An Israeli woman and her daughter survived Hamas’ 12-hour siege of their kibbutz by barricading themselves into a safe room using a vacuum cleaner and a rolling pin.
Theirs was just one of the remarkable stories of survival against the odds to have emerged following the Gaza-based militant group’s surprise weekend attack on Israel, with others telling CNN of how they escaped by hiding in bushes and under bodies.
Irit Lahav, a resident of the Nir Oz kibbutz, told CNN’s Erin Burnett Tuesday that when she heard Hamas fighters had entered her community Saturday, she and her daughter took refuge in a safe room as if it were “a regular bombing,” which “we’re used to for years and years now.”
But she soon realized the room, used previously as a bomb shelter, was ill-equipped to keep out the advancing militants – because it didn’t even have a lock.
All Israeli buildings erected after 1993 are required to have bomb shelters – reinforced rooms with concrete walls and heavy steel doors.
But these safe rooms are designed to withstand a rocket attack, not an armed incursion. The doors are heavy, but they don’t have locks – they are not supposed to be lockable, for safety reasons.
As fighting erupted around her, Lahav feverishly reached out to her family and other residents of the kibbutz for advice.
“Everywhere endless, endless, endless shooting and grenades. So I’m trying to figure out what to do. Are they going to maybe break into our door? How can I make sure it’s locked? And I started texting and calling people from the kibbutz how to lock the door, and nobody knew,” Lahav said.
Salvation came from an unlikely place – when her brother sent her a picture of how he had locked his door “with two broomsticks.”
“I thought, I don’t have any brooms. How would I do that? But then I remembered I had a rolling stick and I took that and then I took my Dyson vacuum,” Lahav said.
“It’s hard to imagine how, you know that you’re just going to die if they break in. And I was just tying these things to the door,” Lahav said. “It’s just fear, fear, fear.”
As she was assembling the makeshift barricade, Lahav said she could hear men’s voices screaming and “banging everything.”
“There was nothing we could do except we were hugging, my daughter and I, under the table, hiding in the dark,” Lahav said.
“We started saying to each other, ‘I love you’. My daughter says ‘Mom, I love you, I really appreciate everything you did for me.’ And I told her how much I love her. We thought we were just going to die and they kept banging the door trying to open. And I was sure that whatever I did, the vacuum cleaner and the rolling stick wouldn’t hold, but it did.”
Lahav said she and her daughter felt lucky when after “eight or 10 minutes of trying and screaming and shooting everything” the attackers left their house. But the relief was short-lived, as more fighters returned approximately an hour later, “trying to break into the door” once more, she said.
“It was so scary,” Lahav told CNN. “Then the third time again they came. It was like an endless nightmare.”
Lahav estimates that 30% of those living in the kibbutz either died or were kidnapped during Saturday’s surprise attacks.
Nir Oz kibbutz was one of several kibbutzim, or small farming enclaves, that bore the brunt of Hamas’ ground assault.
Kibbutzim predate the founding of Israel, when small groups of people set up communities based on the idea of communal living. About 125,000 people live across approximately 250 kibbutzim in Israel, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.