This is a harrowing and heart-shuttering story of Kobi, Neomi and Ram. Three good friends who went for a run in the picturesque fields next to the kibbutz Yad Mordechai. The weekend’s long run, from which only one has returned. The other two will run into eternity.

Ram Hayun, is 40 years old, married with 3 children, and works as a construction engineer. He and his family relocated to this area to follow his wife’s career. We settled in, and over time, I gained a lot of weight. One day, I decided that enough is enough. I started running to lose weight, and I simply got addicted to it, making it a way of life”.

The Runners Group of Sderot, Netivot, and the surrounding area

Ram explains: running is an integral part of my life at a level that goes beyond getting in a 10K three times a week. It’s really my therapy. In the beginning, I ran by myself for about a year and a half, mostly in a nearby forest: I’d leave the house, cross the road, and my running route was there. One day I met Kobi who told me about the social running group in Sderot: “We have no coach, no goals”, he said, and it suited me perfectly. He recommended joining them, I checked them out on one run, and that’s how we connected. It was really fun, and I joined the group.

It’s a WhatsApp group of a bunch of people from Sderot, Netivot, and the surrounding area. What unites everyone is their love for running. Over the years, people come and go; it’s dynamic. But today, our WhatsApp group has about 84 members. Many come along for a ride, alongside a core of about 15-20 people who are the heart of the group. These are the people that at least some of them attend every run, and I’m totally part of that core.

The nature of the group is that there’s no set plan. Anyone can post, “I’m going for a 20-kilometre run on Friday at a 5:30 pace, who wants to join?” We had fixed anchor runs on Saturday mornings, like the “Monday Netivot Branch run”, where the Sderot group would come to visit in Netivot. We’ve organised team-building evenings, post-major-event BBQ parties, and had quite a few enjoyable get-togethers like that. A true social group.

“Good morning, heading for a 22-24K run from Yad Mordechai”

Before the weekend, an invitation is sent to the group: “Good morning, heading out tomorrow morning for a 22-24 km run, starting from Yad Mordechai”. I click the “like” button on the message, indicating that I’ll be joining. Naomi asks when we should meet, and 6:00AM is set. So, on Saturday, October 7th, 2023, at five to six AM, three running buddies meet at the Yad Mordechai gas station.

Usually, we run in larger groups, going out with five or six people, but this time, perhaps due to this being an eve of a holiday, only the three of us went. We take our traditional “pre-run photo”, snap a picture, and hit the road.

רצי שדרות

התמונה המסורתית ביציאה לריצה

“Did you see it? A missile attack!”

After about 20-25 minutes of running, we had spotted a missile launch. It was before the sirens went on, and I told Kobi that its the Israeli defense forces just practicing as they did last week, shooting towards the sea. He says to me, “Practice? Look at how many missiles are there!”. Indeed, we see a massive cluster of missiles ascending into the sky. We dispersed on the ground beneath a somewhat isolated tree in the area. Naomi starts saying, “I’m scared, I’m scared”, and we tell her, “Of course, we’re all scared. Once the missile attack is over we’ll run back to the car. Not now, not under fire”.

צבע אדום

We lie down under the tree for a few minutes, and the missile launches don’t stop. At the same time, we start hearing the Red Alert siren and alarms from the nearby settlements. After a few minutes, an armored IDF vehicle passes by, asking us what we’re doing here, and we tell him, “We’re running”. We ask him to take us to the road, and he says he can’t because he needs to get to the fence. They urge us to seek shelter. I ask if terrorists crossed the fence since the attack was very unusual. He says, “No, no, no – it’s only the missiles, get yourselves into a shelter”. With this understanding, we know that about 200 meters from us to the west, on our familiar route, near the road crossing, there are large concrete blocks. Since we were in an open area, we preferred to reach the blocks to avoid being in a place where there’s no cover. We sprinted to the blocks on Highway 4 at the junction between Yad Mordechai and Route 10. We hunkered down low under the concrete blocks and waited for the missile barrage to end.

At this point, we were still somewhat amused; we took photos, recorded videos, and sent them to our friends. I also shared our location with a friend from a relevant group who could come to rescue us.

The sounds of gunfire are getting closer. 

After a few good minutes, it still doesn’t stop. We begin to hear the sounds of shooting. It’s not very close yet, but we can tell it’s in the vicinity – the clinking of weapons, machine-guns and small arms. Then I say that it’s clear that the missiles were a decoy. There’s a terrorist ground attack, and we’re in a really bad spot – we’re completely exposed, with no place to take cover. The area is wide open. I don’t even finish the sentence, and we hear screams from someone coming really close, followed by gunfire. We realise that it’s very close, just behind us, tens of meters, maybe a hundred or two, coming from the south, from the direction of Kibbutz Mefalsim.

