Israel at war

Survivors share accounts of encounters with terrorists, and an escape from Gaza

Residents of the Gaza border communities recount what happened to them, in and around their homes, in the terrifying hours of the Hamas invasion

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Avital Aladjem tells Channel 12 the terrifying story of her temporary capture by Hamas gunmen, who handed her neighbors' children to her, and walked her to the Gaza Strip. (Screenshot/ used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Avital Aladjem tells Channel 12 the terrifying story of her temporary capture by Hamas gunmen, who handed her neighbors' children to her, and walked her to the Gaza Strip. (Screenshot/ used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A woman from Kibbutz Holit, located just two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Gaza Strip, is sharing the harrowing story of her abduction and incredible escape after terrorists dragged her from her home along with two small children and attempted to bring them to Gaza as hostages.

It is just one of many painful stories of atrocities, murders and kidnappings that took place Saturday in the Gaza border communities now coming to light in the aftermath of the attacks, even as attempted infiltrations continue and battles rage close to the Gaza Strip.

Avital Aladjem told Channel 12 she was hiding out in her home’s safe room with one neighbor and communicating with her next-door neighbor, Adi Vital-Kaploun, via WhatsApp, when Hamas terrorists blew up Aladjem’s front door and entered the house at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

The women dashed to hide from the terrorists. The neighbor who was hiding together with Aladjem was discovered by the gunmen, shot, and killed. Aladjem was also found, and was pulled out of the closet where she was hiding. The gunmen then brought her Vital-Kaploun’s children from next door, ages 4.5 months and 4, and began walking the three of them through the kibbutz. Vital-Kaploun is missing.

“Everything was destroyed and full of blood; they took us from house to house with shooting all around, as they burned the houses and the cars,” said Aladjem.

With one of the terrorists carrying the screaming 4-year-old on his shoulders and Aladjem holding the infant, they were marched to the fence surrounding the kibbutz and then on toward the Gaza Strip.

“Me and the kids and the terrorists,” said Aladjem, weeping as she spoke. “‘Quick, quick,’ they kept saying.”

After the terrorists brought Aladjem and the children into Gaza, they left them standing alone. Thinking on her feet, Aladjem turned around with the children and began walking with them back to the kibbutz. She passed more gunmen and hid with the children in the sand dunes, slowly making her way back.

“We continued and continued and I believed we’d get back home,” she said, adding that she had no idea how much time had passed.

When they entered the kibbutz, Aladjem saw other kibbutz members leaving in their cars and told the 4-year-old that he would see his father soon.

The three were taken to the nearby community of Gvulot, where the children were eventually reunited with their father.

“I’m alive, but their mother is missing,” said Aladjem of Vital-Kaploun, 33, a Canadian citizen whose fate is still unknown.

Avital Aladjem speaks with Channel 12 on October 9, 2023. (Screenshot/ used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

No one’s coming to help

Other survivors or their loved ones are also recounting what happened during the harrowing hours that they huddled in the sealed rooms of their kibbutz homes in Re’im, Ofakim, Holit, Beeri, Netiv HaAsara, and other communities.

Reut Karp writes about being on the phone with her young daughter, after her former husband, Dvir Karp, from whom she was separated, tried to protect their two young children and his girlfriend, all four of them sequestered in the safe room of his house in Kibbutz Re’im.

Karp and his girlfriend, Stav, were killed by a Hamas terrorist in front of the children. The terrorist wrote on the wall with lipstick, “The people of Al-Kassam don’t murder small children.”

Reut, home in her apartment miles away, kept her young daughter on the phone for hours until a neighbor was able to come and get the children out of the house.

It was dreadlocks and tattoos that helped Ricarda Louk identify her daughter, Shani Louk, a social media influencer and tattoo artist who moved to Israel from Germany with her mother a few years ago.

Shani Louk, a German and Israeli citizen who was identified on the truckbed of Hamas terrorists by her dreadlocks and tattoos. (Courtesy Shani Louk Instagram)

Louk was at the Supernova festival outside Kibbutz Re’im that was invaded by Hamas gunmen. She was kidnapped by the terrorists, and seemingly unconscious when they displayed her exposed body on the back of a pickup truck in Gaza, where onlookers spit on her.

