Initially, there was just a warning siren. It was just past six in the morning, and my wife Miri woke up to a familiar noise: the whistle of an incoming missile. We didn’t hear any alert, but it was enough to run to the shelter, which in our house in Kibbutz Nahal Oz also serves as our daughters’ bedroom. Galya, 3, and Carmel, 1, were sleeping in their beds, catching up on sleep after a wonderful day of walking around the beautiful area we live in. We didn’t want to wake them, but we began to pack our bags. We thought it was going to be another one of those days that we’re so used to: rocket fire, taking shelter in the safe room, and then driving with the girls to the central part of the country.
Approaching seven in the morning, along with the constant barrage of sirens and explosions, we heard for the first time a blood-curdling sound: automatic gunfire. In bursts. Initially from a distance, in the fields, then closer, on the road, and then right inside our neighborhood and next to our house. At the same time, screams in Arabic. We immediately understood what had happened: the biggest nightmare had come true. Armed Hamas terrorists infiltrated the kibbutz territory, and they are now standing on our doorstep, while we are locked inside with the children.
We moved to Nahal Oz 9 years ago, right after the “Tzuk Eitan” operation. We were drawn to the kibbutz because of the combination of adventurousness, Zionism and a desire for community life. It was an unusual decision: a young couple from Tel Aviv who chose to move their lives to a kibbutz on the Gaza border.
Kibbutz Nahal Oz, in 2022. The “red alert” sirens’ scares were shadowed by the tremendous advantages of community and kibbutz life.
Our families were proud of the decision, and Nahal Oz became our home. We got married there in 2016, only a few hundred meters from the border fence. We also returned there after a period of three years in the USA, when I was a correspondent for “Haaretz” in Washington. The decision to return to the kibbutz in 2020 was even more important than the original decision to move there: it was an unequivocal choice to transform the pleasant paths, the beautiful lawns and the surrounding community into our home. Forever.
We have experienced countless “red alerts” sirens during our years in the kibbutz. We were also aware of the threat of explosive balloons and the smell of smoke from the fires in the fields. All these were not threatening enough to make us forget the enormous benefits of community and kibbutz life, especially for two little girls who walk to kindergarten every day, and then can run to buy a popsicle at the minimarket. For us, despite and because of everything, we lived the dream. But now we faced a completely different threat, one that we were assured could be prevented.
When we moved to the kibbutz, the scariest word was “tunnel.” But the government invested billions of shekels in an underground obstacle designed to neutralize this threat and allow us to sleep at night. On Saturday morning, we realized that the same obstacle is the ‘Bar – Lev line’ of our generation, and we are now in the middle of the Yom Kippur disaster. Israel poured a sea of cement into the bowels of the earth, and Hamas ran over the fence with tractors and vans.
In the first stage, the electricity went out. The world became dark. We used our phones for lighting, and at the same time we read the neighbors’ messages in the shared WhatsApp group. The terrorists roamed unhindered between the houses, broke into some of them, fired many bullets at ours. The girls woke up from the voices. We explained to them that now they must be quiet, lie in bed and wait. To our amazement, they cooperated fully, demonstrating a maturity we did not believe could exist at such a young age. We didn’t have food in the shelter, nor a flashlight. Residents of the north who are now reading this article – please prepare yourself in advance for any scenario. Don’t get into the predicament we got into.
Cellular reception also began to disappear. In the few moments when it was possible to communicate, I updated my parents on our situation, and also my colleagues Amos l and Viniv , who cover the military field in “Haaretz”. I am grateful to both of them for the efforts they made throughout the morning to update key army officers on the events in Nahal Oz. But the updates they sent back, from the outside world, made it clear to me how dire our situation is. What happened in Nahal Oz, happened in many cities, kibbutzim and army camps. We understood that it would take a long time for someone to arrive. Meanwhile, outside the locked window, the gunshots continued.
