November 3, 2023

Hamas tried to abduct elderly couple to Gaza. This is how they escaped - opinion

By Barbara Sofer

Moshe Rozen, 72, is usually on the phone when I visit him at Hadassah-University Medical Center, Mount Scopus. A handsome man with a salt and pepper beard, today he’s speaking to a radio host in Spain. 

“They speak Catalan,” Rozen says of the listeners in Barcelona. “Nonetheless, they understand me. It’s important for me to get our story out to the world.”

Ours, he says, is a horrendous story, with a miraculous ending.

In a bed across the hospital room is his wife, Diana Rozen, 73, a petite woman with a cloud of gray hair. She’s wearing a magenta jacket over her hospital pajamas.

“We lived in the same square in Buenos Aires, but we didn’t know each other,” she says. “We had to come to Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak to meet each other.”

Moshe was a stalwart of Hashomer Hatza’ir, the socialist Zionist youth movement that encourages members to settle on kibbutzim in Israel.

“I was named Moshe after my uncle whom the Germans took out to the woods and murdered in Poland,” he says. “My parents didn’t want to share that tragic history when I was little, but from the time I was about 10, I knew it. I was determined that we had to make every effort so this couldn’t happen again.”

Says Diana, “I joined Hashomer Hatza’ir, too, but my father made me quit. He said, ‘You’re not moving to Israel.’ But in the end I did, and then he moved here, too.’”

Half a century has passed since the two met, fell in love, and tied their history to Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on the border with Gaza. They have two sons.

For years Diana ran the kibbutz dining room, supervising meal preparation for 500 persons three times a day. Later, she worked in the kibbutz kindergarten together with dear friend and fellow Argentinian-born Clara Marman. The legendary preschool educator Marman, 62, and her partner, Louis Har, were abducted from their sealed room together with Marman’s siblings Fernando Marman and Gabriela Leimberg, and Gabriela’s daughter, Mia. 

On October 7, Moshe and Diana wake up to blue skies and not much planned – the perfect lazy day, they decide, to catch up on their reading. Their son who lives on the kibbutz is away for Shabbat. Their other son and his family live in the center of the country and aren’t planning to visit that Shabbat. Their books wait on their bureau.

Sirens are nothing unusual

Veteran kibbutzniks who live close to the border with Gaza, Moshe and Diana aren’t overly alarmed at the first siren’s sound to enter the protected room. This had happened hundreds of times in their lives on the pastoral land where sweet carrots and peanuts thrive. Beds of tissue-thin pink and purple ranunculus flowers flourish, and bulbs are exported to Europe. Tourist visits to the kibbutz tout the bakery and ceramic shops. 

When they enter the sealed room, Moshe doesn’t even bother to put in his false teeth.

“We’re used to the sounds of the rockets and Iron Dome, but then we hear shooting very close by. Behind the iron door of our safe room, we suddenly hear loud noises inside our apartment – the sounds of broken glass and crashing furniture,” says Diana

“We pool our strength by holding the door handle.” Moshe’s hands enclose Diana’s smaller ones. “Terrorists aim at the lock, and we both are shot in our hands.”

The door lifts off its frame.

“Five men have broken into our home,” says Moshe. “Four are soldiers, in Hamas military clothing, speaking to their commander on a communication device. One is in civilian clothes. He seems to be in charge of robbery,” says Moshe. “Whatever they don’t destroy, they steal. They even grab my shoes.”

Barefoot Moshe and Diana are forced out of their home.

 “They keep their Kalashnikov rifles pointed at us,” he says.

 “I look at the clock. It is 1:25,” says Diana.

By now, they hear gunfire from every direction. Their home is close to the edge of the kibbutz fields. The four Hamas soldiers push them forward. The fifth man has disappeared.

Helicopters fly above. The kibbutz is engulfed in sounds of battle. The terrorists take them under the cover of trees and bushes towards Gaza. “My bleeding hand becomes like a bird’s nest,” Moshe says, “leaves and twigs sticking to the blood. The terrorists look for a car, but all have been burned. They seem to be called to be picked up by a car from Gaza.”

A hole has been cut in the fence surrounding the fields. Three terrorists go through. They are left with the fourth, who grips both of them.

They have no language in common.

“Gaza,” says the terrorist.

“Hospital,” says Moshe.

Diana is silent. She can’t form words.

Gaza hospital,” says the terrorist.

“No,” says Moshe. “Beersheba.”

Then the words rise in Moshe’s throat: “We go home,” he says. “We go home.”

The terrorist seems to agree.

Moshe turns around. So does Diana.

They begin to run, waiting for death. He says, “We are sure we will be shot in the back, but we keep on running.”

They can almost feel the bullets in their back.

But the bullets don’t come. Neither Moshe nor Diana turns back to look.

They run towards their home, minutes away through a shortcut.

But there is no home. Their kibbutz apartment is destroyed.

ACROSS FROM them, their friend and neighbor’s home is intact.

Knowing that the kibbutz members have been instructed not to open the door – not even to their closest friends who might be forced to speak by Hamas murderers – the neighbors take a chance and open the door.

Diana breaks down in tears telling this. “They let us in. They saved us.”

Their neighbor phones his son, a physician, and gets his instructions on how to apply a tourniquet and bandage their hands. He phones for help.

Hours pass. A military patrol jeep picks them up. They join the lines of those waiting for help in Beersheba.

They are offered an ambulance ride to Jerusalem, even though it’s 100 kilometers away; they happily accept.

They arrive at Hadassah Hospital, Mount Scopus.

Says Diana, “We finally feel safe. Within minutes of arrival, we are rushed into surgery. It is now four in the morning. The intake nurse can’t get over that so many hours had passed.”

Diana has lost a finger. Moshe’s wounds are more severe. He is in danger of losing his hand.

Diana attends the funerals of dear friends and neighbors who have been murdered. Their close friends have been kidnapped.

“Moshe saved us,” Diana says. “I was frozen in terror, and I just followed him.”

Moshe is a history teacher. He frequently quotes Holocaust historian Christopher Robert Browning, author of Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, who documented how middle-class men carried out the murder of adults and children. “You can’t have genocide if it’s not legitimate among the population. People have to know this.”

The hand surgeon, occupational therapist, and dentists are on their way.

One question remains.

What was Moshe thinking when he said those three words that changed their fate?

“I thought we were going to die for sure,” he said. “I decided I’d rather die on the grounds of our beloved kibbutz, and not in a Gaza prison. I knew, alive or dead: “We go home.”