12 hours in ‘hell’: Man describes moment Hamas militants stormed his home

World

A British-Israeli citizen and his wife have told of their 12 hour ordeal locked in a bomb-proof safe room as Hamas militants set their house on fire and gunfights erupted around them. 

At times, they were just inches from the militants and were forced to stay put as Hamas fighters engaged Israeli Defence Force (IDF) troops for hours with no water and no food, stuck in the pyjamas they were wearing when they woke up.

Ben, who did not wish to give his second name, shared his terrifying ordeal with Sky News from an evacuation point near the Dead Sea.

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Originally from Gloucestershire, Ben and his wife have lived in a kibbutz named Be’eri, located around 5km from the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, for the past 26 years.

Map highlighting Kibbutz Beeri
Image:
This map shows the position of Kibbutz Be’eri

He moved there after meeting his wife-to-be while visiting his brother, who had travelled to Israel as a volunteer.

The 52-year-old woke up to sounds of rockets being fired, something he said was “not unusual”, and was met outside by his neighbours, who – like him – were in their pyjamas.

“We assumed it would be over soon, but it wasn’t,” he said.

Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from Sderot, southern Israel October 8, 2023. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Image:
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system seen intercepting rockets launched from the Gaza Strip – as seen from Sderot, southern Israel on Sunday

He watched the Iron Dome system intercept a number of rockets, before receiving a text message telling all those in the area to lock themselves in their safe rooms.

The safe room, like many in the area, is a small 5x4sqm room with gas and blast-proofing on the door, which cannot be opened from outside when shut.

There is a small window, which is reinforced with blast-proof steel, that can be opened to the outside.

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The room also doubles up as a bedroom for his son when he stays over.

He expected to receive an all-clear message within half an hour, but instead began hearing Arabic voices in the distance gradually approaching his house.

‘They were a few centimetres away from me’

Ben estimates 30 Hamas militants were in his kibbutz, and the speed and scale of the attack took the neighbourhood by surprise.

Ben's neighbourhood in kibbutz Be'eri
Image:
Ben’s neighbourhood in kibbutz Be’eri, before the attack

“We were so underprepared for such an unprecedented attack, and we didn’t have water, food, anything [in the safe room]” he said.

Ben and his wife were laying silent on the floor of the room when they heard a commotion outside his house and more shouting – before hearing a “tremendous boom” as his front door was knocked in.

“They were a few centimetres, a few inches away from me as I’m holding the door,” he said.

“I was cold, I was sweating profusely within an instant on such a high level of alert.”

Despite their close proximity, the militants didn’t try to enter the safe room, but Ben heard them smashing the house outside.

‘It was so unbelievably hot’

He presumes the TV and windows were broken, as crashing and banging was heard for some time before the attackers appeared to leave the house.

“Very soon afterwards, we could hear crackling and we could begin to smell smoke,” he said.

Becoming emotional, he said “we understood that our home was on fire”.

Ben and his wife listened as their house fell apart around them, with the roof caving in and more windows shattering from the heat.

The door, which is built to prevent a gas attack, had its seal melted away – allowing thick smoke to enter the safe room.

“It was so hot, it was so unbelievably hot,” Ben said, “I don’t know how we didn’t pass out.”

He described how the pair of them lay on the floor with bedsheets from their son’s bed covering their mouths to block out the smoke.

“We managed to breathe every now and again through a crack in our blinds,” he said.

After hours in what he called “hell”, Ben and his wife heard Israeli forces arrive and engage the Hamas fighters.

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How the Hamas attack on Israel unfolded.

Despite the arrival of friendly troops, there would be no respite from the heat and the smoke for Ben and his wife for another six hours, while they listened to gunfire.

“For another six hours, we listened to gunfights all around us,” he said.

“I think there was a gunman on our roof, as the shots sounded so close,”

The pair were trapped, with no choice but to stay put.

Through the crack in the blinds of the safe room, they watched a neighbour’s house get set alight.

“We saw it burst into flames,” Ben said, explaining that the fire quickly spread to other houses in the neighbourhood.

He doesn’t know the fate of many of his neighbours, but he saw a massive explosion emanate from the safe room of another house nearby.

After hours of fighting, Ben said he and his wife took heart after “the shouting turned from Arabic to Hebrew”, and IDF soldiers began going house to house in the neighbourhood evacuating survivors of the attack.

Soldiers were able to pull the pair through the window of the safe room once opened by Ben, as the house on the other side of door was presumably too unstable to escape through given the fire damage.

They were rushed into the back of a 4×4 and driven away under the cover of darkness, unable to survey the damage to their home or even grab any spare clothes.

‘When on earth are we going to be safe?’

Ben and his wife had entered the safe room at around 7am and emerged more than 12 hours later, sweat-drenched, dehydrated and still in the pyjamas they wore when they entered.

When they were dropped off at an extraction point in a car park, Ben said they were given some food and water.

Becoming emotional again, Ben said a soldier offered to give him a pair of socks, as he noticed he was walking around barefoot on the gravel of the car park.

“It was an act of kindness – I won’t forget it, no matter how small it was.”

But they weren’t out of the woods yet.

Waiting in the car park for over an hour, Ben said a shout rang out that Hamas militants were nearby, which was quickly followed by the sound of gunshots and small puffs of dust popping up on the ground around him.

“I thought, ‘when on earth are we going to be safe?’,” he said.

When the fighting ceased, he and other survivors were loaded onto an open-top truck and taken to a nearby sports stadium, before they were moved on to an area near the Dead Sea and put up in hotels.

When asked what he will do now, Ben said he didn’t know if he could stay in the country after the ordeal, given the presumed damage to his home and the wider kibbutz.

“A big part of me wants to leave Israel, even though we’ve lived here for 26 years.”

“It’s our home,” he said, “and all that’s gone”.

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