I tell my friends, “We’re too high and too exposed; let’s get on the ground!” There was a protruding irrigation pipe. I told Naomi, “crawl under it, I’ll cling to you; throw some leaves on us for cover.” I hadn’t finished saying that when I saw a terrorist running between the culverts, right above us! My friend started running towards the west; the terrorist chased after him and fired a burst.

We could see the camouflaged uniform, the Kalashnikov, the flak jacket… a soldier by all means. The distance between the terrorist and our friend was only about 4-5 meters. When the terrorist passed between the culverts, he was at point-blank range above us: only about 3 meters separated us, and he was almost stepping on us. But his attention was focused on our friend, as he ran after him.

8-10 armed terrorists

While the terrorist is running and shooting, I’m lying on my back and see a vehicle approaching on Highway 4 from the direction of Erez Checkpoint, turning left to the west on this access road, with many terrorists, about 8-10 of them, all armed. They are yelling to him, “Yusouf, Ta’al” – hop on. He tells them “one moment”, but they insist, “Ta’al! Ta’al!” He responds, “There’s another one here”, and they say, “hop on anyway”. He doesn’t get in and turns back to us. He passes over us again, at point-blank range, but doesn’t see us! He continues walking.

Four more people disembark from the jeep, and they also pass one by one between the culverts, right above us. The first one runs while the others follow. We see them at a touching distance, and they simply don’t see us! The first, the second, the third, and the fourth pass and return to the road, disappearing for a few minutes.

Naomi and I are frozen in place, trying to breathe, digest what’s happening, and realizing that we’re probably well hidden, although we felt like the most exposed people in the world. We wait. Luckily, my phone, the only one we had, remains silent. I have a watch, and the phone never rings out loud. I try to communicate with the group, but there’s no reception, and the communication is not consistent. The group becomes frantic; everyone is asking where we are, and I can’t answer them because there’s no reception.”

“We’ll wait; the IDF will arrive shortly.”

After a few minutes of relative quiet where I don’t hear people above us, we calm down a bit. There are no terrorists within close range. Naomi asks, “What do we do?” and I say, “The IDF will arrive shortly. They probably need half an hour to get ready, and will then come to rescue us.” Half an hour goes by, and nothing happens. An hour goes by, and still, nothing.

I tell Naomi, “We didn’t move earlier, and that’s what saved us. That’s what we should continue doing”. I try to gather more leaves and thorns for camouflage, because Naomi had bright orange running pants, and I was wearing a white running shirt, which made us stand out. It was hot, and the thorns and the ants were bothering us. I kept telling Naomi, “We shouldn’t move! If someone looks down from above, they’ll see us, and it’s crucial that they don’t”.

Two hours went by, then three… Every fifteen or twenty minutes, a vehicle passes, and I can see that they’re either jeeps or white vehicles that appear to be full of terrorists. They drive freely on Highway 4 as if they completely control the area. However, they cross the road, and at least they don’t walk on the culverts above us, like in the previous incident when we were at significant risk with terrorists passing overhead. So, we lie on our backs with some leaves and thorns on the ground above us, me and Naomi, for about 6 hours.”

We thought it was over

At around 12PM I hear a vehicle stopping at the intersection, and I peek out. It’s an Israeli vehicle with M-16 rifles and IDF soldiers. These are not the terrorists. I heard some Hebrew, and we understand that these are soldiers. I stand up and shout to them, “IDF, we’re civilians”. They follow a protocol for apprehension of a suspect, and I shout at them, “Civilians, civilians, lift your shirts,” showing them that I’m unarmed. Suddenly, our friend gets up from the ditches and asks us, “Are you alive?” We couldn’t believe it; we thought he was dead.

He asked if we saw it, that he had just rolled into the ditches behind us and hid there. The terrorist thought he hit him. We thought he hit him. So for five hours, we lay mere meters apart, each convinced the other was dead.

We managed to send a message that the IDF arrived in a group, “Send messages to the families” (I was the only one with a phone). When these soldiers arrived, we all felt relieved, thinking it was over; the soldiers had come to rescue us. However, as time revealed, there was more ahead for us.

Six soldiers arrived in two vehicles. The officer explained that it wasn’t possible to leave at the moment, and he left four soldiers to secure us, while he and one other soldier went to bring reinforcement. We emerged from our hideout and sat between the culverts while the soldiers kept watch.

