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The terrorists were at our doorstep. I sat there with my son, petrified

  • Shai S.'s story

Outside, everything looked terrible, utterly destroyed, like a battlefield

On Friday evening, we celebrated the Kibbutz Festival. My grandparents came, and Arbel, my daughter, was on cloud nine. She jumped for hours on the bouncy castle, ran, danced, and was just really happy.

She also went to bed later than usual, and we were happy because, from our perspective, that meant she would get up later than usual on Saturday, rather than at 6 a.m as usual.

On that Saturday, we had planned for friends from Givatayim to come over. Everything was already prepared; we bought hummus, pita, and white cheese spread, and they were going to bring the dessert. It was going to be a fun day.

Shai S, her husband Poli and her daughter Arbel smiling

Shai S, her husband Poli and her daughter Arbel

Saturday morning, at 6:30 a.m, red alert sirens went off.

As usual, I woke up, but Puli, my husband, did not. I woke him up, and we rushed to the bomb shelter.

We were already in the habit of taking our phones with us because people always called to make sure we were okay. On the spur of the moment, I also grabbed my glasses. Arbel's monitor remained on, next to her bed.

We entered the shelter, and Arbel slept through it without waking. The blinds were shut, but the iron window was open. We usually didn’t close the shelter door completely, and this time was no different.

Then the booms started, and they just didn't stop. I opened the app for red alert sirens and saw alerts all over Israel; darkness descended.

Another boom, and then another, without pause. I told Puli that this wasn't normal, and something was happening. Through all this, Arbel continued sleeping. I messaged our friends, telling them it was better not to come today. They were also awake and in their stairwell, which served as a safe area during missile attacks.

From here, the events are somewhat jumbled and out of order; mainly due to the effects of the human mind and repression.

At this point, Puli said he needed to go to the bathroom, so he went and returned quickly. A bit later, I went to the bathroom and came back to the shelter quickly. We started to hear shooting.

People were writing on WhatsApp that they could hear Arabic outside their windows, so I sent Puli to lock all the doors of the house.

We never locked the doors; it’s just not something we ever did. He rushed to lock the doors, and that was the last time either of us left the shelter until we were rescued.

At some point, Arbel woke up, and we explained to her that there were a few booms, so we had to stay in the shelter. When the booms stopped, we would go to Grandma Liora's, as we usually did.

There was a lot of shooting outside, so I told Puli that we had to close the iron window. As soon as that happened, a mantra began in my head: the front door was locked, the shelter door was locked, and the window was closed. Honestly, this calmed me down, and I felt a little safer.

The shelter was Arbel's bedroom, and there were no toys in there. All this time, Arbel played with the doll she slept with, her blanket, and pillow to pass the time. She was incredible.

In the meantime, I needed to go to the toilet, and I couldn't focus on anything else except that. I knew it was impossible to leave the shelter, but my sister, the physiotherapist, said that even though we controlled our bladders, the bowels controlled us. I thought about that for about an hour and a half until I decided it was time to go. I took a basket that was in the room, lined it with a "miracle sheet" to absorb everything, stood next to the door, and just went. Arbel didn't understand what was happening, and I don't remember how we explained it to her. Probably something about how we couldn't go out right now.

Once I was done, I could calm down again. At some point, Puli also used the basket, and we told Arbel to use her nighttime diaper just for that day because we couldn't leave the room.

"The Kibbutz WhatsApp group for parents was like a horror movie. It just seemed unlikely and illogical."

We passed the time by making lists of what we would take with us when we left the shelter. In the beginning, we still had electricity, the fan was on, and we had turned off the AC because we were a little cold. We hadn't turned on the light, and we only had Arbel's nightlight. It was a rechargeable lamp, so even when the electricity went out, it stayed on.

The Kibbutz WhatsApp group for parents was like a horror movie. At first, I didn't believe it when they wrote that they could hear Arabic outside, and even when Goldi wrote that they were at their place, I didn't believe it. It just seemed unlikely and illogical.

At some point, Uriel wrote that they were suffocating, and Goldi wrote that they were at their place again. It was a fear like no other.

We emptied Arbel's laundry basket and put all her equipment in there that we wanted to take with us when we got out because we realized we wouldn't have time to organize things.

At 10:54 a.m, they entered our house. We could hear glass breaking, and I assumed they came in through the back door. Puli stood by the door, holding the handle. I hugged Arbel close, and we were all silent. Arbel didn't make a sound.

We could hear them outside the door, turning our house upside down, things being thrown on the floor and breaking, drawers being opened. I was inside the shelter, but I could see exactly what they were doing by the sound.

"I prayed for it to be over, for the terrorists to leave the house and move to the next one."

As far as I can remember, they didn't come close to the shelter or try to open the door. I messaged the Nirim parents' group and contacted the Settlement Emergency Team because I knew this was it; it was over.

Puli and I exchanged silent glances; we knew this might be the end. I received so many messages at that time, but I couldn’t even think about trying to inform friends and family that there were terrorists in our home at that very moment. I decided not to tell anyone outside the kibbutz. Why make people panic when they couldn't help us?

