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I realized that if we stayed there, we would die

  • Yasmin P.'s story

Three terrorists aimed Kalashnikovs at our heads and told us to get out

My partner Tal and I were at the Nova party in Re’im, and we ran away when the rockets started. Even before we knew that there was an infiltration of terrorists in Israel, in [Kibbutz] Be’eri, or at the party. There were terrorists in the migunit [small roadside concrete shelter], and we started driving away from the terrorists on the roads.

Then the gate at Kibbutz Be’eri opened and we decided to go in because we didn't know that the Kibbutz had been infiltrated, and we knew that it was a really good kibbutz, that it was well protected.

We decided to go in to protect ourselves there, and because the situation had worsened - suddenly they said that there had been an infiltration - and because of the rockets, we decided to knock on someone’s door. We just drove to a parking lot, which turned out to be near the dining hall, and stopped the car. Rockets were flying through the air and there was this tense feeling. They said that there were terrorists but from our perspective, we’re talking about 6:30 in the morning, so even if they say “terrorist infiltration” we’re thinking four or five terrorists, something that can be controlled, not 300 terrorists.

The way we thought before October 7.

Yasmin P. and her partner Tal

We knocked on two or three houses, which apparently turned out to be the houses of some people who would be with us later, but they didn't answer. People were still sleeping. It was 6:50 in the morning when Hadas and Adi Dagan opened the door for us, and you could see that they had just woken up. We went into the house and I remember the time because we checked. I asked them, “What time is it?” Because I wanted to understand what time we had arrived at their place.

In the beginning, we didn’t even go into their safe room. They are the type of people who settled this part of the country, and they’ve lived there for years. I think they’re the founders of Kibbutz Be’eri or something. They weren’t worried about a few rockets. I'm from the north, so I'm [used to] katyushot [a type of rocket], so I wasn’t worried about a few rockets, either.

We are a couple in our 40's and they were a couple in their 70's.

I immediately recognized that we were in a neighborhood of relatively old people because there were electric mobility scooters beside every house.

We were sitting there at the beginning, still drinking coffee in the living room, starting to digest, and we were telling them that we had been at a party, and there had been rockets in the air, and we had gone into a migunit near Be’eri, and two terrorists had arrived and started shooting there. We were telling them that we had escaped right away, first from rockets, and then from the migunit because we saw two terrorists, and as a very reasonable person who understands things, I still hadn’t make the shift that if there are two terrorists in a migunit, then that means there are 3,000 terrorists now.

Then, at 7:30 in the morning, we were hearing rockets all the time and we started to get WhatsApp messages from inside the kibbutz. Hadas, the woman of the house, told us:

“I think it's time to go into the safe room. People are sending a lot of WhatsApp [messages] that there is also an infiltration.” We were still under the impression that this infiltration would be something like 4 or 5 terrorists, and that the army would soon get involved and everything will be fine. We were just waiting for everything to be fine.

We went into the safe room, and like all of Israel, started to watch what was happening on television, because there was a television in the safe room. We also began to see, through our WhatsApp groups from the trance community, messages like - “He disappeared,” “He was shot,” “Does anyone have any news about him?” I started to understand that something abnormal was happening, and we started to receive a lot of messages, and I said to Tal, “What’s going on? There are a lot of people missing from the party. What happened? Where have they gone? I don't understand." 

“We began to see messages like, “He disappeared,” “He was shot,” “Does anyone have any news about him?” 

At the same time, the couple from Kibbutz Be’eri, Hadas and Adi, start receiving WhatsApp messages in their groups: “They broke into my house! Come save me, call someone, I hear shouting in Arabic in my house,” and five minutes later, the same woman who had been in contact with them doesn't write anymore.

Over time I noticed that Hadas and Adi, who at first had been calm, start to feel that something terrible is happening. And I knew that they are from the area, and they are understanding adults after all, and they started sensing that something is not right.

We sat there from 7:30 in the morning until 14:00 in the afternoon, four people in a safe room, sitting in front of the television, in front of phones, and we received messages and understood what was happening, just from the messages and the television.

We began to understand that something serious was happening in Israel, but we still didn’t understand the magnitude of it. 

“And little by little…we understood from Hadas that the terrorists were starting to approach our area…”

And little by little, according to the people reporting on WhatsApp in the groups in Be’eri, we understood from Hadas that the terrorists were starting to approach our area, because we know retrospectively that they started at the other end of the kibbutz. At about 13:50, Hadas said to us, “I want you to be calm. The terrorists are in the neighbor's house. They are probably coming here.” We started preparing for the worst.

