ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 254

Naama Shaked. (Dafna Talmon)
Photos: Dafna Talmon

'The best way for me to get through this situation is to accept it without argument. It turns out I'm stronger than I thought'

Single mother from Kibbutz Kissufim, works as an academic development advisor, evacuated to the Dead Sea ● This is her story

Photos: Dafna Talmon

This is part of a series, “Uprooted.” Each column is a curated monologue from an individual among the tens of thousands of internally displaced Israelis during the war with Hamas who were evacuated from the country’s northern border and the Gaza envelope. This interview was originally published in Hebrew on April 20, 2024.

Saturday, October 7

I got up at 6:15 a.m., like I do every morning, because of our cat, John. The evening before, my 11-year-old son Zohar said he wanted to stay up all night, and when I got up, I saw that he still wasn’t in his room. I went to the living room and found him sleeping on the couch with the light and air conditioning on. I covered him with a blanket, kissed him, pulled up the big blinds at the back door to the garden, and said to John, “Wait a moment, I’ll let you out soon.” Luckily, I didn’t let him out at that moment.

A few minutes later, I heard booms without a siren and then a siren. I ran to the safe room, closed the window and shouted to Zohar to come. John was hiding under the couch, and I dragged him to the safe room too. The sirens did not stop.

My first thought was, “Who did we kill last night?” We live in a place where every time something happens in Jenin, we are on high alert.

And then the gunfire started and cell phone reception collapsed. We could only communicate via text messages. I refused to look in my WhatsApp groups because I understood I would be better without everyone’s craziness. Now and then, I was able to get reports from the news sites and that’s how I understood that there was a terrorist infiltration.

At no point did I see a report of terrorist infiltration into Kissufim. In retrospect, it turned out that some 120 terrorists got into the kibbutz.

I was born in Kissufim in 1972. In 1993, I left the kibbutz and returned in 2012 when I was pregnant with Zohar. I knew it would be right to stay close to my parents and brother, who live in Kissufim, and my sister, who lives in Or HaNer, so that Zohar would have a family. That was and remains the main reason to stay.

Naama Shaked’s parents’ house in Kibbutz Kissufim. (Kibbutz Kissufim)

Kissufim is a privatized kibbutz, and I had to own property as an entry requirement. I bought two old apartments in a line of four and connected them so I essentially have two bomb shelters in my house. The first is Zohar’s room and the second is my office. From the window in my house, you used to be able to see Deir el-Balah.

During my childhood, we would go to Yamit Beach and the beach in Gaza. Meanwhile, the adults would go to the market in Gaza. Our relations were good, but an occupied people is an occupied people, nothing can change that.

I believe every human has the basic right to a free life, meaning they should be able to choose what to do and where to go without checkpoints. Since Hamas took control in 2007, Gaza has been under a sort of siege placed on it by Israel.

What do you suggest?

I’m a simple citizen who wants to live in peace. My job isn’t to give solutions. That’s what I vote for people to do. My opinions are on the left side of the spectrum, but what does the Left mean today? God knows. Anyone who wants to live near me in peace is great.

I don’t think we need to control another people, and therefore, during every military operation in Gaza — and we’ve had a lot — I told Zohar the truth in an age-appropriate way. I never told him it was fireworks. I told him, “There are people in Gaza who are angry with us and don’t want us to be here, but there are good people there too.”

Homes in Kibbutz Kissufim that were destroyed by Hamas terrorists in the attack on October 7, 2023. (Naama Shaked)

During every operation, my heart went out to the Gazan kids and innocents. We liked to think that it was a population that was “taken hostage” and controlled by Hamas and that most of them wanted peace.

October 7 gave rise to me doubting my ability to pity them. I see the awful photos from Gaza and in my heart, I say, “Fuck you. This is what you wanted? This is what you got. You started a war while we slept in our homes, in our beds, and after you murdered people, you came to loot, rape and burn.”

I understand my doubt and think it’s temporary. I still think we shouldn’t kill everyone or erase Gaza, and I still think the disengagement (from Gaza) was the right move. There’s nothing for us there.

In the afternoon, I got a message from my friend telling me that her mother’s caretaker saw four suspicious people in my area. I told her that I didn’t want to know. That information scared me. I passed the message on, and just to be safe, I locked the bomb shelter door with the lock that our head of security, Saar Margolis, made.

Saar saw ahead. I remember when he tried out the lock on my door and I told him that if I ever locked the bomb shelter, I would call him to come and save me. Sa’ar was killed that day in the battle for Kissufim.

