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(Test Version) Golan's Story (October 13, 2023)

Author: Sabrina Tavernise, et al.

Tavernise, Sabrina, et al. “Golan’s Story.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Oct. 2023,

A father’s account of survival in the attack on an Israeli kibbutz.

Hosted by Sabrina Tavernise
Produced by Lynsea Garrison, Rikki Novetsky and Diana Nguyen
With Summer Thomad
Edited by M.J. Davis Lin, Paige Cowett and Michael Benoist
Original music by Dan Powell, Marion Lozano and Elisheba Ittoop
Engineered by Alyssa Moxley

A one-story building is destroyed and burned against a dark sky.
A house is completely destroyed after being burned by Hamas militants during the attack at Kibbutz Be’eri, near the border with Gaza on October 11, 2023 in Be’eri, Israel. Credit: Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

The Daily, October 13, 2023

From “The New York Times,” I’m Sabrina Tavernise, and this is “The Daily.”

In the weeks since Israel suffered the deadliest day in its history, fresh accounts have emerged in village after village of just how extreme and how widespread the violence actually was. Today, the story of one man at the epicenter of that violence.

It’s Friday, October 13.

Golan Abitbol


Sabrina Tavernise

Hi, Golan. This is Sabrina Tavernise from “The Daily,” from “The New York Times” “Daily” podcast.

Golan Abitbol


Sabrina Tavernise

Hi. Thank you for talking to us.

Golan Abitbol

Yeah, of course. And I’m on my way to the — I think it’s the most quiet place I can find.

Sabrina Tavernise

Great. Perfect. Golan, thank you so much. I know you must be absolutely exhausted.

Golan Abitbol

Yeah, it’s not easy.

Sabrina Tavernise

Where are you right now?

Golan Abitbol

We are at — all the community were evacuated to a hotel in the Dead Sea, all the refugees. And we all got to this place. This is — practically, I think 90 percent of the hotel is people from my kibbutz.

Sabrina Tavernise

Golan, can you identify yourself for me, please? Tell me your name, your age, and where you live.

Golan Abitbol

My name is Golan Abitbol, and my age is 44. I live in kibbutz Be’eri. And I was born in the kibbutz. The kibbutz was established in ‘46. It’s older than the state of Israel. And it’s a quiet place surrounded by nature. And I’ve been living there all my life with my family.

Sabrina Tavernise

How many people in the kibbutz?

Golan Abitbol

We have, like, 1,000 people in the kibbutz. And we know each one of them by name, because we lived with them since I was born. And we know the names of the kids. We know everybody.

We all vouch for each other. We all take care of each other. And it’s an amazing place to raise your kids in.

Sabrina Tavernise

Do you have children?

Golan Abitbol

I have four kids. The older one is 15. His sister is 14. And my twin girls are nine.

Sabrina Tavernise

Oh, twin girls.

Golan Abitbol

Yeah. And the kids are going freely. They don’t have any traffic inside the kibbutz. Just go send the kids to the grandparents on the other side of the kibbutz, and they can go and you don’t worry, because nothing bad can happen.

Sabrina Tavernise

Golan, I’m going to turn us now to the attack. But first, I want you to tell me about Friday. How did you spend the day before the attack began? What was Friday like for you?

Golan Abitbol

On Friday morning, 5:00 in the morning, I got up in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Sabrina Tavernise

Oh, my goodness.

Golan Abitbol

I woke up in Reykjavik, Iceland, coming back from work and landing in Israel at about 6:00 in the evening. And two hours later, I was at home. So this was my Friday. And I saw my kids after a week, I didn’t see them. I spent time with them. We ate dinner together.

I saw my friends. We had some drinks and went to sleep like a normal Friday. And then, we woke up in, about, 6:20 in the morning, to the sound of launching missiles.

It was a huge, huge launch. And I remember telling my wife, what is going on? What is — it’s out of the blue. We are on the border of Gaza. We know what it’s like to have missile attacks.

We are used to it. But this time, it was weird. It was suddenly, and it was so intensive. And a few minutes later, we got a text message. We have an app of the community.

So we got a text that there is an invasion to the kibbutz and that we should lock ourselves in the shelter.

In the second I got this message, I went to my safe and took my gun. It’s a pistol. It’s a small 9-millimeter pistol, and it’s what I have for personal defense.

So the first thing that felt right to do, for me, is to take the gun out and lock my family in the shelter, and then took the front position in the kitchen where I can have a better view of the neighborhood. And if someone come, I can respond and engage before they come to my house.

And next, we started to hear shooting, and we started to hear talks in Arabic. And I was looking outside of the kitchen windows, and then I saw in the outside perimeter of my neighborhood. And I saw some terrorists standing outside with RPGs and heavy machine guns.

Sabrina Tavernise

What did you think at that moment?

Golan Abitbol

I knew it was bad. And then, I saw them exiting an apartment of one of my friends. I saw three guys with a fighting vest with all the equipment, the gear, and the helmets, and behind them, three guys wearing civilian uniforms.

And they were exiting my neighbor apartment. And oh, it was horrible. I didn’t know what to do — if he’s alive, if he’s dead, his kid — I didn’t know. I just saw them exiting the apartment.

And then, there was units starting, entering the neighborhood. I saw them going near one of the families and start shouting, “Tzahal“, “Tzahal” like “IDF“, “IDF“, to make my neighbors think that they are from the IDF, and they will give up and get out.

Sabrina Tavernise

To make your neighbors think they were actually from the Israeli military. That’s the IDF.

Golan Abitbol

Yeah. And this group were dressed like Israeli police officers. But something about the way they were dressed — they were — I don’t know how to describe it — a bit sloppy, sloppy. It’s not — it didn’t feel right for me.

And I text my friend, I don’t think it’s the IDF. Don’t open the door. And then, I heard Arabic from really, really close and heard shooting from real close. And I saw, from around the corner, terrorists.

I saw them going towards my balcony. I was standing at my post at the kitchen, and I just saw them coming from around the corner. I saw their face.

And you could see murder in their eyes. I saw in their eyes, they are going to kill my family. I need to shoot now, or else, it’s going to be my family. It’s now or never.

So I started shooting. I gave a burst of five or six bullets towards them, and they shot back at my home. They shot with automatic weapons.

So then, I’m shooting now from here, and I’m going to a different position to shoot from a different position. Because you don’t fire twice from the same position. So it seems like there are more than one armed persons inside the house.

In Israel, you join the army at the age of 18, and then you do reserve duty until you are about the age of 40. So you don’t think. You act like a warrior. You switch to a different mood, and it’s like a muscle memory. And it’s like a slow-motion movie.

Everything is slow. Everything is — you see every move like flow. And then, you hear them shooting back, and then it’s like a fast-forward. You jump to the floor and hide from the bullets.

Sabrina Tavernise

So the time moves slowly and is suspended. And then the time moves very quickly and speeds up.

Golan Abitbol

Yeah. Yeah.

Sabrina Tavernise

It’s like a weird dream or something.

Golan Abitbol

Yeah. Like a weird dream.

Sabrina Tavernise

Do you remember feeling fear?

Golan Abitbol

Yeah, of course. Of course. And if you don’t feel fear, you are an idiot. I felt fear, and I felt fear for my family and my neighbors. But the fear is set aside, and now, it’s time to engage the enemy.

So then, after several bursts of fire toward the balcony and toward the rest of the house, they shot the house from many positions. But my family were in the safe room, and the safe room can stand the heat of a missile. So I wasn’t worried about them. It’s OK. Shoot the house as much as you like. I’m on the floor. It’s OK now.

And then, I don’t know why they left. They decided to go. They went to a different house.

Then it got quiet. It got quiet.

When I say quiet, I mean I didn’t see any attackers, any terrorists outside. You could always, always hear, all the time, the noise of the weapons shooting outside. I can hear them throwing grenades.

But I didn’t see, for an hour, anyone else. And then, I heard one of my neighbors texting the group of the neighborhood that they’re in his house and they are trying to break into the safe room, but he was holding on to the lever so they won’t be able to open the door.

And then, I guess they got tired of trying to — and they just set the house on fire.

And at first, I didn’t see the fire. Then I heard a weird noise, a weird unfamiliar noise of cracking stuff.

Seems like stuff is cracking. It’s cracking wood. And I looked outside and I saw all the top floor on fire. And they started texting that the fire, the smoke is getting inside the safe room.