We talked to the soldiers, asked why they didn’t have helmets. It turns out it wasn’t an organized force; they lived nearby, were on vacation, heard what was happening, grabbed their weapons, and came to help. At this point, we understood that the situation was dire, and the terrorists had control, Erez Checkpoint was captured, and there were clashes at Yad Mordechai.

Dense smoke slowly approached from the west.

I said to my friends, “Listen, this isn’t just smoke; it’s shadowing, and the terrorists will come from there”. But there wasn’t much we could do with this information. The smoke gradually crept closer. At this point, there were four soldiers; three were among the culverts, and the three of us were behind the bush about a meter behind the soldiers.

That’s when we encountered it: gunfire erupted from all directions. Bullets began whizzing in every direction. It all happened terrifyingly fast. I remember a shout of “Grenade”, and I heard a grenade fall and explode about a meter behind us. Everyone hit the ground, and then there was another grenade. They kept shouting, and there was constant gunfire. The soldier next to us seemed to be hit by shrapnel; he fell to the ground. One of the terrorists grazed us from the left, from the direction of the bush, so we moved out  towards the south, and then a third grenade was thrown. My friend said, “I got hit, I’m bleeding; someone put on a tourniquet”. Naomi was also hit, but she was conscious. I lay with my face in the dirt, trying to make sense of what I heard.

He attempted to run south, and a burst of gunfire came from above.

The terrorist who targeted us spotted him, shifting his attention in the runner’s direction. After the burst, I heard my friend yelling and saw him fall about four or five meters behind us. Now the terrorist was turning back towards us, behind Naomi, the soldier, and me. Another grenade, more bursts… I felt like I took a hit in the back. I have no exact idea of what happened except for the overwhelming sensation of a severe pain in my back, and I was convinced I’d die in a moment. I was playing dead at that point.

Another burst was fired directly over my head, and I could feel Naomi, right next to me, her shoulder touching mine. Her convulsions and body movements left no doubt: they shot her again to make sure she’s dead. I lay there motionless, breathless, feeling that I’d taken a bullet to the back through my white bloodstained shirt. I told myself, “Now comes the burst that’s here to finish me as well”. I heard another burst, and the terrorist fell two meters to my left. I assumed that the soldier to Naomi’s right, probably the one who had released the burst, had hit the terrorist who fell two meters to my left. I heard the terrorist reciting “Allahu Akbar”, and then silence.


I continued not to move, taking shallow breaths consciously to keep my chest from rising and falling. Time passed. My fingers started to feel cold. About another half hour passed, and then close gunshots were heard again. Two or three bursts, and in Hebrew: “Check if they’re dead; there’s another one here!” I lifted my head and saw that they were soldiers. I yelled, “Wounded, wounded, I’m wounded”. I saw my friend lying on his back behind me with his face upward in a way that left no doubt he was dead. I saw Naomi and felt her and her lost beside me.

They lifted me into a civilian car, and I heard the soldiers asking the one who shot the terrorist if he was in a condition to continue fighting. I didn’t hear the response, as I was already in the car. We sped to Yad Mordechai Junction, where several ambulances were waiting, and they transferred me to the hospital. Throughout the evacuation, I remained conscious and kept asking the paramedic what happened to me. He tried to reassure me, “You’ll be okay”. He cut my clothes, found an entry wound, but no exit wound. My back was swollen and bleeding, but there was no exit wound. They measured my vital signs, administered fluids, and so on, during the ambulance ride to the hospital. Later, it was revealed that a fragment of the missile or a shrapnel hit the subcutaneous tissue, went up my back, breaking some ribs, causing a wound and a blood flow, but didn’t penetrate further. I came out with broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung but otherwise unharmed.

Could not say it

The hospital was in chaos. I survived. I knew for certain that my two friends were not with us anymore. I told this to the person who managed the MIA and wounded branch in Sderot, who was a member of our team. I asked him to have the professionals inform the families, not me. I saw the messages in the group, and everyone was asking about my two friends. The families came to the hospital to ask about them. I told them that there was a battle, and we all got hurt, and everyone was holding onto the hope that they were missing.

But I couldn’t bring myself to say it, I hope the families will forgive me. I just couldn’t. 

Dedicated to the memory of our two dear friends: 

Neomi Shitrit Azulai, 52, wife of Yuval, and mother of 3 children.

Kobi Periente, 43, husband of Sivan, father of 4 children.