And then the power went out. We sat in the bomb shelter with no light and no air conditioning, and at some point, I heard footsteps on the patio floor. I signed at Zohar to stay quiet, and he told me he was scared. I said I was scared too, and he said, “So let’s talk about what scares us.” I wanted to say to him, “Zohar, there are terrorists outside. What would we talk about?” But I didn’t say that.

Naama Shaked at the Dead Sea. (Dafna Talmon)

We fell in and out of sleep, and at around 4:30 p.m., John wanted to go out. It was quiet outside, and I thought it had ended.

I left the bomb shelter and saw the house in front of mine on fire. Between that house and mine is a large pecan tree. I checked the direction of the wind, saw that the fire was spreading, and realized it was time to evacuate.

And then I heard a woman’s voice calling for help. It was the caretaker for the woman whose house was on fire. I realized she needed to be saved and knew I couldn’t do it alone.

I stood outside and shouted for help. Someone told me later that they heard me screaming and thought Zohar had been murdered. I went back inside and then back outside and screamed again, and then I went back in and back out again. Zohar was sleeping.

When I went out for the third time, I ran to my brother Yotam’s house where he lives nearby with his wife and their two children. I knocked on the door and ran to the bomb shelter, but I didn’t see anyone other than the dogs. It was weird for me that the dogs were there and they weren’t. At that point, I didn’t know yet that Hamas had taken hostages.

I ran back to my house and kept screaming for help. Iddo and Yonatan, two farmers who live near me, heard me, so they joined me, and later, Danny, another farmer, ran into the burning house and rescued my neighbor.

Illustrative: The destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kissufim on October 7, 2023, in southern Israel, November 20, 2023 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

I went home, woke Zohar, and told him we were going to his grandparents who live a 10-minute walk away. I put John in the cat carrier and shoved his medication (which he needs to live), food and litter inside.

I took the computer’s external hard drive and a few pairs of underwear, and I told Zohar that if there were sirens on the way, we would have to drop and roll. If I had known how many terrorists were walking around out there, I would have frozen.

When we reached my parents’ house, I realized I had left the car keys at home. I thought if the house burnt down, we should at least have a car. I ran back to the lions’ den and grabbed the keys, something for Zohar, and the cream for the tattoo I had gotten two days before.

I left the house without locking the door and suddenly saw a tank sitting behind my car. By then, I was no longer looking for logic. When Zohar fell asleep, I told my mother that I had been in Yotam’s house and no one was there and she told me not to tell my father.

Sunday, October 8

In the morning, soldiers arrived and told us to get ready to be evacuated to the Dead Sea. We left the kibbutz on a bus. When we neared Gama Junction, we were told to close the curtains and put our heads down, and I thought it was because of gunfire. Later, Zohar told me that he had peeked outside and saw people lying on the grass, dead or asleep. It was 11 a.m.

We went to Beit Kama where we transferred off the armored bus which drove back to the kibbutz to get more members. Everyone was extremely stressed. From there, we went to the Leonardo Plaza where we spent three weeks before moving to Noga Hotel.

Kibbutz Be’eri evacuees seen at a hotel in the Dead Sea, on October 20, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The first hotel was isolated. We couldn’t go anywhere without a car. We were with other evacuees, mainly from Ofakim and Sderot, and there were a few unpleasant incidents where people called us things like “Smelly leftist enemies of Israel.” We asked to move to a more accessible hotel that would meet our needs.

When we left the kibbutz that morning, the reception was restored and I had 150 new messages. Only then, did I learn that Yotam and his family were evacuated during the night with armored cars out of the kibbutz, and from there, on a bus to the Dead Sea.

The next day, the dairy manager, Reuven Heinik from Ashkelon, went to see how the cows were doing. The army said at the time that the kibbutz had been cleared of terrorists, but it turns out there were two of them in the dairy. Reuven was murdered and the dairy was destroyed.

In total, 18 members of Kissufim and foreign workers, and one dairy manager, were murdered in the attack on the kibbutz.

Life in a hotel

When we reached the hotel and things became clearer, I crashed. My head was filled with what-ifs. What would have happened if Zohar had woken up and found himself in the safe room alone while I ran around the kibbutz? What would have happened if I had been shot?

People in my neighborhood were murdered in their bomb shelters, and my house wasn’t even touched. I don’t ask questions about divine intervention and I’m not looking for an explanation. What happened happened and now, it’s day to day. I’m evacuated.

A memorial corner in the Noga Hotel at the Dead Sea for the members of Kibbutz Kissufim who were murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. (Dafna Talmon)

My life is what it is. My parents are okay, my family is okay, my cat is alive. I try not to argue with reality and I shake off what I cannot control.