Bar Heffetz, from Kibbutz Nirim, shared Instagram posts of the avocado harvest and lychees grown in the kibbutz fields just last week, but now she shares pieces of what happened to her and her family.

Heffetz and her partner, along with her sister, were in one sealed room, while other members of their extended family were in two other sealed rooms in nearby houses.

“My father, 70 years old and after 35 years, took his gun out of the cupboard and planned on using it,” wrote Heffetz. “To hear crazy shooting outside, and yelling in Arabic. To see people screaming hysterically on WhatsApp that terrorists are walking around their house and they’re holding onto the handle of the door of the sealed room. A couple with a baby, one month old, the terrorist burned their house and they’re choking from smoke in the sealed room and no one’s coming to help. Meanwhile, other friends on WhatsApp are starting to tell the terrors they experienced.”

“Finally, the army arrives, knocks on the doors, and 400 people, babies and cats and Thai workers and Saudi workers and pregnant women, and people who had experienced everything in 1948, emerge. You’re not sure how you’ll recover from this, but then comes the news about captives and dead, and then names start coming in, my kid’s teacher, a friend from work, a friend whose daughter was captured, a friend who both kids were kidnapped and more and more,” wrote Heffetz.

“And then the stories of the guy who lay on his partner and took the gunfire and died, and Bedouin friends who entered the nature party with guns and simply tried to rescue people, my 95-year-old grandma who sat in the sealed room with her foreign caregiver and the terrorists burst in there and Savta laughed at them and the foreign worker gave them a NIS 200 bill and they just walked out.”

Screen capture from video of Rachel describing how she surreptitiously indicated to police how many terrorists were holding her captive in her home in Ofakim, October 8, 2023. (Channel 13. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In Ofakim, a woman identified as Rachel told Channel 12 that when the Hamas terrorists burst into her home with Kalashnikovs and grenades, she sat them down for coffee and cake, recommending they eat something “so they wouldn’t be crazed with hunger,” she said. “You’re white in the face — eat something sweet that will feel good.”

Rachel distracted them long enough that the police were able to arrive and kill the terrorists, saving her and her husband, David. (More on this astonishing story here.)

Mor Bayder and her grandmother, who was gunned down in her home in Nir Oz (Courtesy, via Facebook)

Mor Bayder writes about her grandmother, Bracha, the “best person I know,” who was killed by a terrorist in her Nir Oz home, the kibbutz that she helped establish and where she lived all her life, riding on her bike daily to wash and fold the clothing of her fellow kibbutz members.

The terrorist killed Bayder’s grandmother, then took her phone, took a video of her dead body and then posted it on Bayder’s grandmother’s Facebook page.

“That’s how we found out,” said Bayder in a Channel 13 interview, adding that she had spoken to her grandmother when the sirens first began. “I saw the biggest tragedy you could ever imagine, my grandmother, murdered, on the floor covered in blood. Those images will never leave us.”

Weeping and shaking, Bayder told the Channel 13 anchor that her grandmother seemed to be one of the first who was murdered at Nir Oz, as her house was near the entrance to the kibbutz. She must have been in the kitchen at the time of the terrorist’s entry into her “small, modest home,” said Bayder, because her body was splayed in the living room.

Bilha and Yaakovi Yinon, the parents of social entrepreneur Maoz Yinon who founded the Abraham Hostel among other coexistence ventures, were killed in their home in Netiv HaAsara.

Mayyan Zin, a divorced mother of two, said she learned that her two daughters had been abducted when a relative sent her photos from a Telegram group showing them sitting on mattresses in captivity.

She then found online videos of a chilling scene in her ex-husband’s home: gunmen who had broken in speak to him near the two weeping daughters, Dafna, 15, and Ella, 8. Another video showed the father being taken into Gaza.

“Just bring my daughters home and to their family. All the people,” Zin said.

Most Popular
read more: