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Survivor stories

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I realized that if we stayed there, we would die

  • Michal Z.'s story

That's when it his us: they were speaking in Arabic

Israel is brimming with stories that defy logic, and I felt compelled to share our miraculous tale.

On Simchat Torah, the last day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, we were jolted awake at 6:30 in the morning by a siren. We were at my in-laws' house in Ofakim to celebrate the holiday.

Ariel, my brother-in-law, and his wife Shoshana, who lived next door, hurried over with their children so we could all be together during the alarm.

After a few tense moments, we ventured outside, only to be met by the unmistakable sound of gunfire. Panicking, we scrambled back inside, locking the door behind us and rushing upstairs to a side room. Through the window, we watched as about eight soldiers advanced up the street. Opposite them, a frantic policeman, gun drawn, sought the source of the shots. Shockingly, the soldiers fired at him. My husband, Guy, desperately shouted out of the window to alert them that he was a friendly.

"An RPG rocket striking the very house we sheltered on"

The brave policeman, taking cover behind some trash cans, raised his police hat, yelling, "Friendly forces here!" The soldiers, undeterred, took a few steps forward, fatally shot him, and continued onward. That's when it hit us: they were conversing in Arabic.

Urging the children to remain silent, our dread deepened when we heard the chilling sound of terrorists attempting to break into the house. They rattled the door and shattered the living room window's shutters. Their every word, spoken amongst themselves, was terrifyingly audible to us.

A ruined house

Ariel, ever the hero, armed himself with an iron rod from the room. Simultaneously, we frantically dialed the police, who didn't respond. Debating our next move, Ariel urged his wife, "Leave now!" In that room were five adults and six children, the youngest being our one-month-old daughter, Asif. Shoshana opened the window, and we clambered out one by one onto the roof of the storage shed, and from there, to the neighbor's roof.

Ariel didn't join us. I clung to the hope that he'd found a hiding spot inside, as the terrorists were perilously close.

Hidden under solar water heating tanks, the children lay face-down under solar panels while we adults stayed close to the roof's walls. We huddled there for over three harrowing hours, tormented by the unknown fate of Ariel.

During these endless hours, the kids, aged between a month and eight years, somehow grasped the gravity of the situation and remained eerily silent. The cacophony of war surrounded us: relentless gunfire, an RPG rocket striking the very house we sheltered on, shouts of "Grenade!" followed by deafening explosions, brave citizens rallying below, desperate pleas for medics, and the chilling voices of terrorists on neighboring rooftops.

"The terrorists had shot him as he tried to escape through the window"

They must've seen my mother-in-law escaping. By some miracle, they didn't shoot her. Why didn't they pursue us onto the roof? Another miracle. How did young children and a gassy infant remain silent amid earth-shattering blasts? Yet another miracle.

Our fears heightened when we noticed our forces preparing to fire upon the rooftops, unaware of our presence. Guy risked exposure, signaling to them with a kippah and pacifier, indicating that Jews with children were present. Using hand gestures, he conveyed our number: ten. Moments later, a drone hovered above, verifying our presence.

As the battle raged on, the terrorists were eventually pushed back. An Israeli soldier ascended to our roof, bringing momentary relief. That relief was short-lived when he shared the devastating news: Ariel, the joyous, jovial younger brother of the family, was dead.

The terrorists had shot him as he tried to escape through the window. All this time, he lay mere meters from us, and we were oblivious. His sacrifice likely saved us all, and perhaps he watched over us, ensuring the miracles we experienced on that roof.

House destroyed after terrorist attack

The soldiers escorted us to a neighboring house as other terrorists were nearby, and another house held hostages. Twenty of us sheltered there, in a two-bedroom apartment, throughout the day and night. Outside, the sounds of warfare persisted.

The next day, with the invaluable help of our kind neighbors, Rotem and Chen, we had our essential needs met.

Upon waking, we faced a street strewn with bodies and our burnt-out house. It became evident that the terrorists, in addition to firing rockets, had ransacked our home, room by room, searching for us. Ariel, my heroic and beloved brother-in-law, was taken from us at just 28. His sacrifice protected us, and we remain, ten miracles, forever shaken.

Thank you, Arik. We love you.

Michal Z.B.

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