Suddenly, at 14:00, the house shattered. We heard everything being broken, shooting, shouting in Arabic. We heard many people in the house; it wasn’t one, two, three people, it was many. Not a minute passed and they arrived at the safe room and because the safe room was not locked, only closed, Adi held the handle of the door for an entire hour.

He managed to hold it tight and not let them break it in. They shot at the door, they shouted at us, they tried to convince us to open it. In retrospect we understand that they brought Yanai [Hezroni], Liel's brother, to the door. We heard a young boy say, “Hadas and Adi. I'm your neighbor. Come, they just want to take pictures of us, they won't do anything to us.”

At this point, Tal and I were hiding in a closet, Adi held the door, and Hadas was sitting on the sofa very scared. We understood that they were trying to get us out in every possible way, both mentally and physically. And it didn’t work for them, for a whole hour. We heard many terrorists; in retrospect we were told there were 10 terrorists inside the house.

And then after fifty minutes, they decided to throw a grenade into the window of the safe room and succeeded in breaking the window, and at 15:00, they subdued Hadas and Adi.

I heard it through the closet. They told her to get out and she begged for her life, and we heard that they were being taken; we heard everything, we heard them from inside the room. Less than a minute passed and they opened the closet, and Tal and I were there. Three terrorists aimed Kalashnikovs at our heads and told us to get out, and we went out.

Because I was inside the closet for a long time and it was dark, I was terribly blinded, and as an Israeli, I must say when I came out I was shocked. There were ten terrorists in this small room, who led us, me and Tal, along with Hadas and Adi, who had come out some 2 or 3 minutes before us, to the shared balcony of these four adjacent houses. We went into the yard, and I saw that there were about 40 terrorists there. I was shocked. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

“We went into the yard, and I saw that there were about 40 terrorists there. I was shocked. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.”

They had taken over this quartet of houses, a row of houses, and there was a common yard, and in this common yard of four adjacent houses, there were about 40 terrorists, all with Kalashnikovs, all with ammunition on them, with vests full of ammunition, soldiers for all intents and purposes. We weren’t from the kibbutz so we didn’t know the other people.

The others all knew each other - or most of them did, because there were also other guests there - but in total we were 15 hostages.

At first they put us in one woman’s house, Pessi Cohen. She had a very long built-in dining area on the balcony with some 12 or 14 seats, and they seated us there. Tal and I joined the other hostages who were already sitting in the dining area. That's when I started to understand who was sitting with us. I can say in retrospect that I recognized Liel and Yanai. At the time, I didn't know that they were twins; I thought they were siblings, and saw right away that they were related. I saw that they were sitting with someone older who I thought was the grandmother [she was actually the children’s great aunt, who had raised them], but because we didn't identify ourselves, we didn't make introductions. 

I understood that she was not the biological grandmother but the one who took care of them, Ayala. Of course, Hadas and Adi were there, Pessi Cohen, the owner of the house was there; she had been hosting her sister, her husband, and their son. The husband had already been killed and the son had been shot in the thigh. There was also Ze’ev and Zehavah, a couple, and a single woman, Hava. In short, everyone who had been in those houses had been taken out of their safe rooms, and we were 15 people in the dining area.

At first, they just kept watch over us. There were about 40 terrorists inside the entire housing complex. About ten terrorists were guarding us. They sat with us and I became their liaison. About 20 minutes after I was kidnapped, they turned to me, asked me if I have a phone, and if I know people from the army and the police. I told them that I do, and they told me, “Let's call one of them.” I didn't have my phone with me and they even agreed to go back to the previous house and look for my phone. Twenty minutes after I was kidnapped, they took one of the phones from the kibbutz people there, and dialed 100 [emergency number for the police], and together with them, I called the police. 

Yasmin P. and her partner Tal kiss

They thought that the army had already surrounded all of Be’eri and the road to Gaza. They wanted to leave alive, with us. They wanted the police to allow them an escape route under the protection of the police. They could have gone back and forth with us ten times, they just didn't know it. They thought the police were already everywhere, and for almost two hours, I spoke with one of the [terrorist] commanders who was in charge of the hostages. One group of terrorists guarded us, and other groups guarded the yard. It was as if they were protecting the whole territory.