And in the kibbutz text group, they said you need to put wet fabric on your mouth to shield you from the smoke. But the house is on fire. And in certain time, it wasn’t safe for them anymore.

And I told them, I don’t see anyone outside from my position. So they jumped to the ground level, the family with the two kids, and ran straight to the neighbor’s house and got inside to his safe room together with him.

Sabrina Tavernise

So the whole village was giving them instruction by text.

Golan Abitbol

No, no, no. The whole village was giving each other instruction. We were all under attack, not only our neighborhood. There were some neighborhoods closer to the eastern side — the side of Gaza that were heavily attacked — much heavier attacks than we got.

They got RPGs on their house on the safe rooms.

And then, in the text group, the daughter of one of my best friends just sent a recording over. She wasn’t shouting. She was whispering.

Help us. My mother and brother are dying. My father is hurt and is dying. They are trying to enter the house, and it’s on fire.

Sabrina Tavernise


Golan Abitbol

And she just kept on sending this kind of message. And I know this girl. I know she’s a good friend of my girls, and she’s been to our house several times, and I used to work with her father.

And we are one family. We are like one family. And I hear her recording, just help us, help us. My father is dying. My mother is already dead. My older brother is lying dead. And you feel helpless.Sabrina Tavernise

How old is she?

Golan Abitbol

I think about 10 years old.

She had to see her parents critically injured in front of her eyes and just, she couldn’t do anything.

And I couldn’t do anything, and no one could do anything.

Later on, I heard they managed to rescue both of them after shooting with a tank, because there were terrorists inside their home. And they survived. The girl is OK, and their father just got out of surgery. He lost his leg. But he’s alive. He’s with us. Not like a lot of my friends.Sabrina Tavernise

But the rest of her family was killed.

Golan Abitbol

[SIGHS]: The rest of her family was killed.

Sabrina Tavernise

Golan, when did you finally leave the house? And when did the police finally respond?

Golan Abitbol

We heard a big noise, really weird one. And I opened the window to get a different view, and I saw tanks — tanks on the neighborhood. It’s not something — it’s not something you’re supposed to see.

So I know things are going to change. But I don’t know how long it’s going to take. And then, a unit of the army came and took us out. It was nighttime, but we could see a lot.

To see the kibbutz burned to the ground, it was horrible.

We could see the house of my neighbors. Normally, when you have a fire in the house, the firefighters are coming, and they put out the fire. But here, I could see the fire dies out after burning everything.

We were encircled by the soldiers who kept us safe and took us. And they told us to close the eyes of the young kids so they won’t see the dead bodies of the terrorists lying outside, so they won’t have to have this kind of memories in their mind, they won’t be scarred more than they are already scarred.

And we went to the entrance of the kibbutz, and they took us to the evacuation area. And we were just about to go on a truck, an army truck, to evacuate us. And then from the bushes, one of the terrorists just started shooting at us with no cover.

And we had to lie on my kids and protect them, my twins. I had to shelter them with my body and shout to my kids, I lost my two grownup kids. I shouted them, where are you? Where are you? And it seems like forever, but they killed the terrorists very quickly, the soldiers. And no one was injured.

Sabrina Tavernise

What time was that, approximately? Do you have any sense of that?

Golan Abitbol

That was 10:00 at night, 10:30, when we left the perimeter. And it began at 6:00 in the morning.

Sabrina Tavernise

That is so many hours.

Golan Abitbol

That’s eternity. It’s — I just can’t describe the feelings. It just felt like an eternity.

And later on, we were evacuated to the hotel in the Dead Sea, where we are now.Sabrina Tavernise

Did anybody in your neighborhood die?

Golan Abitbol

We don’t know. We don’t know. We get drips by drips of names. And today, all the grownups in the community got inside the conference room of the hotel, and they were sitting there, some members of the community, with the list.

And they were starting to read the names of the people we know are dead. And each one of the members got the page and start reading, like, 10 names, and then collapsed back. And then, the other one next to him stands and starts reading some more names and sits back.

And I don’t know how many. I don’t know how many. I couldn’t count. And then, I know each one of them. I know each one of them, and they read the names.

