When Hamas Invaded, He Ran Toward the Gunfire

When Hamas Invaded, He Ran Toward the Gunfire
(Illustration by The Epoch Times, Getty Images, Dan M. Berger/The Epoch Times)
May 06, 2024
May 07, 2024

KFAR AZA, Israel—On the morning of Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas attacked, Israeli reserve Master Sgt. Omri Michaeli didn’t wait for orders to report. The veteran reserve commando kissed his girlfriend goodbye and headed to his base outside Jerusalem.

“Don’t worry,” Mr. Michaeli, 35, who'd been wounded twice previously, told her. “Lightning doesn’t strike three times.”

At the base, he quickly loaded weapons in his car, teamed up with three buddies who were ready to go, and drove south—to kill the terrorists who were killing Israelis.

He died that day at Kfar Aza, a kibbutz ravaged by Hamas. He died doing what he was very good at doing: clearing apartments occupied by hostiles. He'd done it hundreds of times.

And he died fighting, something he'd predicted to a comrade nearly two decades earlier during basic training.

Mr. Michaeli was a warrior through and through, his family and friends told The Epoch Times at his father’s office in Neta'im on March 14.

His friend Yossi Keren said Mr. Michaeli’s death exemplifies a larger story. On a day when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were caught unprepared, he was one of many heroes: reservists in their 30s or even 40s who didn’t wait for orders, raced toward the gunfire to protect their country, and paid, in some cases, the ultimate price.

“People like Omri and his friends, who got wounded physically or mentally, they saved us from the biggest slaughter that the Jewish people suffered since the Holocaust,” Mr. Keren, a Tel Aviv lawyer and reservist, told The Epoch Times.

Hamas’s surprise attack left more than 1,200 Israelis dead, many more wounded or traumatized, and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes, both near Gaza and in the north where Hezbollah intensified its rocket attacks. About 240 Israelis were taken hostage.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive to finish Hamas once and for all has taken many lives. Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry put the death toll at 34,488 as of late April. Israel has offered a somewhat lower total death toll throughout the conflict. In December 2023, the IDF said that two civilians had died for each of the 5,000 terrorists killed up to that point in the war, putting the total at 15,000. At that time, the Hamas-run health ministry put the death toll at 15,900.

Regardless, the war and the death toll have led to countless protests in the United States, such as those on college campuses, and around the world. Those protests have left many Jewish students afraid to go to class, and some have been barred from campus buildings. Protesters charge Israel with genocide, despite the IDF’s attempts to clear civilians out of areas targeted for assault.

Mr. Michaeli was a cyber expert whose company was licensed to sell Israeli military technology useful in governmental security to other countries, his father, Miki Michaeli, said. A reservist, he put in a hundred days of duty a year because he wanted to serve his country, he said.

That morning, he said, Mr. Omri Michaeli and his girlfriend woke to the sirens.

“He didn’t think twice. He just made one call,” summoning comrades to join him, Mr. Miki Michaeli said. They all drove their own cars to the barracks. Mr. Omri Michaeli arrived at about 8:30 a.m. About 20 minutes later, he and three comrades set off in a van belonging to one of the others.

Rachel Stalmer, a Kfar Aza kibbutz resident, shows a visitor some of worst Oct. 7 damage at the site, in Israel on March 7, 2024. (Dan M. Berger/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Keren quoted a text Mr. Omri Michaeli sent out at about 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. to Mr. Keren and other friends from their mandatory military service years ago:

“Don’t worry. We got punched in the face. The situation is very difficult. But to get into a depression, that’s not the way to act. Cheer up. Take your guns. Go to the military. We’re going to win.”

They headed first to Yad Mordechai, a mile north of the Gaza frontier. They killed terrorists along the way, Mr. Keren said. Mr. Omri Michaeli sent pictures of terrorists’ bodies, not out of ghoulishness, but as intelligence showing who they were fighting and where.

All the roads near Gaza were filled with terrorists, Mr. Keren said. There were an estimated 3,000 terrorists on Israeli soil, the equivalent of a brigade.

They fought at Yad Mordechai. Some terrorists remained there, but the situation seemed more stable. They went on to the Nir Am kibbutz, about three miles south, found it quiet, and then heard from their commander that they were badly needed at Kfar Aza.

They found more terrorists along the way, engaged them when they did, and eliminated them, Mr. Miki Michaeli said.

Mr. Omri Michaeli was a reservist in the Duvdevan elite commando brigade specializing in urban counterterrorism. Its members sometimes go undercover in classified operations.

Duvdevan was the model for the Israeli television show “Fauda”—avidly watched in Arab countries for its realistic portrayal of Israel’s anti-terrorist operations.

Duvdevan regulars arrived at Kfar Aza via helicopters at about 9 a.m., Mr. Miki Michaeli said.

When Mr. Omri Michaeli and his buddies got there, they found the gas station by the gate deserted. The men used the restroom and helped themselves to snacks. Mr. Omri Michaeli, his father said, left a note listing what they'd taken and a phone number so that they could pay for it.

Inside the kibbutz, their commander sent them to clear the youth area. It had small apartments where young kibbutzniks moved upon leaving their parents’ houses. The apartments, on the kibbutz’s edge, back up to its fence. The Gaza Strip is a little more than half a mile away across the fields.

(Top) Israeli soldiers remove the body of a compatriot, killed during an attack by Hamas terrorists, in Kfar Aza, south of the Israel border with the Gaza Strip, on Oct. 10, 2023. (Bottom L) Burnt-out houses in the Kfar Aza kibbutz, where Hamas terrorists massacred and kidnapped residents in Kfar Aza, Israel, on Oct. 7, 2023. (Bottom R) A women looks at books from her parents' house after it was mostly burned in the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attack, in Kfar Aza, Israel, on Nov. 10, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images, Ori Aviram/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images, Amir Levy/Getty Images)

It was attacked by Hamas and devastated. Many apartments were set afire, their occupants murdered or taken hostage.

By March, the kibbutz allowed press only into one sample apartment—utterly destroyed, but with the bloodstains laboriously removed. The central row of devastated apartments remained roped off.

It took 17 hours for the IDF to clear the one street, 500 feet long with apartments on each side, Mr. Miki Michaeli said.

His son didn’t live that long.

The IDF soldiers faced a unique situation: They were in Israel, attacking dwellings that might have Israelis inside. They couldn’t just toss in a grenade.

“The officer said, ‘OK, who’s going first?’ And there was a silence,” Mr. Miki Michaeli, who has discussed the operation in depth with his son’s surviving comrades, told The Epoch Times.

“And Omri stood up and said: ‘Are you joking? Come on behind me.’”

Mr. Omri Michaeli’s team of six got started and cleared three apartments in about an hour.

At the fourth apartment, the team ran into trouble.

It belonged to the 19-year-old son of the regional council chairman. Seriously wounded, he hid in its safe room. He had been on the phone with his mother, trying to figure out how to stop his bleeding.

After three hours, his phone battery died, and they lost contact. He fled out a back window but then died of blood loss, Mr. Miki Michaeli said. His body was found two days later.

‘Behind Me’

This wasn’t a carefully rehearsed raid on a single apartment with a known terror suspect inside, Mr. Keren and Mr. Miki Michaeli said. And it wasn’t in Gaza, where anyone still inside after having been ordered to evacuate was considered a terrorist.

This was war, with soldiers needing to clear dozens of apartments that might hold babies, children, or other civilians.

The youth apartments that were Kfar Aza’s most devastated area in the Oct. 7 attack were still closed off to visitors, in Israel on March 7, 2024. (Dan M. Berger/The Epoch Times)

Typically, the soldiers, targeting a single apartment, rehearse knowing precisely the apartment’s layout, Ofrah, the wife of one of Mr. Omri Michaeli’s team members, told The Epoch Times.

On Oct. 7, they didn’t have that luxury.

At the fourth apartment, Mr. Miki Michaeli said, his son once more said, “Behind me.” Mr. Omri Michaeli was about 6 feet, 2 inches tall—and strong.

He went in, and they saw three guns, three terrorists, in the front room.

“When he made the first step, they shot him from up to down,” his father said.

He fell sideways with his head in a bathroom by the front door. The man behind him fell on top of him to protect him. The three behind the second man shot over his head.

Two of the other soldiers, the third and fourth in line, were wounded by a hand grenade but have since recovered. It is unclear exactly what happened.

“There are multiple versions of what happened,” Ofrah said. She asked that her last name not be used as her husband, Avraham, the fifth man through the door who wasn’t wounded that day, is still on duty. The terrorists were killed.

The whole room was already on fire. Mr. Omri Michaeli’s teammates worried the spreading flames would reach him. It took three teammates to pull the big man out the front door.

They got him to an armored ambulance. He was still alive, his father said. The ambulance took him to the kibbutz gate, and a helicopter ferried him to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.

The doctor on the helicopter recognized Mr. Omri Michaeli; he had treated him in 2014 when he was wounded in Gaza. The doctor started working on him and accompanied him into the trauma room, where a senior cardiologist joined him.

Ambulances are parked next to a helicopter at Ziv Hospital in Israel's northern city of Safed as medical teams prepare to transport a person wounded in a rocket attack fired from southern Lebanon, in Israel on Feb. 14, 2024. (Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images)

They cut open his chest and discovered severe internal bleeding they couldn’t stop. He died while they were working on him, his father said.

The first doctor knew him but returned to the field. Others there didn’t know who Mr. Omri Michaeli was. He had no name tag on. His body was temporarily unidentified.

The family didn’t learn until early the following day. Mr. Omri Michaeli’s business partner, a paratrooper, called Mr. Omri Michaeli’s brother at about 8 p.m. to tell him there were rumors Mr. Omri Michaeli had been hit.

They went to an Ashkelon hospital and found Mr. Omri Michaeli’s officer, one of the two men wounded. He didn’t know where Mr. Omri Michaeli had been taken. The two brothers split up. One went to Soroka and gave a doctor enough identification to confirm early the following day that Mr. Omri Michaeli was dead.

Halted a Raid to Protect a Child

Mr. Omri Michaeli’s 2014 wound in Gaza had been fairly serious. It made him famous, though; a news photo circulated worldwide of him on a stretcher pulling an Israeli flag over himself. He had arterial bleeding in one leg but kept fighting until all the terrorists were dead. He was decorated for his performance that day.

As that raid, to take out two high-ranking terrorists, was about to start, his father said, Mr. Omri Michaeli halted it momentarily to ensure a 5-year-old Palestinian boy he'd just spotted was safe.

He was wounded again in 2023 in Jenin, a few months before his death.

Mr. Keren said Mr. Omri Michaeli stands for the spirit of Israel: for reservists in their 30s or even 40s, people with homes, businesses, and children, who without being called that Sabbath morning, left friends and family “in a matter of seconds” to protect their country.

“And people like Omri lost everything,” he said. “For a just cause. We didn’t want to do it. We were forced to do it. If there were no people like Omri, thousands of kids in Israel, in Beersheba and Ofakim and Ashkelon, [would have been killed]. Hamas didn’t plan to stop in Kfar Aza.

“It’s not about politics and it’s not about territory.

“It’s a just war, [one against] animals that came to kill kids and babies.”

Mr. Omri Michaeli’s fighting spirit lifted others, Mr. Keren said. “He sent us photos of him at 11 o‘clock [in the morning]. He said: ’We are going to win. Put your heads up.' This is the spirit I want you to understand.”

Mr. Keren said he and Mr. Omri Michaeli took turns on guard duty during basic training when they were 19. Mr. Omri Michaeli woke him up one night to turn the guard detail over to him and said, “‘You know, Yossi, on my tomb, it’s going to be written, ’Died on duty.'”