For an hour, I had seven conversations with the police; all of these conversations are recorded. Together with the terrorists; this means that every time I started the conversation by saying "Hello, I'm Yasmin from Kibbutz Be’eri, we’ve been kidnapped in the house of Pessi Cohen. Please save us.” The police didn't understand what I was saying. It took between an hour and a half to two hours, during which time we spoke six times with the police. I was relatively calm during the conversations and the terrorists kept making gestures to me to make myself cry, to be more frantic, they wanted the police to hear that I was hysterical. And because it wasn’t reflected in my voice, in one of the conversations, I remember they brought in Liel. She came to me, and she took the phone from me and she shouted something a bit more frantically, “Please come help me!” Her voice was more frantic, and so was the way she said things. Then they sat her back down.

At least three times, they took me to the road to identify if there were police hiding in the bushes. They also thought that there were snipers in the bushes. We went up the road, I went with three terrorists, all pointing Kalashnikovs in every direction, and I said: “Hello, is there anyone here? Is there anyone here? Police? I'm a civilian,” and no one answered.

Two hours like that, and in the end the police showed up.

Each of us responded differently to the situation. We had already been with them for two hours, and because everyone, except for me and Tal, were all 65-70 year olds, plus a couple of children, they were very calm, so they allowed us to sit outside in the yard, because it was very hot inside the house. There was kind of a low wall, and we sat there to get some air. They didn't want us stressed, they wanted us to be calm. If someone became stressed, we gave them a glass of water, and we sat outside part of the time as well.

At 17:00, the police arrived, and they stood in front of the road, and the terrorists all pointed weapons in the direction of the police. The whole group of us was together with them, spread out. It's hard for me to remember why I was inside the house when all this happened, and when the police arrived, it all happened in a matter of two to three minutes. We didn't prepare for such an event, we didn't know what was going to happen. Suddenly the police took up positions and we were stressed and then within two or three minutes a shootout began. It began with one or two bullets flying in the air between the two sides, and within a minute it turned into hundreds of bullets flying in the air. Probably because I had had a conversation with the terrorists, I was with them in the living room. Most of the hostages were outside. At least I had windows that protected me from the shooting, I was lucky in that regard. When the shooting broke out, at around 17:00, it caught me in the living room. I lay on the floor along with everyone else, everyone lay on the floor and they told us to, shouting at us and showing us.

“It began with one or two bullets flying in the air between the two sides, and within a minute it turned into hundreds of bullets flying in the air.” 

I was in the living room with another hostage named Hana, she was the sister of Pessi Cohen, and had come with her husband, who had already been killed, and she told me this during the exchange of gunfire. And there was another woman, I think it was Zehava, the three of us were in the living room, and there were shots everywhere.

At this stage, I didn’t see Liel, Yanai and the grandmother [sic], and I don't know where they were inside the house, but I knew they were inside the house. Liel kept screaming, out of fear and hysteria, and I only heard her, I didn’t know where she was, because I couldn’t raise my head. If you raised your head, you got shot in the head, you really couldn’t look. But I remember that every time there was a very heavy barrage - and once they threw something like a mortar, an RPG, something that wasn't a gun - and there was a really big boom, she screamed out in fear, like any little girl would scream. 

She was really scared and she didn't stop screaming. If we were adults and we also let out a scream here and there, it was in a more restrained way compared to her because she was just really very scared. Today, I know that she was the same age as my oldest daughters, and it shocks me to think about what she went through.

“Once they threw something like a mortar, an RPG, something that wasn't a gun, and there was a really big boom, and she screamed out in fear, like any little girl would scream.”

After about an hour, one of the terrorists took me out of the house as a human shield.

At this stage there is a very tense ceasefire, because Hamas told him [the terrorist] that if he leaves then he is considered a traitor, and they would shoot him in the back, and the police were also threatening him. Because I'm the one who talked to the police, they knew there was a woman there named Yasmin, so they told him, surrender with the woman, surrender with Yasmin, go out with her, naked. It's a small house and he was behind the kitchen counter. He shielded himself behind the counter, behind me and with the couches, we both shielded ourselves from the gunfire. He was with another Arab Israeli who was found dead there later, and another hostage, Hanna, and another terrorist. He was constantly talking on the phone in Arabic. I don't understand Arabic, under the gunfire he shouted in Arabic, he was very nervous. I didn’t understand what he was saying.

I was stressed and he was shouting. Suddenly, he said to me, while shooting, “Yasmin, ta’al, ta’al [come, come].” As though he was nervously signaling for me to come to him, and there was shooting, so I did what he said. I jumped over to him, there was a step that I had to take between him and me, under fire. 