Difficult and nerve-racking hours of uncertainty passed. We didn’t know what was going on in the kibbutz, and we didn’t see ourselves in the dark inside. The girls were heroes. They lay in perfect silence, without food, and waited. From time to time they asked us to open the door and go out to play in the living room, and we patiently explained that it was impossible because it was dangerous outside. We did not know if the terrorists managed to break into the house. Suddenly we heard a drone above us, and loud explosions. We hoped it was the Air Force shooting at the unit that was stationed in our neighborhood, but we had no way of knowing.
One message on the phone gave us a glimmer of hope: my father, Reserve Major Noam, 62 years old, wrote to us that he was coming. How he would arrive, we didn’t know. But just as our children gave us complete trust in these fateful hours, we also decided to trust my parents. Only later, in the evening, did I hear what happened to them that day. How many people they helped save, and what bravery they showed on their way to us.
At first they arrived at the nearby Kibbutz Mefalsim and saw bodies and burnt cars on the road. Suddenly, pedestrians appeared in front of them who miraculously escaped from the Hamas terrorists at the rave in the Be’eri area. They drove them north, and drove again towards Nahal Oz. There my father met a group of fighters who were standing idly on the road, waiting for instructions. According to him, he saw complete confusion and chaos there, as a result of the lack of communication with the senior levels of command. One of the soldiers agreed to drive with him towards Nahal Oz. My mother stayed on Mefalsim and the two went their separate ways.
Near the entrance to the kibbutz, they saw in front of their eyes a major fire incident in which Maglan’s unit, which was on its way to Nahal Oz, got caught in. My father and the soldier who joined him, Avi, got out of the vehicle, joined the fighters and helped annihilate the terrorists. Then they loaded two injured people from the incident onto their vehicle and drove back to Mefalsim . There, in the spark of the moment, my parents decided to split up so that my mother evacuated the wounded to Ashkelon, while my father tried again to reach Nahal Oz. This time he was joined by Major General Israel Ziv, who, like my father and former Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, put on their army gear and joined the soldiers in an attempt to save lives.
At the entrance to Nahal Oz, they met forces from Maglan and a paratrooper patrol, who divided the kibbutz areas between them for the purpose of scanning and cleansing. My father joined a group of Maglan soldiers that began to go house by house, killed at least six terrorists, and took dozens of people out of the shelter after almost ten hours. Some of the neighbors and friends in the kibbutz were amazed to recognize “Amir’s father” along with the soldiers who came to rescue them. They sent us messages, but our phones were already switched off. The only hint we got that they were approaching were the well-heard gunshots whenever the soldiers encountered Hamas.
The last hour in the shelter was the hardest of all. It was getting darker, the air was running out and the girls started asking to go out at an increasing rate. The only thing that kept them quiet was our promise that Grandpa was on his way. Around four o’clock, there was a knock on the window, followed by a familiar voice. Galia immediately said, “Grandpa has arrived”. For the first time since morning, we all burst into tears.
In the following hours, our house became a war room. Soldiers came in and out, bringing in neighbors who were injured, families whose doors were destroyed during the searches, and elderly friends who asked not to be left alone. But the joy was temporary. With each new family that came into our home, we learned about more pain, horror and anxiety. Dead, missing, wounded. The magnitude of our disaster, of the neighboring communities and that of the State of Israel, became increasingly apparent.
Glancing outside the door we saw five bodies of terrorists on the ground, one of them carrying an RPG launcher. Death was closer than we realized, even in the most difficult moments. But in the evening, when we prepared dinner for 12 children with one of the neighbors, we hadn’t come to terms with everything yet. The understanding arrived only later, in the middle of the night, on a bus that evacuated the residents of the kibbutz far from the border.
Nahal Oz became a symbol after the fall of Roi Rothberg in 1956, and the famous speech delivered by Moshe Dayan at his grave. A symbol of determination, resilience and adherence to a goal. For us, it was simply a home, a protected, loved, embracing place, with the people we love the most in the world. On Thursday, two days before the disaster, we hosted friends from Gush Dan who came and fell in love with the green spaces. But in this war, something cracked. The contract between us and the state of Israel was clear: we guard the border, and the state guards us. We did our part bravely. For too many beloved neighbors and friends, on the Black Saturday of October 7th, the State of Israel did not fulfill its part.