and moreover we are not even particularly scared, and thus we all found ourselves in the safe room: Grandma and Narin were already there, the damn puppy that despite all my attempts managed to not get run over, and our elderly and loud dog Moka. I closed the door to the safe room and everyone found their place on the bed.

And we waited for it to finish while I hoped the puppy wouldn't pee on the floor. Of course the first thing he did was to pee on the floor, to everyone's delight. I planned in my mind how I would accidentally poison him. But another part of me noticed that the red alert isn’t ending. A rain of missiles, marking war, sounded. "Mom," I told my mother: "This is serious, they started a war, we won't remain passive. It seems that we are coming to you to Haifa for a few days during this operation." My mother did not respond. At about this point I realized she wasn't with us. My mother went into a type of (what today I know how to define) acute dissociation. Or in simpler words. She was not in her body. She didn't move. she didn't speak. She was not present in the crisis. The advantage was that she didn't get hysterical either. The downside was that I was alone in that unfolding event. I was actually the only functioning adult.

It was at about that point, which was exactly 06:40 am if you insist, that I started hearing small-arm shots fired outside. And my stomach started to turn.

"I started hearing small-arm shots fired outside. And my stomach started to turn"

Those of you who know me, know that I am very intuitive, not to mention that I hear hidden dimensions of creation. They spoke to me harshly. Unfortunately, they didn’t speak that clearly, especially as i was sleep-deprived at half past six in the morning, but they were clear enough. They told me "Tsuk Eitan (The 2014 Gaza war – D.D.). Infiltration. Tsuk Eitan. Infiltration" and then I remembered that even on Tsuk Eitan the sounds of submachine-gun fire were not a good sign. and so without too much thought and hesitation, and without a clear plan, as if my whole life had led me to this very point, I did four actions that saved all of our lives:

1. I broke out of the safe room, running, not before I told everyone: "You are not moving from here, it’s just me leaving, I'm coming right back."

2. I took both dogs out. Out of the house, which in retrospect saved them and us.

3. I locked the front door leaving the key in the lock. I ran to the large rear shutter in the back porch and pressed the button so it began to close.

4. I piled up a glass bowl, a glass bottle, a pack of cookies, a bottle of water, a plastic bag and a pack of wet floor rags that are used to wipe the floor when there is no energy to rinse, and I ran back to the safe room, locking it behind me.

And that was it.

That's all I did.

And that's what saved us. at least partially.

“From that point on, we were closed in the safe room for 12 hours.”

You understand, I live in a kibbutz. Pastoral and safe (I have a phenomenal ability to ignore the reality called ‘the Gaza Strip’, which is within a morning walk from my house). So I don't lock the house, I don't close the blinds, I don't close the windows. I love air and light and wind, and maybe I'm also a little claustrophobic. My door is never locked. The rear shutter as well. It's just not closed. Never. And this time they were closed. And that changed our fate.

From that point on, we were closed in the safe space for 12 hours. My job was to hold onto everything. I kept the door locked. I held the handle and managed everything that happened inside. Except for my little sneaks out of the room, which were necessary, we didn't go out for a second. And hell was swirling around us while we were safe from it inside.

Sahar was the first to need a pee - and look, I just happened to have a glass bottle that I brought - to his credit he was even pleased with himself: "Wow mom, look how much I filled the bottle, how much is it? One liter?", "No sweety", I answered, "Closer to 330 ml, but well done." Narine also needed to pee, after all she is 6 years old. I had the bowl for her, and she did great. Life went on.

Different things are thrown on the floor

A table on the floor and napkins scattered around

I forced the children to dress up. "Why?", they asked, "we're in bed anyway". "Because!", I answered, “it's a normal day, and we should get dressed. No one stays in their pajamas." I asked the children to choose books from the library, I asked Grandma to read them. "Go ahead”, I told them. “Now we listen to stories." Narin was hungry and we also had cookies so she took a snack. And time passed.

"There was shouting in Arabic, and incessant firing of small-arms and the sounds of people running on the paths"

I understood that the situation was bad, but I had no clue how bad. Cellular reception was poor, it came in and out, but the noise from outside didn't leave many doubts. There was shouting in Arabic, and incessant firing of small-arms and the sounds of people running on the paths. The whole world started sending me hysterical messages. Lesson number one for the people of Israel: even though you are worried please try not to send messages during a terrorist attack. I knew and understood that people love me and care for me. Between us- these are the people I love most, and who are important to me. People get hysterical, rightfully so. However, I was inside the safe room and didn’t know what was happening in the rest of the region, and what was really happening even in my own house. In those moments, that required lots of focus from me, this bothered me because it distracted me. Instead of worrying about us, I had to reassure everyone else. And I was worried that it would expose ourselves to the terrorists.