I suddenly saw that he was wearing underwear and a tank top. I still didn't understand anything. I was so shocked by the situation. Then he said a few more things to the terrorists around him, shouted, and that's it, and then he started going out with me, hugging me.  I guessed that he was about fifty years old, not a child, compared to the other terrorists, who were children. This terrorist understood what was happening. He had decided to surrender.

After all, there was constant communication with the police, we had had at least seven or eight conversations with the police, and he was constantly talking to an Arabic speaker. There was probably communication with him at some point. He understood that he would not be getting out of there alive. He saw the amount of shooting. I also understood that there were two other [terrorist] commanders who were very extreme in their views, who said, ‘No matter what, either they make an escape route for us all to get out alive, or we all die.'

I didn’t know what deal he had made, because I didn’t know at all that he closed a deal; I would only understand that later. I found out after his interrogation that Hamas had said they would shoot him in the back when he left, and on the other hand, the police said, “Get out!” and we walked out, and all of a sudden there is this very stressful ceasefire with all of the guns pointing at us, which means that all of the Hamas terrorists pointed their guns at him and at me, and he starts taking off his clothes as we walk, continuing to remove his underwear, socks, shirt, and he is completely naked and that’s how we started walking outside in front of everyone, where he was naked and I'm in front of him, as a human shield.

At this time, when we actually go through the area of the living room and the balcony, I go out into the yard and there I see my Tal, along with Hadas, Adi Dagan, and another Tal who is the couple's son, and another couple of adults, lying on the grass, just lying there and covered in shrapnel, after the incessant shooting, and they lie on the grass like corpses, but they were all still alive. As I was walking out, I had time to ask my Tal, "Tal, are you alright?" and he raised his head, and he looked really, really, really scared. They didn't even know I had left because they all had their heads on the ground, they all put their heads close to the ground to protect themselves.

We walked across the whole yard, reached two rocks on the terrace, climbed over them, and then stood right on the road, only we were on one side of the road and the police were on the other. It was a small narrow road. The other side was full of policemen aiming [weapons] at us and yelling at him [the terrorist] through the megaphone what I imagine to have been, “Let her go, let her go.” We moved a little further towards them and then he gave me a push. I ran quickly to the police, and he was quickly arrested.

That is my rescue story. I was saved and held by the police, but I stayed with them for another three hours of fighting. I mean, I went over to the side with the police officers, and I stayed in the Be’eri area. They [the other hostages] remained with forty terrorists, because only one surrendered out of the forty, so that didn’t change the order of magnitude, and they still remained in the same situation, and that's a lot of people.

So I told the police right away that I was able to talk and that they could interrogate me and ask me whatever they want, and I sat there with the commander of the unit, and described to him what the house looked like, and where the terrorists were and where the hostages were, literally drawing them. 

“Here in the yard, there are four hostages lying like this on the grass, and here there are two lying under the terrace, and in the living room there is a woman lying like this and there is a woman lying like that.” And I told them about the twins and the grandmother [sic], whom I hadn’t seen. They were the only ones I hadn’t seen, I had heard them; Liel, I heard all the time, so I know for sure they were there. I tried to explain to them that they were there, somewhere near the kitchen, from where I had heard the screams, because I may not have seen them, but I heard them, and I heard where the screams were coming from.

I tried to explain to them where all the hostages were. There were more terrorists in the house than hostages. The terrorists were in the safe room, in the bathroom, spread out under the entire terrace, under some a window in the living room that protected them, some kind of window that had a shutter that protected them from the bullets, so they all sat there, There were many terrorists below it. They found the best places to hide, let’s say. I stayed with the police for three hours. They interrogated me at least three or four times to understand what the house looked like and what they were doing and how many hostages there were, and you see that they didn’t understand the magnitude of it at all. When I told them for the first time that there were about 40 terrorists there, they told me, “That can’t be. You must be exaggerating.”

They said, come look at us, there are forty of us here. So I told them, “They are more than you,” They didn't believe it. This was an instance of our army’s naivety. They didn’t realize the magnitude of the event. When I said forty, they thought I was exaggerating or hysterical.

And that's it. And now I’ll tell you some of Hadas Dagan's testimony. I talked to her on a personal level to understand what happened to my partner, because in the end, he was killed next to her, and I wanted to understand what happened, and also through this story I heard, more or less, the answer about Liel.

In any case, I went out, and everyone stayed there and the fight went on and didn’t stop. There were attempts at negotiation. The terrorist who had surrendered even spoke on a megaphone to his friends to try and maybe motivate them [...] on behalf of the police, he spoke on a megaphone in Arabic while he was naked, shouting at them [...] and they weren’t convinced.

