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British-Israeli father tells of ‘hell on earth’ after Hamas stormed kibbutz

Ben, originally from Worcestershire, sheltered in his safe room with his wife Meyrav for around 12 hours while Hamas militants stormed his kibbutz.

Hannah Cottrell
Thursday 12 October 2023 20:54 BST
Ben and his family were evacuated from Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel on Saturday (Ben/PA)
Ben and his family were evacuated from Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel on Saturday (Ben/PA)

A British-Israeli man who was trapped for 12 hours in his home after it was set on fire by Hamas militants and is now sheltering in a hotel by the Dead Sea has described his experience as “hell on earth”.

Ben, 52, who did not wish to share his last name, described how he and his wife Meyrav spent 12 hours lying on the floor of their safe room in Kibbutz Be’eri, southern Israel, after Hamas militants stormed the area.

The Worcestershire-born graphic designer said he and his wife lay in their pyjamas in total darkness, with bed sheets around their faces as smoke and steam filled the room “like a sauna” while their home burned.

He described hearing bangs that “shook us to our souls” as the “terrorists” made their way throughout the kibbutz just three miles from the eastern border of Gaza.

Ben relocated to Israel in 1997 where he met Meyrav and had two children, Jon and Shalev, who are now 23 and 19 and have their own apartments on the other side of the kibbutz.

He eventually escaped after Israeli troops arrived in the area and the whole family, along with Jon’s girlfriend Leila, 21, have been evacuated to a hotel on the Dead Sea in Israel where they are sheltering with others who have fled the conflict.

“There’s a massive sense of managing to survive, and as a family we’re sticking together and being very together,” Ben told the PA news agency.

“At the moment it’s still day by day because I can’t see beyond today.”

On Saturday morning at 6:30am, Ben said he woke to the sounds of rockets being fired and then intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.

“It’s crazy to say, but it’s semi-normal or something we’ve got used to over the years,” Ben said.

Shortly after, he said they received a security alert with instructions to take shelter in their safe room, a purpose-built blast-proof room which he said can be found in every house in the kibbutz.

“We got a security alert saying ‘enter your safe room, lock the windows and doors, there are terrorists on the kibbutz’,” he said.

“We’ve just gone in there in our pyjamas basically, just me and my wife.”

“(It was) hell on earth from then on.”

Ben said they were in a “state of panic” as they lay on the floor together.

“Maybe after an hour, maybe less, there was an almighty bang which was our front door being rammed in by a battering ram,” he said.

“We knew there are terrorists in our house and we’re locked in the safe room.”

Ben recalled hearing shouting and the sound of glass being smashed.

“We could just hear the house being totally trashed,” he said.

He then described hearing silence, before the sound of “glass shattering under heat”.

“I knew in my gut there was fire… smoke was seeping through the edges of the door,” he said.

After a short while the room was “full of smoke” and he assumed some water pipes had ruptured as an “incredible” amount of steam filled the room “like a sauna”.

“We didn’t have any water or any provisions inside because we never imagined an event of such a magnitude as this,” he added.

Ben said he assumed that just before the fire was lit the electricity to the home was cut, as they were left lying on the floor “in the pitch black in a room full of smoke and steam” with bed sheets to cover their faces in order to filter out some of the smoke.

He recalled how they took it in turns to put their noses and mouths up to a small crack in the window to breathe some clean air, saying they were “on the verge of fainting for hours”.

Ben and Meyrav lay there until around 5pm until he heard shouting Israeli army troops who had come to evacuate them.

“When the (Israeli) army did arrive, it was World War Three – it was constant gunfire, constant gunfight,” he said.

At around 7pm, four soldiers arrived to their house and took them to an evacuation point, a car park on the outskirts of the kibbutz, where they were later reunited with their two sons, and Leila.

While there and waiting with around 150 other people to be evacuated to a larger town to the east named Netivot, there was gunfire aimed at them.

“I saw little puffs of dust maybe 20 metres from me where the terrorist had managed to shoot but his bullets fell short,” he said.

On the journey to Netivot, which would then take them to the Dead Sea in Israel, Ben described seeing “burnt out shells of cars on the road” and “fires in all the local communities”.

They arrived at the hotel in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Ben’s family in the UK have set up a fundraising page to support them. The JustGiving link can be found here: justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Kingfamily

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