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

  • Imri B.'s story

When we opened the safe room, a family emerged, exhausted. Two of them were in wheelchairs

It all began at about 6:30 in the morning with a Red Alert. We hurried to the safe room, which was also the children's bedroom. We tried to comfort them while contemplating where we should evacuate to this time. To my wife's family in Zichron, or maybe we should head to Eilat? There were many explosions. It sounded severe. After a few minutes, we heard gunshots. They sounded very close. This was not something we were used to. I grabbed my gun immediately. I was looking for my combat gear. I slipped into cargo trousers, sport shoes and stepped outside. Harel, the security coordinator, convened a meeting with us, the six members of the standby squad who were staying at the kibbutz for the holidays. We assembled at the western area of the kibbutz fence, on the side facing Gaza.

The sights that unfolded were beyond belief. There was an onslaught of terrorists on the roads, a lot of movement, a mess. The roads were full of Gazan cars and motorcycles. They were on road 232 and also on the road from Re’im to Orim. There were shots fired in front of the Division's base. We asked ourselves: “What is going on here? Are we alone against all the Gazans?” We heard gunshots coming from the Kibbutzim: Kissufim, Beeri, Ein HaShlosha - Kibbutzim that sit between us and the Gaza Strip. We realized that soon they would also reach us.

A mere six of us were armed. We split into three pairs. I was under the command of Niv - the deputy security coordinator and the officer in command of the southern side. Niv is an old friend of mine, from our days in the 50th Battalion of the Nahal during our army service. He is the one who introduced me to Re’im. We have been best friends for 20 years, the most cohesive combat unit. We were about to join forces, ready to confront uncertainty, to safeguard our lives and our values, our community, the place where we were raising our children. When I was with Niv I always had this reassuring feeling that everything would turn out well.

"We saw them enter the children's homes and figured out that they were looking for prisoners"

We left towards the south side of the kibbutz, to the last row of houses. The fighting started at around 7:30. The goal was to delay the terrorists for as long as possible until reinforcements arrived, following the procedures we practiced in our drills. Each time the terrorists approached, we would emerge from a different location among the houses, shoot a few bullets, then move. We were trying to create an illusion of a larger military presence, and of fire being shot at them from different directions. We tried to trick them to stay as far away as possible from the houses. They were near the petting zoo and we were between the buildings of the daycares. Our children were there regularly, so we were familiar with each bush and every tree. This was our home.

The terrorists moved to the west, and we followed them. We refrained from making contact because we knew that we were the first line of defense between them and the residents of the kibbutz. We knew that if we were defeated, they would breach into the houses. During this time, we communicated with each other via walkie-talkies and WhatsApp. We understood that the terrorists entered the kibbutz in three groups from three different directions.

We saw them enter the children's homes and figured out that they were looking for prisoners. The group in the southwest of the kibbutz, between 15 and 25 terrorists, started setting houses on fire. We ran through the neighborhoods trying not to reveal ourselves and attempted to shoot them from various positions, to disrupt them. Trees and houses inside the Kibbutz caught fire. Heavy gunfire emanated from all sides inside the kibbutz and in its vicinity, many fires were set ablaze. We received messages from friends throughout the Kibbutz describing the sounds of gunfire and the shouting in Arabic they could hear. They asked: “Where are the reinforcements? What's going on with the reinforcements?”

“Not even in our wildest imagination could there be a situation of dozens of well-armed terrorists driving in, without having any reinforcements.”

We realized that this was not an infiltration by individual terrorists. In our drills we had learned to deal with a few terrorists, but here we were talking about groups, dozens of terrorists divided into different squads. Not even in our wildest imagination could there be a situation of dozens of well-armed terrorists driving in, without having any reinforcements. It wasn't something we could handle on our own. Where was the IDF? Where was the Air Force? We were alone in front of all of Gaza and there was not a single plane in the sky...

What strengthened us was that all six members of the standby squad continued to report. We didn't feel threatened from behind. There was always someone who had us covered. Our familiarity with the terrain, our training, and the fact that we had walkie-talkies, enabled us to hold the line. We knew where they would be likely to go. After about an hour of fighting we started to hear the sounds of other weapons. We realized that it was the police force trying to apprehend the terrorists from outside. We sprinted to a different position and continued to shoot at them.

Around 10:00, Oren, a member of the standby squad who left early in the morning to work in Park Habsor and returned to fulfill his duties, approached us. On the way to the Kibbutz, he encountered terrorists and barely made it through. He joined four police officers who swiftly left their homes and came to help. Four real heroes - I don't even know if they were an organic combat unit.

"We got to the last house, and when we opened the safe room, a family emerged, exhausted and drained."

The positioning of the police on the road allowed us to move to the southern gate of the Kibbutz and open it, to let Oren and the policemen in. We felt a sense of control and readiness. The force grew from 6 fighters to 11 - in addition to the police forces fighting terrorists outside the fence. Our line of defense had doubled. It was a significant boost.

We took the policemen to Oren's house. He brought equipment. Terrorists who jumped out of the bushes faced a heavier onslaught of gunfire than before. Oren had also been my friend and partner for many years. We ran soccer classes together for the Kibbutz children. The moment that I saw him running on the football field, changed everything for me. Until then I had thought I was going to die that day and that Kibbutz would be obliterated, but at that moment I realized that we were going to win. We were going to win because we were together, and we were fighting to save our home. The Kibbutz would not die.

This whole time when my friend and I were fighting side by side, I felt that we were defending our very own home; everything that our home symbolizes to us - because the Kibbutz itself is a home. We were fighting for the place where our children were raised, including the petting zoo, the football field, our educational institutions, and our cultural heritage. It was a war for our home in the broadest sense but also for the smallest things.

