JERUSALEM, Israel – Incredible stories of survival and bravery are surfacing in Israel, one week after Hamas’s brutal terrorist attack that left more than 1,300 people dead and a further 120 people, including U.S. citizens missing, most likely being held hostage in the Gaza Strip.
From the forest where thousands of people had gathered for a music festival to the agricultural communities that dot Israel’s border with Gaza, there are hundreds, if not thousands of Israelis, who are beginning to share the incredible stories of how they escaped the clutches of certain death at the hands of well-armed and ruthless Palestinian terrorists.
Noa Ben Artzi, 25, was with her friends at the Nova Music Festival on Kibbutz Re’im in Southern Israel on Saturday when she started hearing rocket fire overhead.
“I was in my tent and thought it was fireworks, but when I went outside, I saw chaos, hundreds of people were running towards me, to the parking lot behind me,” she recalled to Fox News Digital on Friday. “We started gathering our things and headed towards the car.”
But the group, who included Ben Artzi’s best friend, Norelle, did not make it much past the parking area, because the traffic had come to a standstill. Jumping out of their cars, they ran for cover in a nearby bomb shelter, a small concrete structure with one entrance and no windows, which is used for protection in open spaces.
“At first, we were near the entrance, but then around 25 or 30 people crammed into this tiny space and people at the back were starting to suffocate,” Ben Artzi said. She agreed to switch places with people further back, and when one of her friends started having a panic attack, Noa suggested they sit down on the floor, where there was more air. When another woman also began hyperventilating, Noa suggested she join them, too.
“I hugged her and asked her name, she said it was Michele,” Ben Artzi recounted. “We sat like that for about 25 minutes, and the next thing I heard was people saying, ‘They’re coming, they’re coming.’”
Ben Artzi does not remember what happened next only that shots rang out, and a grenade was thrown into the shelter. She woke up to find herself buried under a mass of lifeless bodies.
“At that point, I was on my back with three or four bodies on top of me. One of the bodies, lying across my stomach, was really heavy, his head was on my throat,” she said. “My head was on someone else’s chest, and then I realized that it was Michele – she was still alive.”
Over the next three hours, the two women lay together in the dark with dead bodies pinning them down as the Hamas terrorists continued firing rounds of ammunition into the shelter, throwing in grenades, and even lighting a fire outside. As smoke poured inside, the new friends whispered to one another to boost morale.
Then they heard Hebrew voices outside and water being thrown onto the fire. The flashlight of a police officer shone inside the shelter, and Ben Artzi tried to draw attention but was too far under the bodies.
“The police officer kept going in and out, because there was no air in there, it was filled with smoke,” she said. “I tried to move the bodies, but every time my hand went inside them because parts of them were blown away.”
Finally, police officers found Ben Artzi, lifted the dead bodies off her, and dragged her outside.
“I couldn’t stand because there was no blood circulation in my legs, and I could not breathe because of the smoke,” she said.
“I found out later that Michele had been shot in the back, but we did not realize it while were there. Thank God, she is still alive,” said Artzi. “It’s a total miracle.”
She was notified late on Friday, however, that her best friend, Norelle, had been found among the dead.
When Yonatan Ben Reim heard the Iron Dome rocket defense system spring into action near his home on Saturday morning, he thought something did not sound right.
“It was shooting like a machine gun, because there were so many rockets,” Ben Reim, a retired police officer who lives in the community of Prigan near the Gaza border, said. “I told my son, Yuval, ‘Listen, if they are shooting like this into the sky, then they don’t want us to look at the ground.’”
A few minutes later, Ben Reim heard gunshots, and something did not feel right. “I told Yuval, ‘Listen what we are hearing are not Israeli guns, they are Arab guns,’” he recounted to Fox News Digital. “I told Yuval to gather everyone into the bomb shelter, and I waited in the living room.”
A little while later, Ben Reim heard people outside speaking Arabic. Aiming his revolver at them, he started firing. Then, he said, “All hell broke loose . . . it was like a Hollywood movie.”
“There were eight terrorists outside, and I just ran for the shelter and closed the door just as they entered my house,” he said. “They were calling out in Arabic, “Put your hands up, it’s the police.”
Ben Reim recounted how the terrorists moved from room to room, throwing grenades and firing from AK47 rifles. He handed Yuval, 22, another handgun and told him to stand by the window while he covered the door.
“We could not seal it up perfectly, and they started shooting at us through the window. We shot back at them with 150 rounds and then started praying,” he said.
The family, Ben Reim, Yuval, his wife, his other two sons, and a young daughter stayed inside the shelter for more than two hours while the terrorists went through his neighbors’ homes trying to convince the residents to show themselves, threatening to burn down the houses and shooting through the windows.
“I told my family that we would not surrender, that it would be better to die than be a prisoner in Gaza,” said Ben Reim, who eventually managed to contact the local civilian security force, who arrived and confronted the terrorists, taking them out. Two members of that civilian force were killed in the gunfight.
Ben Reim said that he acted like a robot throughout the ordeal, while the rest of his family quietly followed his directions.
“We all spoke in whispers and were very calm, even though we did not think that we would get out alive,” he said.
Yonit Kedar, 42, said that she is still in shock that she managed to survive the attack at the Nova Festival.
“I had no idea that we had escaped a massacre until later that evening,” she told Fox News Digital. “Even when I was in the car driving and saw people running through the fields, I did not realize that we were running for our lives.”
The site of hundreds of partygoers, some running barefoot, is something that will stay with her for a long time, said Kedar. “My grandmother is a Holocaust survivor, so it was really triggering, but I am glad that I did not see anything worse than that.”
In fact, Kedar’s story is borderline surreal. The 42-year-old mother of two said she had no idea that terrorists had infiltrated into Israel, even as she and her friends fled the party as rockets flew overhead.
“My story is quite calm and collected,” she recounted. “I have two young children, and I could not see any possibility of me not getting home. That did not even compute in my mind.”
Kedar describes how she and her friends, also mothers of young children, were the first to pack up their belongings and leave the festival, but after becoming stuck in a line of cars, they jumped out and hid under a bridge as the rocket fire continued.
“We did not see or hear the gunshots. We were sure that the only danger was coming from the sky,” she recounted. “We did not know that the traffic jam was caused by the fact there were terrorists shooting people dead in their cars.”
While Kedar’s group was hiding under the bridge, the terrorists unwittingly passed them. When she and her friends ran back to their car, where they were told to drive eastward, over the nearby fields.
“My car is not a jeep or even a 4×4. It is not meant to go over fields, but I just kept on driving, driving, driving and keeping my head forward,” she said.
It was then that she began to hear the gunshots.
“We were surrounded by people on foot, and we told them to get in the car,” she said, describing how a group of 20-year-olds just jumped inside. “They were panting and screaming. Many people were on drugs or psychedelics, and it was just horrific hearing them cry.”
At one point, Kedar said, she was driving with the doors open and people were just jumping in and out. Eventually, she arrived at a road, and out of nowhere, she said, there was a soldier driving with his tires blown out. He told them to head to a nearby military base.
With eight people now inside her car, Kedar made for the base, even as gunshots rained down behind her. She stayed on the base for a few hours and then headed back home to Tel Aviv. It was only in the evening that she realized the extent of what had happened in southern Israel last Saturday.
“I just really can’t believe that we survived,” Kedar said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The above stories have been edited and condensed for clarity.