Inside Story

Wounded soldier recounts battling terrorists for hours without backup or medics

Itai, shot in the leg, says his 9-man squad, 7 of them injured, fended off terrorists targeting them with RPGs, grenades and nonstop gunfire until help arrived

Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Itai, a soldier in the special forces of the IDF's Nahal Brigade, tells a visiting delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations about his fight with Hamas terrorists who infiltrated Israel on October 7, 2023. Hadassah Medical Center, October 19, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/TOI)
Itai, a soldier in the special forces of the IDF's Nahal Brigade, tells a visiting delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations about his fight with Hamas terrorists who infiltrated Israel on October 7, 2023. Hadassah Medical Center, October 19, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/TOI)

Itai, a soldier with the IDF Nahal Brigade’s special forces, knows he arrived at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem by helicopter on October 7, but he doesn’t remember the ride.

“They gave me pain medication, so it must have knocked me out,” Itai, whose last name was withheld by the military, said as he recounted his battle with Hamas terrorists on the morning of the group’s massive assault on southern Israel.

He spoke on October 19, describing his ordeal to members of a delegation of American Jewish leaders on a solidarity visit. Itai’s parents Limor and Aaron had rolled him in a wheelchair from his room to the hospital’s synagogue, where he met with the delegates from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

The Times of Israel sat in and listened as the soldier told the group how he and the eight other soldiers in his squad fought terrorists for three and a half hours, without backup or clear direction from superiors.

Seven of the nine soldiers were either shot or wounded by shrapnel; all survived. A bullet hit 20-year-old Itai’s lower leg, shattering it. He has undergone surgeries to reconstruct his tibia bone, repair nerve damage, and cover his large wound with a skin graft.

Based at Sufa, near the southern end of the border with Gaza, Itai’s infantry unit is in charge of guarding and patrolling the border fence and responding to any unusual activity.

“That morning at 6:30 a.m. the guys in my squad were at the entrance to the base next to our armored vehicle. It was a normal morning. We were just talking and checking our phones. Then we heard loud booms. It sounded like mortar attacks really close by,” Itai said.

“We yelled, ‘Purple rain!’ which is an army term for incoming bombs or missiles. We all ran and got into our armored vehicle,” he said.

Wounded Israeli soldiers arrive at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, October 7, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Everyone got into their positions, with Itai as the driver. Orders from above directed them to move toward nearby Kibbutz Holit. As Itai drove the armored personnel carrier down a road away from the base, he suddenly saw before him a figure in black carrying an RPG rocket launcher. Itai threw the vehicle into reverse, but it was hit.

Itai, a soldier in the special forces of the IDF’s Nahal Brigade, recounts how he was injured in battle with Hamas terrorists who infiltrated from Gaza on October 7, 2023. Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, October 19, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/Times of IsraeI)

“The vehicle spun sideways. The engine was hit and things didn’t work. I pressed the gas and it didn’t work. We realized there was a terrorist in our area and we had to figure out our next steps. In the meantime, we got hit by another RPG,” Itai recounted.

The soldiers decided it wasn’t safe to stay in the vehicle and that they should run for cover. The back door was opened and they all jumped out. Itai was second to last, and he fell as he landed.

“The second I tried to run for cover, I got shot in the leg. My leg felt numb, but I had no time to think. I just limped all the way and made it to cover behind our vehicle. We all got there and I told the guys I had been shot in the leg,” Itai said.

“One of my team members came over to put a tourniquet on me, but when he tried to he couldn’t because he didn’t have strength in his arm,” he said. “It turned out he was shot in the shoulder. Another guy was in shell shock.”

The troops gave the soldier with the shoulder wound combat gauze to stop his bleeding. They also followed procedures they had learned to try to bring the shocked soldier back to a functioning state. The tourniquet applied on Itai’s leg wasn’t working very well and blood was still flowing out, but his adrenaline kept him going.

“I didn’t feel all that much pain. Adrenaline is a magical thing,” he half-joked.

All the soldiers, even the wounded, took positions behind their vehicle and continued a firefight with the terrorists. Itai pointed out that the attackers were “not just random terrorists,” but members of Hamas’s highly trained Nukhba commando unit.

Suspected North Korean-made F-7 rocket-propelled grenades, many with a distinctive red stripe on their warhead, are seen at an Israeli military base in southern Israel, October 15, 2023. Hamas terrorists likely used North Korean-manufactured rocket-propelled grenades during their unprecedented assault on Israel that killed over 1,400 people and saw scores taken hostage, despite Pyongyang denying its weapons arm the terror group. (Alon Bernstein/AP)

At one point two grenades landed near the soldiers and detonated, but they all survived the explosions.

As the firefight ensued, Itai saw motorcycles, tractors, and other vehicles being driven by the terrorists at a distance of some 400 meters, but they were too far away to shoot at. At one point a couple of terrorists came barreling at them, and the Israeli soldiers sprayed them with bullets, killing them.

The battle continued, and one member of the team was shot in the head.

“I noticed him kind of sit down and pull back. We took off his helmet. We weren’t thinking then about death or not death. We just wrapped a personal bandage around his head. He was mumbling stuff but he was conscious. It was a scary moment. We tried to keep him as conscious as possible,” Itai recalled.

“We asked on the radio for medical help and evacuation. They told us we were on our own, that there was no one to come and save us because the whole border was under attack and the army wasn’t prepared,” he said.

As the disaster unfolded, thousands of terrorists poured across the border and massacred some 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians in peaceful communities near the Strip. Over 220 were taken hostage to Gaza.

Eventually, some soldiers from the Caracal Battalion, which guards the border with Egypt, showed up in two light armored vehicles. The Caracal paramedics did what they could to treat the wounded and also joined the firefight. Soon an ambulance with Caracal medics came to provide further medical assistance. By then the gunfire from the terrorists had become more sporadic. Ten minutes later a tank arrived.

“That gave us some peace that we were okay now. We didn’t think terrorists were going to mess with a tank,” Itai said.

Illustrative: Lahak-United Hatzalah medivac teams fly air rescue missions across Israel’s south on October 7, 2023 (Courtesy United Hatzalah)

An ambulance drove him and the other injured soldiers to meet a helicopter from the IDF’s search and rescue unit, which flew them to Hadassah. He said he was grateful that everyone who treated him at each stage of his journey, from the battlefield to the hospital, made sure his phone went with him.

“The phone is important nowadays, so it came with me all the way,” he said with a smile.

He used it to call his relieved parents, who had had no idea what his status was from the time news broke of the Hamas invasion.

Itai said he was grateful for the care he was receiving at Hadassah and hoped that the skin graft extending from thigh to heel would heal quickly, allowing him to move on to rehabilitation. With only six months left in his mandatory service, he is not sure whether he will go back to serve again.

When asked about the fates of other soldiers in his unit beyond his own squadron, Itai said he was aware of 15 or 16 that had been killed. The unit’s squads had deployed to three different locations under attack.

Itai, a soldier in the special forces of the IDF’s Nahal Brigade, was injured in battle with Hamas terrorists who infiltrated from Gaza on October 7, 2023. His parents Limor and Aaron were with him at Hassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem on October 19, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/Times of Israel)

“We lost commanders — the head of the unit, the second in command and others,” Itai noted. The Nahal Brigade lost its top commander, Col. Jonathan Steinberg, in the attack.

“We suffered a lot because we were the first ones there to get hit. Our unit suffered a lot. I lost friends, I lost commanders. But right now I am surrounded by a lot of medical staff and people who are talking to me and taking care of me, so I am okay mentally,” he said.

“When I get home, we’ll see,” he added, trailing off.

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