So in practice, I admit that there were a very limited number of people that I replied to and only those that I felt obligated to, and therefore I send thousands of apologies to those of you that I did not reply to. It's just that most of the time I had to be focused - I was focused on holding the safe room closed, listening to the things happening outside, attending to my children, trying to understand what was happening in the kibbutz that I manage.

In the community WhatsApp, the horrible messages that you all know from the media began – “they are burning down our house, there are terrorists here , where is the rapid response squad? Where is the army?, can someone please call the army, the police, etc…”

At the same time Aunt Hana from Netanya (generic name) sends a message in a haste - how are you? What's going on? Where are you? What are you doing? The real answer was "We are in a shit state, my life is in danger and so are my childrens’, and you are preventing me from concentrating on what I have to do" but there were two points here - I did not want to say that the situation was not good. And I didn't want to write that it was good. I realized that my life was in danger with the children. But the danger to our lives did not go away, it was present continuously, for long hours. I couldn't say that we were saved. I didn't want to say that they were killing us. I didn't want to make it worse. And the fact was that they didn't rescue us. For hours and hours and hours. And the most precious people were worried about us..... . So my solution was to respond briefly and bluntly and move on. So once again I really apologize to those who were offended then or now.

What did help? There were spiritual friends who texted me very clear messages that did not require a response. They texted: “We are sending you protection. We are sending you guarding, we are praying for you. We are here with the intention of your safety and the safety of the children.” And that helped.

It helped first of all on the energetic level. I wasn't able to hold my guards up at the time. The prayers, the intentions, the spells, the protections sent to me by all these women were probably the energetic reason why we were saved. Because there is no other explanation for what happened. Just know, and you know who you are, that your good intentions saved us.

“I was not ready to die in a nightgown without underwear. Each of us have their own limits. That was mine.”

About an hour later I realized that the situation was really not good. Then I did my first solo sneak outside of the room, which was the most dangerous and the most important. I quietly went out into the passage room that serves as a closet and guest room and leads to the safe room. Uncharacteristically quietly, I closed the door, locked it carefully, and retreated back into the safe room, taking with me my mother's phone, a dress, underwear, and a bra, because these are my boundaries, my friends. If you were wondering what the boundary was, this was It. I was not ready to die in a nightgown without underwear. Each of us have their own limits. That was mine. I went back to the safe room and locked it again.

The noises got louder and louder and I knew it was getting closer to us. I handed the children Grandma's phone. The immediate reaction was to argue over which show to watch, but the shots were approaching. "Listen”, I told them, "We need to be quiet, mom is tense and I'm not ready to hear any argument. If you manage to maintain absolute silence, I promise you a whole week of unlimited screen time." "No limit?" Sahar asked. "No limit," I answered. "A whole week?", he checked me again, "A whole week," I confirmed. And that was it. Silence prevailed in the safe room. They accepted that.

“I positioned the children so that if someone came in and sprayed us with gunshots, he might miss them”

When the shooting got closer I asked them to go up to the top bunk together and cover themselves with a blanket and quietly watch Smurfs. I stood up and held the handle of the safe room. And I listened. What do you think about at times like these? It's different for everyone. I thought and did a variety of things. Some make sense and some don't.

I was sorry I didn't have a weapon. I promised myself that if we got out of this I would get a gun license. I was angry with myself that I didn't also pick up a big knife on the way along with the cookies. I sent the man I love a picture of me so he would remember what I look like (yes there is a man I love, don't make a big deal out of it, this is for another post). I sent a message to the management team of the kibbutz I manage, saying I have terrorists at my house and that if something happens they are responsible for evacuating the kibbutz (they told me to be quiet and not to worry about the evacuation. And yes, I'm stupid, I told you not to make a fuss).I sent Oren a message asking how he was and that maybe it's too soon to decide but if we stay alive, we won’t continue to live near Gaza (he replied that it was too soon).