At this point we debated whether to split our group or stay together. We decided that Niv and Oren should stay and guard the neighborhood. I lead the policemen, who were not familiar with the Kibbutz, to the homes that had been set on fire. We approached from behind stealthily and carefully. We drew nearer to where the arsonists had been, however they were no longer there. Apparently the cops who confronted them did the job.

"We defeated the terrorists, and then we reached the friend who called us"

Some Kibbutz members were coming out of one of the burning houses. They emerged from the window of the safe room and shouted that they were being burnt alive there. We realized that we had to go house by house, evacuate everyone out of the burning homes, and escort them to safe rooms in houses that were unaffected by the fire. We went through the burning houses, we got to the last house, and when we opened the safe room, a family emerged, exhausted and drained. Two of them were in wheelchairs. It was a complicated procedure, and a heart-wrenching sight. It was a miracle that this family survived. They quietly stayed locked in the safe room all this time, convinced they were going to perish in the fire.

Some residents grabbed hoses and started dousing the roofs to extinguish the house fires. The police stayed there to back them up. At this point I ran back to the southern neighborhood to re-join Niv and Oren.

We jumped to a new neighborhood located in the center of the kibbutz. While we were running, we passed the body of a terrorist we had taken down. We advanced slowly through leaps, securing each other, like we learned in the military. In the meantime, two more members of the standby squad, Omri and Ron (Bubu), joined us. We went together to check on the Thai workers. We discovered the Thai workers’ living quarters were empty. Everything there was open and they were gone.

We advanced through an olive grove. We thought we saw movements, and a moment later we were being shot at. We began sharing directives within our group to defeat the terrorists, when I suddenly heard yelling from the house of a friend who serves regularly in the military. He screamed my name and called me over. He told me he had someone with a gunshot wound in the safe room.

We defeated the terrorists, and then we reached the friend who called us. When he opened the safe room, about 15 young people who escaped from the 'Nova' nature party came out. They hid in the safe room quietly the entire time, without air. A crowd of people, completely silent. We took them out and brought them to a clinic located about 40 meters south. It was locked, so we broke in through the window. The sights of the children who came from this party were horrible. They were throwing up and they were in shock. It was disturbing.

"He went there to watch over three children who had seen their father and his partner murdered in front of their eyes."

We continued to fight the terrorists who were hiding in the area of ​​the Hatzerim neighborhood and the olive grove. One of the policemen was shot in the leg, and lost blood. I directed him to the escape route and went up to the Community Resilience team leader to request evacuation. Meanwhile, the head of the Community Resilience team said that army troops were on their way. From there I was called to the southern gate to allow other security forces into the Kibbutz.

After additional forces entered the kibbutz, we ran to pick up another standby squad member: Eyal. We saw a window of a safe room open, and a Kibbutz member, who did not live in that house, peered out. It turned out that he went there to watch over three children who had seen their father and his partner murdered in front of their eyes. The terrorists murdered the couple and wrote on the wall with the woman's lipstick that they don't kill children. He [the kibbutz member] opened the window and narrated this terrifying story to us. We gazed at the grass in their front yard, and it stirred a memory of a child playing with his father there every day. The yard was full of soccer balls. They deprived three children of their dearly loved father. In a different house we heard that an 85-year-old woman had been murdered in her bed.

During all these hours, my wife and children were locked inside the safe room - holding the door shut. All the members of the Kibbutz did this - they held the door of the safe room shut with all their strength and struggled against terrorists who tried to open it. My wife called me home. She said she had to go to the bathroom. In addition, I had no ammunition left. So I ran to my house together with Eyal and Oren. I entered the safe room. We guarded the house while my wife went to the bathroom, and handed me two cartridges which she had filled with bullets for me.

We continued to fight, joined by additional security forces. Our roles shifted, as we organized the arrival of the incoming security forces and guided them. We looked for anyone who needed assistance. It was a weird situation, because the Kibbutz had been burnt down, but people were still huddled in their safe rooms. We weren’t sure there were any terrorists left inside the kibbutz. Some time after midnight I went home, plopped on the couch and turned on the sports channel. I saw that the Celtic Glasgow fans were cheering for the Palestinians. It shocked me to my core to see that they were happy that their 'freedom fighters' had burned down my Kibbutz, murdered everyone they saw - babies and old people alike.

I fell asleep in my uniform with my equipment next to me. At 1:30 am I woke up to a message from Niv, a member of the standby squad: 'We have terrorists inside the house, come quickly'. I ran behind my house, where I met Harel, the security coordinator. Soon after, troops from a paratrooper patrol unit arrived. I couldn’t have ever imagined that I’d find myself running to Niv's house - where my children used to play - with a loaded gun in hand. I took cover on the sidewalk in the back of his house, ready to neutralize any terrorists who might appear. A unit of paratroopers closed in on the house, tossed a grenade inside, and then entered to eliminate the two terrorists. Niv and his family were saved. I broke down in tears, and they just wouldn't stop. I found myself laying on the sidewalk behind Niv's house - the very same sidewalk where I used to pick up my children every afternoon. I just laid there sobbing.

I would like to praise the members of Kibbutz Raim's standby squad: Harel, Niv, Noam, Omri, Yaniv (his brother-in-law), Oren, Eyal, Avi and Ron (Bubu). These people saved numerous lives. My heartfelt condolences go out to all residents of Eshkol, Ofakim, Sderot - all residents of the Western Negev. And to the dear Reim community, which is not currently in the kibbutz. When they return, we will rebuild everything here and show the whole world what a great community we have. And for those in doubt, let it be clear, we will win.

Imri B., 41

Source: Davar

Imri B and Harel, the security coordinator

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