In the meantime, the terrorists outside continued ransacking our house. We heard one shouting to the other, "Let's go, come on, come on." I prayed for it to be over, for them to leave the house and move to the next one.

Arbel was in my lap and had fallen asleep; she was a remarkably intelligent child. I couldn't stop sending messages to the Settlement Emergency Team and the parents of Nirim, so at least within the kibbutz, they would know what was happening.

At some point, we heard shooting outside the house, and then, very quickly, silence. They had left. Puli wanted to let go of the door handle, but I was afraid they might still be there, just being quiet.

I begged him not to let go yet. He held on for at least another 10 minutes until someone wrote that they were at his house. We tried to start breathing again, but it was almost impossible. I attempted to answer all the messages, telling whomever I could that they had been at our place.

“The terrorists had been in our house for about a quarter of an hour, during which they had destroyed, ransacked, broken things"

I don't remember anymore who I told and who I didn't. I just know I didn't tell my parents. I asked my sisters not to tell them either. I would tell them when everything calmed down, when we saw them.

The terrorists had been in our house for about a quarter of an hour, during which they had destroyed, ransacked, broken things, and even eaten from the fridge, adding insult to injury.

It was 11:15 a.m, and from that point on, I prayed to God the whole time. I prayed for it to be over, for the army to come, for us to get out of there alive, for the army to just arrive.

I let Arbel look at pictures on my phone until the battery ran out. I told Puli to inform my family that everything was okay from now on. Outside, we could still hear the booms and shooting, but I knew they had already been to our house, and they wouldn't come back.

They hadn't tried to get into the shelter, maybe because we had managed to remain completely silent. After they left, we only whispered, and Arbel went along with it, whispering as well. She was truly amazing.

At some point, she fell asleep, and finally, we could let our guard down a little, hug each other, and console one another. We even talked about what would happen afterward, who would stay in the new neighborhood, and who wouldn't.

Would property prices decrease? I asked Puli, "Does this raise questions for you about staying on the kibbutz?" He said it did, but for me, it didn't.

Around 2-3p.m, we started receiving messages that the army had arrived and was beginning to rescue people. They went house by house, accompanied by Daniel, the IDF Regular Security Coordinator.

Now, we just had to wait. Arbel woke up, sweating and feeling hot; there was no AC. She started crying, the first time she cried in all those hours. Despite not eating or drinking, she was only now crying because of the heat.

I undressed her and put her on the floor to cool down. She asked for water and ice, but I had none to give her. I told her that when we got out of there, she could have whatever she wanted. So, she asked for juice.

We continued waiting and heard soldiers outside our house and our neighbor's house. Then, they entered our house. Puli made sure they were indeed our soldiers, and he opened the door.

I got Arbel dressed. Earlier, we had already told her that when we got out, the house would be a mess, and we would carry her because there was glass on the floor.

We left the shelter, and the destruction was beyond anything I had imagined. Everything was on the floor, just everything. At first glance, I realized that our laptops and iPod were taken.

We were barefoot, trying not to step on glass, and looking for clothes to wear among the mess because we were still in our underwear from the night. We gave Arbel something to drink because she hadn't had anything to drink.

In our bedroom, I noticed Arbel's monitor still on, exactly as I left it. They hadn't touched it; all they had to do was turn it around to see us on camera.

"All the cars were smashed, black smoke filled the sky, and above all, there was a frightening silence.”

We left the house; one car was gone, and the other was destroyed. At least ten soldiers were outside, accompanying us. Neighbors came out as well, and we hugged each other. They had been in contact with us the whole time, and in my head, I had already figured out an escape route to their shelter.

It was too dangerous to walk, so we all squeezed into our neighbor's car—nine people in a damaged vehicle, but it could still drive. We moved slowly, and we couldn't believe what we saw outside. All the cars were smashed, black smoke filled the sky, and above all, there was a frightening silence.

We reached the lodge, and slowly, everyone else arrived there too. Everyone was in the same condition, with the same looks on their faces. People were crying, hugging one another, and searching for chargers for their phones.

We spent the night in Arbel's kindergarten, with soldiers guarding inside and out. I could barely sleep, sitting on a small chair for hours, trying to find news about Be'eri. There was barely any; the situation there was still not resolved.

The next day, we spent the day in the kindergarten, eating a slice of bread and waiting to be evacuated. When we were finally allowed out, three soldiers accompanied us home, taking the longer route because there were things children should not see on the shorter one.

We had about half an hour to pack. The terrorists had taken our large suitcase. We filled a trolley with the clothes we could find. The next day, when we organized everything, I would discover that I had packed only two tops and not enough underwear. However, the main thing was that Arbel was taken care of.

We went to our friends' house to shower and borrow their car. Then, we left the kibbutz in a convoy. Arbel fell asleep before we reached the yellow gate. Outside, everything looked terrible, utterly destroyed, like a battlefield. When we reached the intersection, I realized I was allowing myself to breathe; we had made it out.

And that was it.

Shai S.

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