I decided that no one passes me and no one opens that door. I positioned the children so that if someone came in and sprayed us with gunshots, he might miss them. I positioned myself so that if someone shot through the door and I'll fall, I'll fall so that my body, which (knock on wood) has some weight on it, will block the door at least partially and make it difficult to open. And I held the handle. That's what I did - I held the handle with a firm decision that no one should enter.

Time went on. The voices approached and retreated. Got closer and further away. Sahar said he was scared. At some point the voices were very strong. The shouts. the shooting. Loud knocking on the door. Boom Boom Boom. Then they moved away again. And the hours passed by. Something strange happens to time in situations like these. Sahar fell asleep exhausted and so did grandma. And I continued to hold the door.

The messages in the kibbutz group became more and more desperate. “We are suffocating, they are burning the house, someone help us. We have a baby. Please call someone.” And no one came. No one came. Another wave of noise passed through our house. I held onto the handle as if everything depended on it. And maybe everything really did depend on it. Remember the moment in the Lord of the Rings when Gandalf (thanks Anati) the wizard stood in front of the creature of the deep and said to him - "You will not pass!" That's how I felt. That's how I endured. You won't go in, I told myself. You will not enter.

“I thought it would be better for her to sleep when they shot her. Better to die without seeing anything”

My girl asked me to draw some paintings with her, "but hold the handle", she told me. So I held the handle with my right hand and painted stars with my left hand and then stroked her as she lay on the bed with one hand, until she fell asleep while outside my house was falling apart from grenades and gunfire and looting. Because I thought it would be better for her to sleep when they shot her. Better to die without seeing anything. She was sleeping. And I held the handle. And when they needed to poop, I spread a wet scented rag on the floor and they pooped on it and I wiped them and folded everything and put it in a bag and tied it. And when we were done with one game we packed it up, and when we were done with the second one we put it back as well. And I reprimanded them that they must clean up after themselves, because I continued to show them that that was normal behavior and there were rules. At the same time, I held the handle, and I corresponded with the kibbutz that I manage, and I realized that they stopped a (terrorist) squad on the fence and I held the handle, and (the kids) said they were bored, and I demanded silence and held the handle, and I checked what was happening with Oren, and held the handle.

I held the handle, and the energy and the peace. Only after a very long time, when it was quiet, I dared to peek outside for a second. It was dangerous and unnecessary, but I also needed to go to the bathroom and I knew that there were boundaries that were wrong to cross in front the children, I carefully went out to the passade room and closed the door that separates the wing from the living room not before I looked and saw that the house was a mess. I locked it, collected a phone charger and returned. And again we locked up. And the hours passed and merged into one another.

"Just hold onto the door handle, Almog", he asked. "Just hold the handle."

What kept me going all that time? I had a mission. I had a responsibility. I had to function. I had a kibbutz to manage, which didn't really answer, I had children to take care of, a management team to work with, a family to correspond with and take care of, I had responsibilities and it kept me going. And I also have a partner (well, I said not to make a fuss about it), whom I love very much, who stayed with me across the line for 12 hours. 12 hours in which he lied to me without blinking that right now the IDF was entering the Kibbutz, and it was deployed in the entire surrounding area and they are already arriving and in fact the shooting I hear is the IDF fighting the terrorists… And when I got tired he told me that he promises to do everything I want as long as I keep holding the handle. And since we both knew what I wanted and what he got into when he said that, I continued to hold the handle, cheerfully I must note, while plotting what to ask for in return for the fact that I survived. And when I cried that I thought they were destroying my house, he promised to build me a new one, and when I said that I thought they were stealing things from me, he promised to buy me everything - "Just hold onto the door handle Almog", he asked. "Just hold the handle."

There were at least three waves of intruders in our house. They drilled into the front door and were unable to open it. Apparently because I left the key in the lock. They threw grenades from the windows and shot at the house. Looters opened all the doors, emptied the whole house, they stole the car keys and the new car that I bought less than a year ago with the help of loans that I will pay also in another decade (and it was clean and after maintenance and there should also be a special appeal section for that type of property). They dismantled all the door frames, and broke the air conditioners, they sabotaged the electrical cabinet, they shot all the windows, and the television (I understand this need sometimes), they went door to door inside my house and opened every box, every bag and every envelope. They found the money I had saved for the trip I promised the children that we would take abroad this summer, and they took all my jewelry down to the last one (when I cried to Oren that they stole our wedding ring, he said: "But we broke up anyway," and I had to explain to him that at least I had kept the ring, but that was no longer relevant). They stole the jewelry I inherited from my grandmother and I planned to pass it on to Narin, they stole the computer, and Sahar's bike too, they desecrated every part of my house. They touched every place, opened every closet. Scattered every children's game, broke every bowl that was placed, but for a second they didn't come near the door of the passage room that I locked. All the while when they ran wild beyond the door we were safe behind it. And I held the handle of the safe room and did not allow entry.

