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Young survivors relive terror of Oct. 7 Hamas attack
Liel Shitrit and Shoham Cohen, both 20, survived the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. Molly Bowron

Many in the quiet crowd of more than 50 people were in tears last Wednesday night as survivors of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel told their stories in Brock University’s Goodman Atrium.

Liel Shitrit and Shoham Cohen, both 20, survived the attack and are travelling together to share their stories. Shitrit said this is their new life’s purpose.

Their appearance in Niagara was hosted by Chabad at Brock and the Brock Coalition Against Antisemitism.

The pair were with different groups attending the Nova Festival, a rave in the Negev desert in southern Israel, when the bloodshed changed her life forever, Shitrit said. She and Cohen reconnected in a survivors group.

The attack was the beginning of the latest war between Israel and Hamas.

About 6:30 a.m. last Oct. 7, as Shitrit retrieved her phone from her bag, a friend remarked on the fireworks in the sky.

Shitrit looked up and said, “It’s not fireworks, it’s rockets.”

People ran, started to scream and some lay on the ground holding their heads because there was no shelter.

Shitrit and her friends trekked to their car some distance away and a short while later heard gunfire. They wondered if terrorists were trying to cross from nearby Gaza into Israel.

A friend called and warned that Hamas terrorists were attacking. “They are shooting people. They are shooting everybody.”

“At first we thought he was messing with us because, you know, it’s a rave and most of the people are high,” she said. He was serious.

There was a big explosion and she saw “hundreds of people just running and hundreds of Hamas terrorists chasing them and shooting them all.”

“A lot of the people I danced with a few hours before were just getting shot in front of my eyes.”

Even as bodies lay on the ground, the attackers kept shooting them, she said.

They fled in their Jeep, they fled but people who were not in cars were sitting ducks. “They had a lot of snipers hiding in the trees and on the hills.”

Cohen said as the snipers fired, “everyone just ran in straight line,” fleeing for their lives.

“I saw a lot of people falling, screaming and murdered,” he said.

At one point in the chaos he returned to the party area and hid under the stage with about 30 others.

Panicking, “I took a piece of plastic and I thought that this piece of plastic will save me if the terrorists come and start to spray” them with bullets, Cohen said.

Shitrit and others met up with a colleague named Alex and headed toward Kibbutz Re’im where they hoped to hide, she said.

Road 232 was supposed to be a safe escape route but instead it was littered with bodies and mangled vehicles. It remains an indelible, horrific memory, she said.

After stopping at an abandoned Israeli army vehicle, they encountered a group of eight terrorists in a truck and on a motorcycle.

While Alex and a friend named Gillard ran for cover, Shitrit and another companion drove the Jeep, zigzagging across the desert to eventually lose the terrorists.

They circled back for their friends but Alex had been captured by Hamas.

“Alex was kidnapped from there. He’s already 172 days being held in Gaza. Two weeks ago, his wife gave birth to their second son. Alex doesn’t know about it. He celebrated his 33rd birthday in Gaza,” said Shitrit.

“We don’t know if he is alive, the hostages that came back never saw him.”

In the chaos and confusion, they continued to try to escape to safety and contact police for help.

After several other chilling encounters with Hamas, they eventually made their way to a kibbutz and a place to hide.

With Gillard bleeding from a head wound, they hid in a bathroom for hours, while Hamas was nearby shooting and torturing people, Shitrit said.

“They were clapping their hands, they were singing, they were screaming because they were killing innocent people.”

With Hamas so close, she feared for her life as they searched the area.

However, finally, Israeli soldiers arrived to rescue them.

One soldier asked if Shitrit needed a hug.

“He just hugged me for two minutes and this is the first time I started cry the whole time because I wasn’t feeling safe enough to cry.”

“People call Hamas a resistance, they are not a resistance. Killing babies is not a resistance. Torturing women, the elderly and little kids is not a resistance. It is pure evil.”

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