Parents in the small kibbutz of Be’eri exchanged messages online as men, women and children were, shot at, killed and held hostage within hours of the outbreak of violence last weekend.
The ‘Be’eri mothers’ WhatsApp group has around 200 members, and three of which spoke anonymously to the BBC to tell their stories.
Mums and parents shared the horrific messages as soldiers broke into their homes and revealed the terrifying moments militants shot people dead in the street and burned down their homes.
They shared advice on how to lock safe rooms and stop militants entering their homes.
Michal Pinyan, 44, and her husband were trapped in their safe room for 19 hours, with their only interaction to the outside world via the WhatsApp group.
They could not hear what was going on outside their home for much of the attack except via muffled sounds through the thick walls.
They shared messages of ‘frantic knocking’ on their doors as gunmen went house to house.
‘Not knocking – it’s gunfire,’ one said.
During the first hour of the attack on Saturday morning, people would tell the group they could hear shooting in their neighbourhood, or outside a particular house. The replies inevitably poured in: ‘So do we.’
‘We understood it wasn’t just one terrorist, it was a massive attack,’ Michal said.
‘In each neighbourhood of the kibbutz we heard ‘they’re here, they’re here’ so they were in each neighbourhood at the same time.’
As the scale of the assault became clear, frustrated posts flooded the chat asking when the army was arriving – and why it wasn’t there already.
Shir Gutentag was another mum in the group and as she tried to comfort her eight-year-old and five-year-old daughters she followed the chat for the latest updates.
She told the BBC: ‘At first when I realised we have terrorists in the kibbutz I shook. I was in shock. But very quickly I thought to myself ‘you have to stay calm’, because they’re looking at me, my children, and they see my reactions and they’re starting to panic,’ she says.
‘So I told them it’s OK. It’s going to be OK.’
‘The entire house is smoke,’ one resident wrote. ‘What should I do… tell me what to do.’
‘We have a fire inside the safe room’, ‘The entire window of the safe room is black’, other messages read.
The group continued to share messages as soldiers raided homes and shot members of their family.
Michal, who had been trying to stay silent in her safe room told the BBC she had to ring her mum after she told her she could hear Arabic voices outside her home.
Her mum picked up the phone and whispered. She said: ‘They’re here, they shot Dad, he’s not OK.’
‘And then she hung up,’‘ Michal says.
Her mother continued writing on another family WhatsApp chat: ‘Help. Help.’
Her mum wrote a final plea for help at 10.15am after that, messages from her children went unanswered. She had been killed too.
While 44-year-old Golan Abidbol’s wife and children took shelter in the family’s safe room, he stood with a gun in his kitchen, watching Hamas militants throw a molotov cocktail at another building.
He said: ‘I was pumped up with adrenaline. If someone came to my house I would give them the fight of my life,’ he says.
‘I sent pictures to the neighbour downstairs because his house started to burn. I told him: ‘Now. I don’t see anyone. It’s a good time.’ So he moved to another neighbour’s shelter.’
Golan says this is the ‘essence of the kibbutz’.
‘We are one big family. If we need to open our door when there are terrorists outside and let the neighbours get in so they can survive, we will do it. No one even hesitated,’ he says.
Other families in the chat share their horror as gunmen stormed their homes, and also as the IDF fought back and took back control of the kibbutz.
There was some confusion that the WhatsApp group helped to clear up – as it was claimed Hamas soldiers were dressed like the IDF to try and trick people to open their doors.
But the WhatsApp group shared codewords to be used between the soldiers and those trapped to reassure them they were there to help.
Mums also used the group to help try and calm each other down and try to focus on what to do.
As they sat waiting in the safe rooms for Israeli soldiers to arrive, the residents continued to support one another.
Shir Gutentag made quiet calls to neighbours who had posted messages showing they were in distress, saying ‘breathe in with me’.
She said: ‘I posted mainly encouraging things – I’m sure the army’s there, I’m sure they’re coming. Be patient. Breathe,’
In one exchange, someone asked: ‘Is there something someone can say to calm us down?’ Within seconds a neighbour responded: ‘I’ll tell you,’ before describing how the army would be able to handle it.
Within a few hours more than 100 people had been killed within the small kibbutz and the area had been devastated by the mass horror inflicted on it.
The first message in the chat – ‘God forbid’ – just after 7am is what the mums have described as was a time before their ‘paradise’ was taken.
One mum said: ‘They are our friends, they are our family, they are everything to us. We know them. They have been part of our lives since we were born and we want them back.’
‘I don’t know if we’ll even have a home to go to after this…we were living in an illusion that we were safe.’
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].
For more stories like this, check our news page.