Inside story'Soon we will be even stronger'

Heart-stopping accounts of bravery emerge from a town that repelled Hamas onslaught

Evacuating a moshav member shot while fighting involved a terrifying car race with dozens of Hamas gunmen shooting at the speeding vehicle, hitting the wounded man

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Yftach Gepner of Moshav Ein Habesor inspects the bullet hole in his car. (Courtesy Ynet)
Yftach Gepner of Moshav Ein Habesor inspects the bullet hole in his car. (Courtesy Ynet)

Stunning stories of bravery are emerging from Ein Habesor, a moshav near the Gaza Strip, which include a hard-fought and ultimately successful battle against Hamas terrorists and a terrifying race to get a wounded fighter to a hospital with Gaza gunmen on motorcycles in pursuit, shooting at the car.

The resistance put up by dozens of residents of the small community, with only four M16 assault rifles and some pistols between them, evidently convinced the terrorists to give up and go wreak carnage elsewhere.

Two moshavniks were injured, none were killed, and the terror squads that invaded Israel from the Gaza Strip at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday did not breach Ein Habesor, about seven kilometers (4 miles) from the Gaza Strip.

That Moshav Ein Habesor was able to defend itself was, ironically, thanks to a spate of car thefts that had prompted the expansion of the community’s defense unit from a dozen people to 78. To ambush would-be car thieves, groups patrolled the perimeter fence nightly.

On Saturday morning, Yariv Ganei Levin from the defense unit awoke to what he called “extreme” shelling from Gaza.

“The security coordinator said there were reports of a terror cell on motorcycles at Holit [southwest of Ein Habesor], and that we should all go out armed,” he told Ynet.

Rockets launched by Palestinian terror groups from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, October 7, 2023. (AP /Hatem Moussa)

The team’s WhatsApp group was filled with video clips of a truck full of terrorists, which he first discounted as fake news.

That was until he snuck to look out at route 232, which runs along the western side of the moshav, and saw a truck “with six, or eight, terrorists, armed with RPGs” — shoulder-launched, rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

A Hamas video shows Hamas terrorists on motorbikes crossing the breached fence from Gaza into Israel on October 7, 2023. (Youtube screenshot)

“I went in the direction of the [front gate] and heard crazy shooting,” he recalled. “I saw three figures in the bushes. I lay on the ground. It took me time until I opened fire. I didn’t know if they were from our forces.”

“They were crouching, and then I saw bandannas on their heads. I opened a whole magazine [of bullets] on them, I replaced the magazine, and then I got a bullet in the shoulder. I thought a wasp had stung me and I felt heat in my back.”

“Some of our guys were at the gate and shouted that I’d been injured,” Ganei Levin went on. “I lay down on my back with my face towards the fence and continued to shoot while shuffling backward.”

Ganei Levin managed to get to some greenhouses near the gate to take shelter where he was finally rescued and treated.

A second unit member, Eldad Gepner, 48, was hit by a bullet in the shoulder as he fought by the gate. His brother Yftach, 44, was standing nearby holding a rock because he had no weapon. Yftach Gepner, a resident of Ein Habesor and a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s Medicine Faculty, spoke with The Times of Israel and described the attack.

“The whole moshav only had four M16 rifles,” Gepner said, pausing from time to time to take deep breaths as he relived the nightmare. Some months ago, local Bedouin had stolen weapons from the moshav armory and the army had decided to take most of the long guns away.

“Eldad got hurt, he passed his M16 onto a friend, and he called out to me. I went in my Tesla to get him,” he said.

“I moved the controls into performance mode [for maximum acceleration], as I understood we had to move fast. But we couldn’t go from the front gate.”

“We drove to the back gate, which is closer to Soroka Hospital [in the city of Beersheba, a roughly 45-minute drive west] and I tried to reach the main road [Route 242] via a dirt path.”

“My brother warned me that there might be a lot of terrorists out there. I told him to lie down on his back,” said the doctor.

Map showing Ein Habesor, and the initial routes taken by Yftach Gepner. (Google Earth)

“When I got to route 242, I looked to the left. It was clear. I turned right onto the road, and in front of me, I saw two pickup trucks with about ten terrorists in each one and about five motorbikes each with two men,” he said.

“I didn’t understand what I was seeing. They started shooting at us. I had no weapon. I was dressed in shorts,” he recalled.

“I reversed onto the dust track and drove backward for about 100 meters at 60 kilometers an hour, with two motorcycles chasing and shooting at us.”

“They shot at the car battery,” he said and Eldad got hit, in the back and the buttock. “He was in enormous pain.”

Dr. Yftach Gepner of Moshav Ein Habesor inspects the bullet hole in his car. (Courtesy Ynet)

“I did a crazy turn and drove at 150 kilometers an hour back towards the moshav’s back gate,” he said.

Once back at the moshav, another fighter, Raz Shapira, turned up with an ambulance. Eldad was in unstable condition at this stage.

Shapira told Ynet, “We wanted to take him to the hospital on Route 241. We were talking with the switchboard at the Magen David Adom emergency service. They told us ‘Don’t even think about going on the road, everyone on the road is dying.’”

“So we turned around. The whole road from the Magen Junction [north of the moshav] was full of damaged cars. The terrorists were lying by the side of the road, shooting at any car that passed and killing the drivers,” Shapira said.

He continued, “On the way, I was getting locations and recordings from people at the party in Re’im begging us to come and rescue them.”

Hamas gunmen were mowing down young adults at an all-night party near the Gaza border, eventually killing over 260 of them.

An aerial picture shows the abandoned site of the weekend assault by Hamas terrorists on the Supernova music festival near Kibbutz Re’im in the Negev desert, southern Israel, October 10, 2023. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Police officers told Shapira they were caught up in a gunfight, Shapira recalled, “and that it was hell and that their ammunition was running out.”

Shapira and Gepner were able to reach Habadim City, a massive IDF training base south of Beersheba, and to get Eldad transferred to an intensive care ambulance and taken to Soroka Hospital.

“He’s in a lot of pain, but he’ll be fine,” Gepner said Friday, insisting that The Times of Israel convey a message to the world.

Better times: In this undated photo, Yftach Gepner (right) takes a selfie with his brother Eldad. (Courtesy, Yftach Gepner)

Gepner said: “I live here with all the friends I’ve known since kindergarten. I have a beautiful home.” Until the Hamas invasion on October 7, there was a feeling that there was no safer place in the world, he said. “My 8-year-old can walk alone at night with zero concern that something will happen.”

Gepner is determined to revive that tranquility. “We created a beautiful place here at Moshav Ein Habesor, and soon, we will be even stronger.”

“We have come through wars, and we will get through this one because we have no other choice,” he said. “This the only country for the Jews.”

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