Don’t misunderstand me, nothing about this is okay. We were abandoned, we were lied to, and we were told we were protected. Sometimes, I wake up in the morning and say to myself, “God damn it, how can this be? This is a movie, it’s not reality.”

Zohar and I live in separate next-door rooms without a connecting door. At home, we each had our own space, and suddenly living in one room with a boy on the brink of adolescence was complicated. I expressed the difficulty to the community’s representatives, and another room was added.

In our former life, Zohar played the saxophone, bounced off the walls and participated in a program for outstanding students in Beersheba. All at once, he was ripped away from his life.

I have friends who evacuated independently, and it’s unclear whether they’ll come back, but Zohar told me unequivocally that he wanted to stay with the community, and he’s the most important right now. Obviously, I’m important too, and I think that if we didn’t have separate rooms, I would have a hard time with it.

From the moment I decided to stay — and it’s not easy and even difficult at times — I’ve been trying to live a life that looks as normal as possible. Zohar goes to the school that was opened in the center of the Dead Sea for evacuated children from Kissufim, Be’eri, some of the kids from Magen, and kids from Kibbutz Holit.

Family photos of Naama Shaked, her son, Zohar, and cat, John. (Naama Shaked)

What do you miss especially?

John. He’s what I miss most terribly. Our family isn’t complete without him. When we moved to Noga Hotel, his health worsened. Since November, he’s lived in a cat hospital run by Dr. Sharon Regev from Ramat Gan who came to the Dead Sea especially to pick him up. I didn’t know him before, and he’s been taking care of John with such dedication at no cost.

I miss my home, my privacy and cooking for myself even though I’m not a big cook. I miss waking up in the morning to a green view, making myself coffee and sitting quietly in the garden. On October 7, I thought to myself that if the terrorists touched my basil or my lemon tree, I would beat them up.

Mobile homes in Omer

In December, the kibbutz decided to move to a neighborhood of mobile homes in Omer. The decision was passed on to the Tekuma Authority, which is responsible for rehabilitating the south. I was of the opinion that we had to leave the hotel. It didn’t matter where because our community was becoming disabled, and staying in the hotel was turning into a double-edged sword.

There’s something fossilizing about staying in a hotel for such a long time. All the cleaning and cooking is done for you, and there’s nothing there. Even people who wanted to work struggled because of the distance. I’m lucky that I can work, but a lot of people aren’t working and are getting used to a lifeless life. Some kibbutzim understood this early on, but we took time and a lot of debates.

We decided that we would move to the mobile homes in May, and the first thing we would do is make a meal and then I would shout, “Zohar, dinner is ready!”

John the cat relaxes in the Leonardo Plaza in the Dead Sea. (Naama Shaked)

Do you see yourself going back to Kissufim?

At the moment, we cannot go back. The war isn’t over yet, there are sirens often, the hostages aren’t back and the security situation hasn’t changed. It’s a terrible reality in which to decide about the rest of my life. Yes, I aspire to return, but what will happen when I get back? I don’t know. I do my best to continue with my life.

In November, we flew to Hungary with a delegation of children from the south for a soccer championship that Israel’s team was playing in. At the beginning of March, I flew to Madrid for five days, and in a month, Zohar and I will fly to Salzburg for a trip. I try to leave the Dead Sea weekly to get some fresh air, and when we visit John, we eat in a restaurant before we go home. Yes, the hotel is now home.

Coping mechanisms

The best way for me to get through this shitty situation is to accept it without argument. I don’t make plans more than 48 hours ahead. Day by day. Did I get assigned a mobile home? Great. Now I need to decide what to take there. Small preparations for the end of the stay in the hotel.

I’ve adapted to a sort of chill approach that isn’t characteristic of me. It turns out that I’m stronger than I thought and that mental flexibility is my strength. Maybe this is where I understood even more what my job is as the responsible adult in the house and what sort of example I need to set for my kid.

Naama Shaked at the Dead Sea. (Dafna Talmon)

How do you feel about the situation now?

I think we’ve been forgotten. It’s jarring to me that the State of Israel has gone back to some sort of normal. The struggle to get the hostages back has taken on a political hue.

Getting the hostages back is the basic duty of a state for its citizens. It’s inconceivable that land and vengeance are more important than human beings.

Kissufim has one hostage — Shlomo Mansour, the father of a former classmate of mine. In the middle of March, he turned 86. He is the oldest hostage in captivity, and we’re waiting with bated breath for his return.

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