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לסיפורים בעברית

“If I don’t bring them out, no one will.”

Oz Davidian

Although more than four weeks have passed since that grisly Saturday, Oz Davidian isn’t stopping. He still drives supplies and food to soldiers on the front line, rescues puppies and other animals from the evacuated communities, and feeds the livestock that can’t be removed from their farms and cowsheds. 

Since October 7, he has become known as a national hero and is interviewed around the clock on all the media, but at night he still has trouble sleeping and sometimes a nightmare awakens him. “I have trouble talking about it. I choke up, so I try to speak as little as possible. But I do interviews because it’s important to me to tell the world what happened.” As part of the Iron Diaries initiative, which assembles stories of heroism from the “Swords of Iron” War, we asked Oz — and he consented, despite the painfulness — to tell a little more about the events there. 

He knew the fence’s gaps and the wadi

“On Saturday, October 7, at about 6:20 am, the sirens woke us up — my wife, our three daughters, and me — and we ran to our safe room. My youngest is less than two years old,” Oz says, starting the story from its vivid beginning at our request. “Living in the south, we’ve learned to recognize various kinds of missiles and this was obviously an unusual attack. The rate of fire and the scope of it were unlike anything before. I went up to the roof to see, and the sky was full of nothing but the flashes of rocket interceptions. When I returned to the safe room, I received a message from my sister on the family WhatsApp group. Panicky children were running around near the farm where she and her husband raise animals. He’d been out on the farmland there, near Re’im, since 5 in the morning, feeding the animals, and when he saw lots of people running, he realized something had happened. I told my sister, ‘I’m coming to help.’ ”  

Davidian (52) had set that farm up near Moshav Patish together with his father 25 years ago, while still in the police force, but after his father’s death he didn’t have the heart to go back there alone and he passed it over to his sister and her husband. He then worked for a decade as an independent attorney in the transportation field, and two years ago he returned to public service as a

negotiation team member at the Bedouin Authority. “Because of my work for the Bedouin Authority, I have a pickup truck and a handgun,” he explains.  

Before leaving his home at Moshav Maslul — to which he moved from Patish years ago — he provided his wife and daughters with some bottles of water, told them not to leave the safe room, and locked the doors behind him. He loaded some more bottled water into the pickup truck and sped toward the farm. Having grown up at Moshav Patish and worked for years as a farmer, he knew the area like the palm of his hand. He covered much of the distance to the farm on dirt roads — which was lucky, because terrorists were waiting along the paved roads at that very time. 

“At that point, I had no idea that there was a nature party. When I reached the farm and saw so many strangers, the first thing I asked was where they’d come from and what was going on. They told me, ‘There was a party and terrorists shot at it from every direction. Lots of people are dead or wounded.’ I brought them to Patish and went back in toward the site of the party. I knew it was up to me because you can’t reach the place unless you know the area. The gaps in the fence, the wadi. No one else would know the way there.” 

credit: Oz Davidian

He sped at two terrorists

He re-entered the area of the party, filled the cabin and the back of his pickup with young people whom he found there, and let them off at the last street of the moshav, where his mother and brother live. “Each time I drove into the area of the party, terrorists popped up, shot at me, and lay back down. One time when I drove onto the road, I saw two of them crouched on the ground. I thought they were medics. By chance I looked again right away, and I saw that they were loading their weapons. Then we all got the picture. They realized too that I was an Israeli, and I gunned the pickup and ran them both down. I wanted to go back to them, but other terrorists with them opened fire and I made my escape.” 

But all the while, you had nothing but a handgun? 

“One time, a terrorist shot at the youngsters and I shot back in his direction. When I reached the place, I didn’t know how many bullets I had left. Maybe two or three, because I had only one magazine. So I took his weapon, and I shot it at the terrorists. But I suppose they ducked down and ran away. I was focused on collecting the people who’d escaped from the party and were hiding in crannies and thickets. They were crushed and injured.” 

How did you know where the survivors were hiding? 

“When I drove the first group, I had the youngsters phone their parents to pick them up from Patish. I didn’t know that Ofakim was in chaos too, and the whole vicinity. But it meant that the youngsters and parents had my phone number, and their friends who were stuck at the site started to send me their locations too so that I’d rescue them. At that point I couldn’t see people running around the area anymore. I drove only to the locations I received.” 