broken door

A window with broken glass

After eight hours the army arrived. I didn't let them in either. I will say these sweet kid-soldiers were sensitive enough to understand. They tried to force open the safe room door. Because the house was completely destroyed they were sure we were dead or kidnapped. But I didn't let them in. They tried again and I didn't let them. They called me but I couldn't answer. So they started talking to me. “We are from the army” they said. “We came to save you.” (I was about to say: "Why only now?") But I couldn't make a sound. In the end I asked - prove it. And they started telling me about themselves - about their unit. About their job, about where they were from. And only then did I open the safe room up and let them in.

They asked to look around and check on the children and I allowed them. They asked if I knew when the terrorists were at the house and I didn't know. They asked how we held on and I didn't know They said that a miracle took place there, and I cried. Then they asked us not to go out because the sights are really not good out there. They brought us water and food and asked us to lock ourselves in the safe room again because the area was still full of terrorists and they would come to take us out when it would be safe.

"Only when I returned home to pack in the half hour allotted to us, did I finally break down"

It took another 4 hours. During which I went out again, this time to bring food for the children and to bring the puppy whining outside into the house through the broken window. I realized that it was helpless- nothing, not even a terrorist attack, will eliminate this puppy, and I was probably stuck with him for many years to come (You probably won't believe it, but Moka came back too)

And then we waited another 24 hours under army guard in a central protected building. Eventually, 36 hours after the beginning of the attack, on Sunday evening, we left the kibbutz. Only when I returned home to pack in the half hour allotted to us, did I finally break down. Until then I kept it together. Amazing and strong. Full of humor and completely peaceful (some would call it a disconnect) Only when I returned home to pack did I break down. The feeling for those who haven't experienced it by the way is amazing - I really felt physically how my brain was scattered in several directions. My hearing has dimmed. The thought faded. Everything dimmed. Like walking underwater. It was only when I returned home to pack and saw the gunshot residue, the marks of gunfire, the destruction, the desecration and vandalism, stepping on broken glass and trampled flower pots. Only then did something break in me. Only when I realized how close it was, how dangerous it was, how they reached out and didn't cross the threshold.

It was the key in the locked door that stopped them. And the protections and prayers that guarded me. And we were very lucky that the terrorist squad that arrived at kibbutz Nirim was not as deadly as the one that arrived at Nir Oz, exactly a kilometer from us, and destroyed an entire kibbutz.

"I look at my children sleeping and ask myself ‘what would have happened if they had managed to open the safe room door?’"

In the end the difference between life and death was luck. Between a large and a small squad there was luck. Between a house that was burnt down and a house that was not burnt down there was luck. Blessing protection and guidance. That's what I had available to me that day. Others, better than me, more loving than me, braver than me, more skilled than me, failed to take care of their children.

Three weeks have passed since then. And I am exposed like everyone else to the horror stories that sweep the country in terror. Every night since then I look at my children sleeping and ask myself ‘what would have happened if they had managed to open the safe room door?’ What would have happened to my good and wise child? Who is so determined to know everything. What would have happened to my beautiful and sensitive daughter, who always has to do everything right. What would have happened to them What would have happened.

I held that door and that safe room thanks to inner strength, thanks to love and thanks to humor. Thanks to protection from above and thanks to common sense and above all thanks to a lot of luck. And I have no insights other than this: In the end we do our best and fate is stronger and bigger than us. All we can do after everything we’ve been through- is choose life. Collect the broken pieces and choose life. The whole country is shattered now but in the end we will rise again. Revival is the most powerful force in creation in my view, and we are excellent at it. We just have to make sure we don't repeat the same mistakes again. If we have been given a chance for a new beginning It remains for us to choose a worthy leadership. It remains for us to choose a life out of love. To be deeply grateful for every moment of air and breath. To be born out of the darkness. To try to be correct and accurate. To collect the broken fragments and choose life. Choose this life. Once again from the beginning.

Almog H.

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