Politics & Media
Mar 06, 2024, 06:24AM

Israel Under Attack

Remembering the violent attack that Israel suffered on October 7th.

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“I prayed for a rocket to hit me,” said Millet Ben Haim, a young Israeli woman who barely escaped the Nova Music Festival on October 7, 2023 with her life. “I knew that if they found us they would rape us.”

She was describing the longest 12 hours of her life, during which she and three other young women hid under a bush while Hamas terrorists murdered unarmed Israelis all around them. As the rockets flew overhead, she knew she’d prefer a fast death to the torture that Hamas would inflict, as they did on so many women on that day, and likely continue to inflict on Israelis still in Hamas captivity.

I heard Millet Ben Haim speak at an event at the University of Pennsylvania, hosted by many Jewish campus organizations. It took place at the Chabad House, a place where I saw students enjoying warmth, support, and dinner in the company of supportive adults. In the months since October 7th, as I’ve read about on-campus anti-Semitism and heard about it directly from many of my friends who have children and grandchildren in college, I’ve worried about Jewish young people at universities that seem unwilling to protect them.  It was uplifting to see how Rabbi Haskelevich, who invited me, as well as his wife, the other Rabbis and leaders of the Penn Jewish community created a space for the students, as opposed to those so-called “safe spaces” that were clearly exposed as not safe if you happen to be Jewish.

Millet showed the approximately 100 people who attended a video of her and her friends at 6:29 on the morning of October 7th, dancing to trance music. She felt like she was with family at these music festivals, celebrating life there. All of that came to an end two minutes later, when they heard rockets at 6:31.

They hit the ground and covered their heads, as they’d been taught if caught in an open area with no cover when they heard rocket fire. Then they started to hear assault rifles firing in automatic mode. While those outside of Israel wouldn’t know it, to an Israeli, this is a signal that it’s not the IDF or the police. In the IDF they’re taught never to use their weapon in automatic mode but rather instructed to make a careful decision before firing. “We value life, so we need to make a calculated decision,” Millet explained.

Millet Ben Haim and her friends started to run. They ran for two hours, eventually splitting up because they realized that as a group they were an easy target. The two young men she’d come to the festival with went in one direction—she didn’t know if she’d see them again alive. As she and two of her friends ran, with Hamas terrorists just 100 to 150 yards from them, she thought, “There’s no use being afraid now, we are probably going to be killed at any second.”

They found a bush and hid. She tried to call the police from her cell phone, which was losing battery. For half an hour she got no answer, and when finally someone answered, they told her that the nearby villages were under attack and they had no one to send to them. She called her family, who networked with other families to find two civilians who were driving into the danger zone, risking their lives to save people. Rami Davidyan contacted Millet, and she sent him her location. Her phone was almost dead, but Davidyan promised to drive toward her honking his car horn until he found them.

While they waited for either death or rescue, Millet thought of her family, especially her younger brother, who’s almost 12 and like a son to her. She showed us pictures of him, and told how she stayed alive thinking that she had to live to be the sister her siblings need.

After six hours, they heard a car. The horn wasn’t honking, but Millet decided to take what might be their only chance. She crawled out from the bush and saw that the car had a bumper sticker in Hebrew. She flagged the car, and they were rescued by another civilian who went out on his own to rescue the survivors, Leon Bar. They piled into his car, were eventually transferred to Rami Davidyan’s car, and taken to a village where they were united with their friends and could wait in relative safety for their families to pick them up.

Davidyan went back again and again and rescued over 700 people in the following days. Leon Bar also went back and rescued many people, until he was murdered by Hamas terrorists. “The old me was murdered that day,” Millet told us when a member of the audience asked her about her plans for the future. She was set to start a masters degree in psychology, and wanted to pursue a career in counseling. She’s also a DJ. Now she’s not sure what she’ll do next. “I’m focusing on being able to eat and sleep right now,” she said.

She has spent a lot of time with other survivors of the massacre. For the first few days, she said, she thought she was losing her mind. The flashbacks were constant and overwhelming. At times she didn’t know where she was.

I’m not Jewish, but have been grateful to be included in Jewish spaces as a “friend.” I asked Millet what she’d like to say to an American non-Jewish audience. “Really think before sending out that Tweet or TikTok,” she said. She focused on educating ourselves, and being aware of the tremendous amount of misinformation out there.

“Many of us are praying for you, and all of Israel, day and night,” I told her. The courage of this young woman, who didn’t ask for the duty of educating the world about the horrors of terrorism, was inspiring.

I asked Rabbi Haskelevich to share his thoughts on the event: “We can't form opinions for people but we can bring them facts and first-hand testimonials and allow them to form their decisions. The suffering of all innocent lives in Israel and in Gaza are a terrible tragedy. Good people from around the world need to understand that their hastily-formed opinions might help create environments and political pressure that continue to enable the terrorists to continue to murder. All the horrors taking place now, are the direct responsibility of Hamas and its enablers around the world. Chabad's original founder, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, taught us that ‘a little bit of light, dispels a lot of the darkness.’ We can be most effective by bringing shining Divine light by engaging in acts of goodness and kindness and sharing the truth even when it is faced with bold and audacious lies.”

It’s easy for some Americans who aren’t Jewish and even some who are, to forget about the massacre of October 7th, or even make excuses for it, labeling those excuses as “context” or “nuance.” There’s no context that makes brutal rape and torture acceptable. Hamas started a war on purpose, and while Americans may have mixed feelings or even support the terrorists from their comfortable homes, Israelis have to live with the threat of another October 7th if the terrorists aren’t defeated.

I don’t know how this war will end: I’m not a general or a politician, and glad I’m not. I’m a writer, committed to shining a light on what happened and why, and reminding Americans that the same kind of violence that was perpetrated against Israelis is a part of a long story of the demonization of Jews. It’s happening here, in the rise of anti-Semitism on campuses and in the streets. “Never is now,” say many Jewish leaders, pointing out that the “Never again” promise that was made after the Holocaust is falling apart.

Listen to Millet Ben Haim’s story, and those of other survivors, and the hostages.


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