Police jeeps that took RPG fire

All those hours, there were no Israeli forces in the area. “As I drove along the roads, the place looked deserted. No security teams, no army. All I saw was hundreds of bodies at the scene, cars burnt out or burning, some of their motors still running, lights blinking. At a distance I saw police jeeps that had taken RPG fire. I parked my truck and walked over. I wanted to drive a police jeep because they’re armored, but all the jeeps were out of action. 

“On one trip, still early in the day, I saw a little white car driving through the area. I came closer, cautiously. I didn’t know if it was a terrorist or not. Inside, I saw a soldier in uniform driving alone. And when I approached, I saw he was wearing a major general’s insignia. I said, ‘What are you doing here, sir?’ It was Major General Yair Golan. He told me, ‘I came to rescue people.’ I said, “This is a dangerous place. There are terrorists. They’re shooting in all directions. You’d better leave.’ He told me, ‘Pull over and park. I’ll come with you.’ I had a location. He entered the thickets, and I covered him. He brought out some youngsters, and we ferried them to safety in the pickup. The next time I noticed him, he was on the other side of Re’im rescuing some more people, but I didn’t see him again after that.” 

Meanwhile Rami Davidian, Oz’s uncle, set out to rescue partygoers from spots a little farther off. To accommodate all the survivors, Rami opened up the culture center of Moshav Patish; and when that culture center was full, he asked Moshav Maslul to open theirs and he began to deposit the survivors there. “Rami is a courageous hero. He’s 60, a grandfather, and I’m no babe in arms myself, but there was no military on the road, no police, only us.” 

Only you, your uncle Rami Davidian, and Yair Golan on that road? No other forces? 

“Nobody. There were kids hiding, and there were terrorists who’d shoot into the thickets and run away. I heard gunfire from Kibbutz Re’im nearby, and I saw a lot of police cruisers. I understood there was a force there, and I drove closer. I thought I might ask for two soldiers to come with me to places farther off, but from close up I saw that all the cruisers were full of bullet holes, bodies, and so on, and no one was there either. It was unbelievable. The gunfire I heard was from the forces inside, and they were storming the terrorists.” 

All those hours, why didn’t the army arrive? Do you know an explanation? 

“No one understood that there were hundreds of young men and women slaughtered, or that there was a presence of terrorists. Even when the forces did arrive and I said to them, ‘Come cover me, I have to make rescues,’ what interested them was their assignment — reaching the kibbutzim and other communities because hostages were trapped in the houses there. No one understood what had happened at the Re’im party. Even I didn’t know that there’d been a party until I asked the young people where they’d come from.”  

“Dead or alive, I’m not leaving here without him.”

In the afternoon, Oz had another encounter on the road. “I saw a red car traveling not far at all from the party site. It was an old man. I said to him, ‘What are you doing here? Drive away.’ He said, ‘I have an only son, and he sent me a location and said he was there, and dead or alive, I’m not leaving here without him.’ I choked up. An old man with tears in his eyes. I told him, ‘Listen. Promise me that you’ll stay here, that you won’t go in. I’m going in myself to rescue a group, I have their location, and I don’t know how long it will take, but don’t go in. I promise you that if your son is there, you’ll see him soon.’ When I got back to his vicinity, even before I’d stopped, I saw somebody jump from the back of my pickup and hurry over to hug him. I asked the old man if he was okay to drive, and I said ‘Follow me.’ So he drove with his son to Patish, following my truck. I deposited my passengers there and went back in. Without a break.”  

Davidian continued his rescue shuttles from the party site all that Saturday, until nightfall. “I kept it up like a machine. I had nothing in view except bringing them out. In the middle of the day I went home for ten minutes to reassure my wife, to tell her everything is okay, to marshal a little strength, and she told me she understood what I was doing. ‘Go ahead,’ she told me. ‘You’re doing important work.’ ” And he went back out to the field. 

“I’d watch for foliage budging.”

When you approached the locations that you were told of, did people come out to you right away? 

