A British-Israeli has described scenes of horrific bloodshed after her kibbutz came under attack by Hamas militants on Saturday.
Esther Marcus, 59, who left London for Israel in 1984, was holed up in a safe room in Alumim, a kibbutz about 2 miles (3km) from the Gaza border, for 27 hours while armed guards fought Hamas.
“We have our own group, men aged between 20 and 40, who have been specially trained to be a civilian army. They are the ones who saved our lives,” the social worker and therapist said, recalling the moment emergency sirens sounded shortly before 6am on Saturday.
She, her husband and their adult children and their families, including two babies, had all hidden together in their safe room, she said, speaking from a hotel in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv.
“We turned off the lights, we had no food, some people had to use the safe rooms as bathrooms. The whole time we heard shooting outside.”
Gunfire raged and rockets flew overhead as the family attempted to keep the two babies quiet, she said.
“This went on for hours, and all the time, while we were inside, this group of men were just shooting at the terrorists who were trying to infiltrate our kibbutz. They killed a number of terrorists.”
The Israel Defence Forces relieved the kibbutz’s makeshift army by 1am on Sunday, when Marcus was told she and her family would be evacuated. They were allowed to leave the safe room at 9am, before being told to take shelter again.
When she finally left the safe room at 3pm that day, she said she learned that 17 Thai workers at the kibbutz had been killed by Hamas. “Our workers were massacred, gunned down,” she said. “It is just horrific.”
Her son and son-in-law were called to reserve duty as soon as they left the safe room. She said the son of another family from the kibbutz immediately volunteered to help the IDF but was killed on Sunday.
“The family is just distraught. Another son from the kibbutz, who was in a nearby kibbutz where he lived, no one knows if he is alive or dead.”
She said she knew a woman with two children who had been kidnapped, children who had watched their parents being shot and of homes that had been burned.
“It’s so scary and harrowing but for all of that, we are so grateful to be alive. We have lost so many people.
“We chose to live here and be a part of it here and I recognise Israel is my home, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Another woman, Noa Beer, 29, who was raised in the UK but now lives in Tel Aviv, spoke of the “pure terror” of coming face-to-face with a Hamas gunman as she fled the Supernova festival.
Beer, who has family in Manchester and works in the music industry, was with a DJ when militants stormed the festival.
She told the BBC: “I honestly did not think I was going to make it. I was a combat soldier in the army and it was pure instinct that got us out.”
“About three minutes after they told us to get out of the area, I was in a car with the DJ.
“We were very lucky to have a car in the VIP section, and the fact that we had our backpacks and we didn’t have any tents made us able to leave very quickly.”
The pair drove for a few minutes before coming across gunmen at a road block.
“Israeli soldiers wear green vests and they had black vests. That was when I understood that they weren’t soldiers,” she said.
“They were all round us, surrounding the car completely. They started shooting at us.
“They were just shooting at us like crazy.”
Beer said injured people had been crawling towards the car and the occupants helped three people escape by dragging them in, including a woman who had been shot in the leg.
“The moment we were clear from the shooting, the only thing I had in my mind was getting the injured to the hospital,” she said.
The UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said a “significant number” of British-Israeli dual nationals had been caught up in the conflict, adding that he was “uncomfortable” giving exact numbers due to the situation being fast moving.
At least three Britons are reportedly among the dead. Nathanel Young, 20, was serving in the Israeli army when he was killed in the surprise attack on Saturday. The family of Dan Darlington, a photographer, said he was feared dead. Bernard Cowan, 57, who grew up in Glasgow and lived near the border with Gaza, also died according to his family.
Jake Marlowe, who moved from London to Israel and was part of the festival security team, is missing. Dor Shafir, 30, whose mother was born in the UK and now lives in Israel, remains missing after attending the music festival, but his fiancee, Savion, was found dead.