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Another group of terrorists arrived - with a pickup truck to take us back in

  • Batia H.'s story

We were crawling in a ditch, seeing bodies around us. I saw the body of my friend

Saturday, 6:30 in the morning. The first rockets sounded like a reconnaissance plane, so I knew it was aimed at Tel Aviv. Usually, I don't run to the safe room because it passes over us. This time, the intensity was so great that I realized I needed to enter the safe room. My spouse Nahum and I ran towards the shelter. On the way, I passed by the kitchen window and saw on the path outside our house three figures dressed in black with white bands on their heads. Nahum said it was the kibbutz’s rapid response squad, but they didn't look like that to me.

We heard them start speaking in Arabic, and many more men started arriving from all around. We ran into the safe room and locked ourselves in. We turned on the TV and saw the terrorists who entered Sderot, dressed exactly like those standing outside our window, right at the entrance to my home. If they had been standing at a different angle, they would have seen me, and it would have ended differently. Why didn't they come in? Why did they leave and skip us? They probably weren't organized yet. It seems that it evolved as time went by.

Crazy gunshots fired everywhere. Usually, it's nothing special; we hear gunshots from the Gaza Strip all the time. But this time we realized something completely different was happening. We heard more and more shots, booms, explosions. We no longer knew if it was the Iron Dome or rockets. We didn't know who entered and how many entered. We knew nothing. Nothing.

We tried to gather information through three WhatsApp groups of the kibbutz and the family group. Soon instructions arrived: lock the safe room, lift the handle, and hold on. In addition to fear, a strong feeling of loneliness and abandonment began to creep. Text messages started coming in: 'Come save us! There are terrorists! Where's the army?' There was no response. Nothing. We're alone in this story. We didn't know that at this time soldiers were trying to reach the kibbutz and were cut off at the gate. We didn't know that our entire rapid response squad had disappeared. We just started hearing about the wounded.

"We turned on the TV and saw the terrorists who entered Sderot, dressed exactly like those standing outside our window"

I sent a text message to the journalist, Tamir Steinman. I asked him to tell me what was happening. We felt like ducks in a shooting range, unanswered. I saw him speak about our call on TV. Only in the afternoon did we feel that there was a gunfight between the terrorists and someone who responded to their fire, and we realized that the army was fighting them. By then, many houses had been destroyed.

We contacted our son from the very beginning. He has PTSD. We were very worried about him. His friends from various places called and supported him. At 12:20 pm, the contact with my daughter was cut off, and we realized there were casualties near her house. She lived in a new neighborhood right near the Gaza border. I only knew she was alone with two small children, as her husband was hospitalized, recovering from an accident. Messages about casualties kept coming in. We didn't know what happened to her and the children until we met later on Sunday afternoon.

I started writing in groups that my daughter is alone with two children at home. I was very worried. They are too young, and if something happens to her, God forbid, they won't know what to do. No one came to help.

Terrible shooting. Spraying everywhere, throwing grenades. Our house is a simple kibbutz house, which means it's like a cardboard house, except for the safe room. On regular days, it's just another room in the house. Usually, we don't stay in it for that long. There's no water connection, it is not specially equipped. A sofa, a TV, and a phone charger. We sat in it for over 24 hours. We didn't eat, we didn't drink, we didn't go to the bathroom. I wanted so much to get to my daughter, to be with the children. But I knew I wouldn't be able to move five meters from the house because they would kill me. There was no choice. We sat and waited.

"At 5:00 PM, I saw via the car's camera three armed terrorists coming towards the house of the neighbors opposite"

I couldn't sit without doing anything. Every time there was an explosion, I got an alert in the app connected to our new car, as if the car was moving. It's a new car with a camera, which you can also connect to with an app. I decided to try to use it and discovered I could watch what was happening outside from within the safe room.

I started following what was happening.

At 5:00 PM, I saw via the car's camera three armed terrorists coming towards the house of the neighbors opposite. I called one of the army men who were in the kibbutz and explained to him what was happening. I sent him a picture from the car's camera to see, and I marked on the map where the house was. Yesterday I met the neighbors that lived there. They said that thanks to me, they were still alive. The terrorists began to shoot and threw grenades into the neighbors' house. Thanks to the instructions I was able to provide, the army forces arrived and were able to prevent them from coming into the house.

