Cheryl Levi

A Day of Terror and Miracles

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Last week I went to visit the South to witness the terror and the destruction of October 7th with my own eyes.  The importance of bearing witness to the events of that day cannot be overstated.  In a previous blog, I described the Nova Festival Memorial, and now I would like to focus on a very different stop along my journey: the village of Shokeda.  Shokeda is right across a field from Beeri, which was hit extremely hard by the terrorists. In Beeri, 130 people men, women, and children were slaughtered by 70 terrorists.  Shokeda is 3.6 kilometers from Beeri.  The field that separated the two villages was full of terrorists. The fate of the people of Shokeda that morning didn’t look good.

In an article posted on October 12th on the website “Kippa”, Yaniv Elush, a resident of Shokeda describes that morning.  Shokeda is a religious town, and October 7th fell on the religious holiday of Simchat Torah.  On Simchat Torah, Jews celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah.  That morning Yaniv and his sons went to synagogue at 6:10 AM.  Soon after they began to hear the missiles.  The people went down to the shelter and prayed, sang, and danced there.  They had no idea what was going on in the villages around them.

They returned home at 8:00.  That’s when heard the shooting and the news that the surrounding towns were being attacked by terrorists.  Normally the men would have run for their rifles,  but the army had confiscated their rifles in fear of them being stolen by Bedouins, and they were left with two pistols in the whole town.  They knew they were in trouble.

They all went to their rooftops where they saw their neighboring town, Beeri on fire.  Yaniv came into contact with a friend in Beeri and found out that the terrorists were going from house to house killing people.  As Yaniv tried to reassure his friend, the families of Shokeda waited on their rooftops in terror for the army to come to save them.

On the news show “Uvda,” a lieutenant colonel of the helicopter unit that would enter the area, spoke about that morning. He explained that he woke up to sirens at 6:30 AM and knew immediately that something was different. These were not the usual sirens. He gathered his family into the hallway, called the deputy chief of staff of operations, and told him to declare a state of emergency. He heard that ten towns were being attacked by terrorists. He then went to his room and got his gear together.  This was at around 9:00 AM, two and a half hours after the missiles started firing.  Terrorists had already entered towns and started murdering innocent civilians.

At this point, the upper echelons of the army were in chaos.  Nobody knew what to do.  Both the helicopter units and the paratroopers were ready to go, but they had no orders.  It was clear they had to take the initiative. At 10:00 a Helicopter took off, heading for Nebi Musa to pick up the paratroopers. They had finally received some sort of mission – to go towards Nachal Oz –  but they still had no idea exactly where to land or what they would find when they got there.  Nobody really seemed to know much of anything.

Paratrooper Lieutenant Gabriel knew exactly what was going on in the towns down South.  All you really had to do was watch the news.  Residents of the towns under attack were calling the news stations begging for them to notify the police and the army that terrorists were taking over their towns.  Gabriel was a resident of Ashkelon, and he intimately knew these areas.  When asked about his commander’s knowledge of the situation, he took a pause and explained with humility that he was just a lieutenant, and he could not get into politics.

When the helicopters reached Nebi Musa, 50 paratroopers squeezed onto a helicopter that was built for 33 soldiers.  The soldiers sat on each other with all of their gear and anxiously awaited take-off.  They still had no exact destination, but they took off and headed in an approximate direction. When they asked their commanders, they were told that there were threats everywhere and that they needed to assess the situation themselves.

Lieutenant Gabriel explains that while flying over Otef Aza, he saw people on their rooftops looking up at them like they were angels.  Children were waving at them, thanking them for finally coming to save them.  These were the people of Shokeda.

Lieutenant Gabriel said that at that moment he knew there was nothing for them to be afraid of.  He would not allow terrorists to murder families and children. He would rather die than allow that to happen.

The pilot of the helicopter explained that looking out the window he saw motorcycles and people running about a kilometer from where he was going to land.  It took him a minute to realize that these were the enemies.  He thought, “Maybe they are waiting for me.”   He knew they saw him.  He was only a few hundred meters away.  So, at the last minute, he changed direction.

While he was turning, he heard an explosion from his left side.

There was slight shaking and some noise, and he understood an RPG hit the helicopter and he lost an engine. Warning signals went off and he tried to assess the situation.  He felt that the helicopter could hold itself up, but with difficulty.  It was heavily overloaded.  He carefully began to land the helicopter.

Expecting a boom on landing, he was surprised by how softly the helicopter reached the ground.  It was as if a hand had gently placed them on the field.  Once they were grounded everybody stormed off the plane.  They ran as fast as they could and then fell to the ground. The moment all fifty were out of the helicopter, there was another explosion.  The second RPG hit the helicopter.  It was like an action film.  The helicopter erupted into flames, but they were all safe.

Sort of…

They had landed on a completely open field, and they were surrounded by terrorists.  This was the field that separated Shokeda from Beeri.  Shots were fired at them from everywhere.  The paratroopers had no place to take cover. The only thing they could do was shoot back.

It took 10 minutes for the paratroopers to kill every terrorist.  10 minutes.  A few Israeli soldiers were hurt, but none were killed.  The paratroopers found a map of Shokeda inside the pocket of one of the terrorists with the house of the head of security circled.  The people of Shokeda used to hire Palestinian workers.  The Palestinian workers paid them back by drawing maps of their town for Hamas.  Had those terrorists made their way to Shakeda that day, they would have known exactly how to commit the greatest amount of terror.

The people of Shokeda had been saved…but they didn’t know it yet.  When they saw the helicopter explode, they thought their saviors exploded with it.  It wasn’t until 10:00PM that night, when the army jeeps rolled in to evacuate them, that they knew they had been saved.  They had sat up on their roofs, waiting, for 14 hours.

The paratroopers went on to fight in Alumin, where they encountered more terrorists, terrified residents, and murdered victims.  Lieutenant Gabriel would save some workers from Thailand who were lying in a pile of corpses. These paratroopers lived a lifetime in one day on October 7th.

On February 8th, the people of Shakeda returned to their town after having been evacuated on October 7th.   They returned with great fanfare and love for their home.  But they also returned with the knowledge that they needed to rebuild.  They needed to regain trust in their leaders, and faith that their country valued their community.  They also came back with the understanding that what occurred could not just be forgotten.  They would have to live with October 7th in their consciousness for a long time.  It was a complicated day for these residents.  It was a day that forced each person to face his own mortality.  But it was also a day of miracles.  It was a day that each person saw the lengths that God would go in order to save these paratroopers and the town of Shokeda.

This is but one of the myriads of stories that we must never forget.

About the Author
Cheryl Levi is a writer and a high school English teacher who lives with her family in Bet Shemesh, Israel. She has a master's degree in medieval Jewish philosophy and has written numerous articles about faith crisis in Judaism. Her book, Reasonable Doubts, was published in 2010.
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