And then they paused and said, now, we are going to read the names of the people who we don’t know where they are. And it was just as long. A good friend of mine — she was — they broke into her safe room. They pulled her out, she and their kids, and they told them to sit outside.

And they took all the men and the boys from this group, put them on a track, and just went to Gaza. And they took her son — the best friend of my son. He’s 16 years old, and he’s the most adorable, gentle kid, and they just ripped him away from the hands of his mother.

And my son is devastated, and we are all devastated. And we don’t know what happened to our family. We don’t know what happened to our friends. We know that they kill 1 out of 10 of our community. 1 out of 10 is dead.

But a lot more were taken. They took babies. They took kids. They took elderly people. 80-year-old woman — she was like my grandmother.

I know her from the day I was born. She was like my grandmother. And we were laughing together, like, two weeks ago. And now, they took her. Why?

What kind of — they are not human beings. They are not human beings. A human being couldn’t do this kind of — they are vicious killers.

They are not freedom fighters. They are not fighting to liberate their country and our community. Donated, every year, money to some people who used to work in the kibbutz.

Sabrina Tavernise

These are people from Gaza?

Golan Abitbol

People from Gaza — they were our friends, and we donated money to them. The mother of a friend of mine who was kidnapped — she used to go once a week to one of the border crossing with Gaza Strip and pick up, with her car, children and take them to get dialysis in Israeli hospitals. And now, she’s in Gaza.

We are liberal person. We don’t believe that all of the people in Gaza are evil. We don’t believe. We didn’t believe. I’m sorry. We didn’t believe.

I don’t know what I’m thinking now. I don’t know what to think now, because we always thought that peace and negotiation is the solution. And I don’t think anyone thinks now.

We lost our faith. We don’t think there could be any kind of reason to talk with these animals that destroyed my kibbutz, kidnapped my family. And we want them back.

We can’t be a community without them. They are part of us. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. You can’t take one piece and it will be OK.

The ones that dead are gone, OK, but we need them. We need the ones that survive. Get my neighbors back. I want them back. They’re my friends. They are my family. I want them back.

And I go in the hotel, and it’s like a roller coaster of emotions. Because I hear someone just died, and it breaks my heart, and I collapse. And second later, I see someone arriving that I was sure that he was dead, and I was afraid to ask. And then another one is dead, and another one is alive, and it’s a roller coaster of emotions. [SIGH]

Sabrina Tavernise

What are the children like in the hotel? How are your nine-year-old daughters?

Golan Abitbol

[SIGHS]: My twins are playing. They talked to a psychiatrist, and they didn’t saw anything. They heard the noise of the shooting, but they didn’t saw the terrorist. They didn’t saw the bodies.

My older kids saw the bodies. They know about their friends that were kidnapped. They know about their friends that were slaughtered. They know. And they will never be kids again. Their childhood is over.

And I know my son will never be the same again. His childhood is over. His friends are dead or gone in Gaza, and — and now, we need to start to rebuild our life from scratch.

And from the moment we arrived here, we rebuild infrastructure of the community — this person in charge of finding people a place to sleep in, someone who is in charge of activities for the kids, and we have a person who is in charge of the elderly persons, and the nurse of the kibbutz is in charge of getting people their medicines that they left back at home.

We rebuild our community here in the hotel so we could survive the day to come. Because we don’t know how long we are going to be here. We don’t know if we have a place to go back to.

I don’t know if my home is still standing. I don’t know. And it’s still under army quarantine. So we can’t go back home. We are here like refugees.

So for now, I’m still in the hotel and trying to hold on, trying to go on one day at a time.

Sabrina Tavernise

Do you feel that it changed you?

Golan Abitbol

I’m sure it did. I always say I was scratched already before with all the military service I’ve been through. But this is a different kind of scratch.

So many friends of mine died. So many.

When half of your friends die, there is no coming back. There is — you’re not — I’m not going to be the same person as before. I’m trying to keep my humor as much as I can, but none of us are going to be the same again.

My kids are not going to be the same again. I’m not going to be the same again. None of us — Israel is not going to be the same again. We went through a second Holocaust, and unfortunately, I had the opportunity to be in the front line.

We’re not going to be the same.

DMU Timestamp: October 24, 2023 13:53

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