They told us that soon the army would come to rescue us. On the other hand, they warned us to not get confused, as the terrorists might disguise themselves as soldiers, so we shouldn't open the doors. If someone knocks on the door – do not answer. If they pretend to be the army, start asking questions that only an Israeli would know the answer to.

In the middle of the night, I heard intense gunfire, and heavy smoke reached the safe room. Shortly after, there were loud knocks on the door. We didn't answer. They might have said something, but we didn't hear. The house door was kicked open, and I heard shouts: IDF! IDF! Is anyone home?' I asked who they were, and they answered with their unit name and squad number. That was a password we recognized. We opened the safe room and saw a group of soldiers. They told us to take one or two things, and quickly took us out of the house.

Burned and destroyed houses in Kibbutz Kfar Aaza

Photo credit: Haim Goldberg / Flash90

But then a gunfight started around us, and the soldiers ordered us to return to the safe room. We were surrounded by terrorists. I told them: 'You're not leaving us like this with an open house.' They went to fight the terrorists, returned about an hour and a half later, and took us out just as we were. We didn't manage to take anything.

It was early morning, it was dark. They took us through house yards towards the garbage bins and the field. We went down to a ditch in the field and started crawling towards the gas station at the entrance to the kibbutz. There were older people with us, parents with babies and young children. Crawling in the ditch and seeing bodies around us. I saw the body of a friend who was killed.

"Suddenly a reserve commander came to me and surprisingly said: 'I will go get Rotem' (my daughter)"

At the gas station, army forces waited for us and ordered us to evacuate on buses. I announced that I wouldn't leave without my children and grandchildren. There was no one to talk to. They wanted to evacuate as many people as possible from danger, and we argued that two adults could hold up better than a mother with two young children. It was terrible. I went from commander to commander and begged them to get them out. Suddenly a reserve commander came to me and surprisingly said: 'I will go get Rotem' (my daughter). I asked how he knew I was her mother, and it turned out he was a good friend of hers from regional high school, and recognized me because we look very similar. He said he was going to get her.

At 12:30 pm, after 32 hours during which she was locked with the children in the safe room, Rotem came to us. They took her out during a gunfight inside her house. They killed the terrorist, brought a military jeep to them, and evacuated them under fire.

We were a strong community. Now there's no community. There are individuals. There are people who love each other very much. Hugging all the time. Taking care of each other. I can't say there's a community. We did it wonderfully in Operation Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, and Protective Edge. We were an amazing community. Protective Edge was a very tough war, but we came out of it as the strongest community in the world. We managed to support and strengthen the community. A thrilling success. We achieved incentives for housing to attract the younger generation, we built communities with resilience. Now all our leadership has been murdered. The one who was supposed to manage the community center was murdered in the morning with her partner. The rapid response squad disappeared. Key figures disappeared. That's why there was a lot of chaos, because suddenly there was no one to manage anything. Even now, not so much. Everyone is picking up their pieces. The community manager is in the hospital with her husband and is not available for this. The business manager lost part of his family. Entire families disappeared.

Our trauma is not over yet. Half of our community is missing. We know about certain casualties, about missing and kidnapped people, but there are still many we don't know what's happening with them. Yesterday morning there was still a battle with terrorists in Kfar Aza. Yesterday I saw through the car camera all the army standing on the grass in front of our house, and soldiers on the roofs.

We don't know how long we will stay here. Two months? Three? What's going to happen? Even if we decide to return to Kfar Aza, there's nowhere to physically return to in the next year. What should we do? Economically none of us can start a life from scratch. My daughter built a new house in the kibbutz. She's still paying a mortgage on it. What can she do? Nahum and I are 70 years old. We gave our whole lives, and built our community knowing that's where we would grow old. Right now, we live from one moment to another. My children experienced such a thing, and I can't help them.

Batia H.

Source: Davar