ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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96-year-old woman escaped October 7 massacre at Be’eri; grandson held in Gaza

Aviva Sela doesn’t remember walking out of the kibbutz with her walker, but without her glasses or hearing aids. Miraculously, she survived

96-year-old Aviva Sela talks about her escape from Kibbutz Be'eri on October 7 (Screenshot: Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
96-year-old Aviva Sela talks about her escape from Kibbutz Be'eri on October 7 (Screenshot: Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Though she doesn’t remember the whole story, 96-year-old Aviva Sela managed to escape unscathed from Hamas’s grisly massacre in Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7.

In an interview aired Sunday, Sela recounted parts of her story. Though time and her aging mind have erased many of the details, her family has pieced together the story from survivor testimonies and footage, taken from CCTV on the kibbutz and bodycam and smartphone footage shot by slain and captured Hamas terrorists.

Sela’s daughter and former son-in-law, Orit and Rafi Svirsky, were murdered in the Hamas assault. Her grandson Itay Svirsky, 38, is being held captive in Gaza.

Itay was visiting his grandmother in Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, when some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

In Be’eri alone, terrorists killed over 100 people and took many hostages.

“I remember that some Arabs came to the house, and they said that this was their house now, and I said, ‘tfadlu (welcome in Arabic), come visit.’ I thought that maybe we could have a conversation with them,” the 96-year-old told Channel 12. “But they were next to my porch, that much I know. But what happened after that… I don’t remember.”

As far as Sela’s family can understand, her Filipina caregiver Grace Cabrera, who was murdered in the attack, managed to bring Sela into the safe room and shut the door when rocket sirens began to sound early that Saturday morning. Cabrera updated the family via WhatsApp, at one point sending a photo of herself and Sela smiling on the bed in the safe room.

A photo taken of Aviva Sela and her Filipina caregiver Grace Cabrera, in Sela’s safe room on Kibbutz Be’eri on the morning of October 7. Cabrera was murdered by Hamas terrorists in the attack (Channel 12: screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“For hours she held the handle of the door closed to try and prevent the terrorists from coming in,” Sela’s daughter Osnat Sela Weinberg told the Makor Rishon newspaper in October.

Neighbors later told Sela’s daughters that the Hamas terrorists took over her house. “Your lawn was their situation room, Mom,” Sela Weinberg recounted to her mother in the Channel 12 report. “It was filled with weapons; it was their operations center.”

All the while, Sela, by all accounts, was lying on a swing on her porch, with a plate of fruit that Cabrera had apparently prepared for her.

The Channel 12 report said that the terrorists gathered residents from the kibbutz to their base at Sela’s house, some of them injured, and some who would later be dragged back to Gaza as hostages.

One survivor, a neighbor who was seriously injured in the attack and brought to the yard, said that Sela’s calm reassurance saved her life. “Mom spoke to her constantly, so that she didn’t lose consciousness,” said Sela Weinberg. “[The neighbor] said that her son was vomiting from smoke inhalation, and [Sela] told him, ‘It’s okay, everything’s okay.'”

Sela has a vague recollection of walking out of Be’eri. “I decided I was leaving the kibbutz.” And off she went, slowly, with her walker, toward the kibbutz parking lot, without her glasses or her hearing aids. She remembers that it was deadly quiet, though according to the Channel 12 report there were fierce battles raging with terrorists at that time.

“Luckily there was someone driving out to Tel Aviv, and I joined him,” Sela told Channel 12. “On the way I called my daughter [Sela Weinberg].”

October 7 survivor Aviva Sela, 96, from Kibbutz Be’eri, visits Hostages Square in Tel Aviv. Her grandson, Itay Svirsky, is believed held captive in Gaza. (Screenshot: Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Interviewed on the back porch of her daughter’s house in Kochav Ya’ir, in the center of the country, Sela knows she won’t be returning to Kibbutz Be’eri any time soon. Now, she’s focused on getting her grandson released from Gaza.

For the first time since October 7, she headed out from Kochav Yair to the so-called Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, to join the call for the release of the remaining 130 abductees still believed held in Gaza. One hundred and five civilian hostages were released in late November in a temporary truce with Hamas.

“Maybe he’ll get lucky,” Sela said in the Channel 12 interview.

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