[...] Today, we see all the kidnapping stories, and you see that most of the kidnappings took place at 10, 11, 12 in the morning. By 15:00, they [the terrorists] themselves, as any citizen would, thought that the army is already everywhere. They could have left with us [to Gaza] ten times, round trip. But they didn't believe that they could, so they asked for the police. For three more hours, I was in a massive battle, with terrorists that I understood wouldn’t cooperate. They said that if they [the police] don’t let them get out alive, then everyone will die. 

At some point, a tank arrived in front of the house. I think at 19:00, 19:30, because you begin to understand, it was still daylight savings time, and it was already getting dark, and I remember wondering to myself why tank shells were being fired inside the house, and I also asked one of the guys who was with me, 'Why shooting?' so they explained to me that it was to break down the walls to help get the terrorists out of the house.

And now I'll move to my conversation with Hadas. I know that Hadas Dagan was lying on the ground, there were four of them lying there outside, close to each other, and two more were sitting under the terrace.

There were two big booms, as far as she knew, which I know were two shells fired from the tank, but she didn't know, because they didn’t see anything, they were looking at the ground. She told me in these words, she said, “Yasmin, when there were the two big booms, I felt like I had flown to the skies.” She said she felt as though she had died and come back to life, but in general she felt as though she had flown into the sky and landed, although I don't think that was the case, and she told me: ‘It took me two or three minutes to open my eyes, and I didn’t feel my body, I was completely paralyzed. And when I opened my eyes, I saw that my Adi was dead, that his main artery had been cut and he was covered in his blood.” 

“And when I opened my eyes, I saw that my Adi was dead, that his main artery had been cut and he was covered in his blood.”

She told me that she put her thumb on the main artery, but he was already dead. And then she told me, “Your Tal had already stopped moving at this point.” Because they were lying on either side of her. Today I believe they naturally provided her with a human shield, because they were both big guys and she is a small woman, and they lay on either side of her.

That was the whole event, which was about to end. I left there at 20:30. I left the house at 17:30 and stayed with the police until 20:30 in the evening, and there is crazy fighting the whole time. Hours of battle between the two sides. 

Everyone was there. Four people are lying next to each other on the grass in the yard, so they are constantly exposed to hundreds of bullets, and shrapnel flying through the air. It is impossible not to be hurt by such a thing. In the end, it’s impossible to tell you who was killed by whose bullet. It’s a gunfight. As far as I understood, because Hadas got out of there alive and she was talking, there were no executions or anything like that, at least not of the people she was with, because she told me that after she got up from the two big explosions, raised her head or something like that, she felt that her husband was bleeding on her, that she was full of his blood. And she told me that my Tal, who had been lying on her right, had already stopped moving at this point. And then I remember her telling me, “The girl didn't stop screaming all those hours, she didn't stop screaming.” So I said, “I remember. Even when I was there in the first hour, she didn't stop screaming.” And then she [Hadas] said to me, “Yasmin, when there were those two booms, she stopped screaming. After that, there was silence.”

So what can we understand from this? That after there was the masses of shooting, which ended with two shells fired, that's when everyone died. That’s what I know, at least, from my conversation with Hadas, who described it. And for some reason, probably because she is a small woman and all the fragments flew into her husband and my partner [she survived]. She didn’t look okay when she came out. I had met her in the morning, and if you saw how she looked in the evening, it was not the same person.

But somehow, she survived it. No shrapnel hit her. She was also covered by shrapnel, but somehow among all that killing, as though God wanted her to be with us, she was saved. She escaped from all that hell. When I met her in the morning, she was dressed nicely, hair combed. She looked like a normal human being. When she got out of there, all her hair was standing up, full of dust, with styrofoam in it.

I understand that they haven’t found her [Liel’s] remains to this day. I think some of the explosives there, grenades that were thrown, and I don't understand ammunition that much, but things beyond rifle bullets were thrown there. I know they catch fire, and I see the photos today that the house partially burned down, Adi and Hadas' house no longer exists, I don't know how it happened. It’s impossible to describe what these houses looked like. I guess that if you ask me what happened according to what I understand from other houses, she must have been burned completely. She didn’t run away from there, she wasn't kidnapped. I'm telling you they didn't get out of there. 

It was already 20:30 at night, total darkness, the house was on fire. Already at this stage, there was a lot of army there. There was the counter-terrorist unit, the army, and they had surrounded the house which means that Liel couldn’t have left, and Hadas remembers that she was there for the entire four hours of the fighting, she remembers the girl screaming non-stop, and then suddenly she stopped.

Yasmin P.

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