“No, they didn’t come out until I reached the spot and called to them. I’d say ‘Who’s here? I’ve come to rescue you.’ In the vicinity of the party, I’d watch for foliage budging. One time I told them, ‘Guys, you’re hiding fine. I’m going in deeper, and then I’ll come back and bring you out.’ I had a little Israeli flag in the cabin of the pickup, from Independence Day, and I put it up so that they’d see and come out to me. And in that way they spotted me and called out “Oz, Oz!” They must have known already that I was out there with the pickup.”  

What condition did you find them in? 

“They were frightened, rattled, some were crying. I didn’t ask much, and they didn’t say much. Some of them said their friends had disappeared.” 

credit: Oz Davidian

And what about you? Weren’t you afraid? 

“Fear is with you, for sure, but you put fear aside because — if I don’t bring them out, no one will. And how can you stand on the sidelines? I know it’s a miracle that I stayed alive. There were times they shot at me, both when I was alone and when I had survivors in the pickup. I can’t explain how I lived through it.” 

They even booby-trapped the bodies

Davidian tried to rescue as many injured people as possible, and he looked for them even beneath the bodies. “Out in the field, there were piles of dead bodies, but I was concerned first of all with the living ones. I went to look for injured people in those piles, but nobody was moving. I went from place to place, I looked in the restrooms, everywhere. One time when I moved a body, I found a hand grenade left in the pile. They’d booby-trapped the corpses. Miraculously, the grenade didn’t explode. I saw parts of bodies, severed heads, things more disturbing than this world ever saw.” 

Since that Saturday, Davidian has received many moving messages from those he rescued and from their parents, on Facebook and on WhatsApp. “Lots of them are shattered. It’s hard for them to speak up. They wrote me that they can’t talk to anyone and I’m the only one they’ve messaged. One guy came to me with a present — a picture of us, from the rescue. I’ve also received a lot of moving messages from people I don’t know.” 

But Oz Davidian’s mission isn’t finished. Even today, when he’s bringing food and supplies to soldiers at the border or feeding stranded livestock, people remark to him that he’s the only civilian in sight. “There are places where no one arrives to keep things running, to care for the livestock. So either I know about them and decide to go there, or I’m told about them by phone. Today I wanted to drive into a certain place but the army didn’t let me pass and I got angry. I said, ‘I live around here. I know the region. Look at my car, with the Israeli flag. In another quarter-hour you’ll see it coming from the other direction, so just don’t shoot at me.’ And then I took another road in. I can’t be stopped. I know the place better than they do. And without me, who’ll help the livestock?” 

Resourcefulness and the “Philistine Horseman”

Amid all this, how do you manage to be optimistic? 

“I see how resourceful the police and the heroic civilians are — for example, the people of Ofakim who came out of their homes with pistols or knives or rolling pins and stood in the way of terrorism. Even though almost all of those defenders died. I’ve seen the fighters of the kibbutz emergency squads battling although they’re outnumbered, and Deputy Commissioner Amir Cohen, Commander of the Southern District, in the middle of battle and while under fire, giving the order code-named “Philistine Horseman”; and that order released the full strength of the police. The Border Police fighters and other police grabbed their rifles and charged at the terrorists who were coming in pickup trucks. They put their own bodies in the way of those terrorists, and if they hadn’t, in ten minutes the terrorists would have been inside Ashkelon and Ashdod. Then in half an hour max, inside Tel Aviv.” 

Oz doesn’t doubt for a moment that we have the power to emerge stronger from this. “Look at the people of Israel — how we’ve become a single fabric, a single unit. We have a spirit that no one else on the planet has. We have love of the homeland and love of humankind. I don’t think there’s another people who possesses strengths like ours. The country needs to wipe out every nest of Hamas terror, bring home the hostages, and rehabilitate Israel’s Gaza border communities. Frankly, almost no one is left in those communities. Some were murdered, some were kidnapped, and even the survivors are injured emotionally, so who would go back there? But we have to strengthen the entire district and keep the communities safe. If the state won’t do that properly, we’ll be facing an armed camp here and the next terrorist invasion will reach the center of the country. I don’t know how we’d recover. After what we’ve suffered now, there must be no next time.” 

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