In August 2011, the Shitrit family, Eliyahu and Aviva and their teenaged daughters, Adael and Shilat, from Netivot in southern Israel, had just waved goodbye to their grandmother in neighboring Beersheva where they had spent Shabbat. The quiet day, a change from the fear of the regular missile attacks in Netivot that left residents with between ten and fifteen seconds to reach a shelter, had been enjoyed by all. “Turn back, Abba,” said one of the girls, “I forgot something.” Eliyahu turned back into Arthur Rupin Street as the siren warning of a missile attack sounded.
When the Missile Fell
This past July, OneFamily invited a group of 400 victims of terror from southern Israel to Tiberias to enjoy a two-day respite of rest, excursions, entertainment and one-on-one meetings with a psychologist. Seated in the quiet lounge of the Bali Hotel, high above the shimmering waters of the Kinneret, the Shitrit family takes a journey back in time to that fateful night in August.
“As soon as my father stopped the car, we threw ourselves onto the ground next to a wall,” recalls Shilat, today twenty years old, twisting her long black ponytail. “My mother lay on top of me, covering almost all of my body with hers. I heard her yelling at a young boy to lie down. I heard Adael screaming hysterically, “I’m going to die!” Keeping my hands on my head, I looked up to see four or five balls of fire exploding in the sky. Missiles from the Iron Dome had intercepted the missiles shot from Gaza. The impact of the sound waves hit me and I jolted forward. It was like a movie. My mother screamed Shema Yisrael.Flames of fire three stories high raged over our car. We jumped up and began running.”
Somehow, mother and daughter darted across two main streets in a frenzied run. “I told Shilat to help me pull off the pants under my skirt because my clothing was on fire,” says Aviva Shitrit (photo on left). “That was when I saw two holes in my legs.” Passersby tried to call for help, but, as happens in these situations, all the lines were busy. Then, within a few moments, Aviva was put into an ambulance and two tourniquets were applied to her legs. “I didn’t realize that Shilat had been hit by two pieces of shrapnel, so I asked her to run back and check on the rest of the family,” Aviva continues. Then she adds with a tight laugh, “I also told her to look for my brand new shoe which had fallen off as we ran away. Then I realized how terribly thirsty I was.”
Shilat ran back towards the car, where she saw her father being carried to an ambulance. It was only much later that she found out what had happened. The boy her mother had yelled at to lie down had been hit by shrapnel between the eyes and killed. Another boy had lost a leg. When Adael had been screaming and trying to run away, Eliyahu had caught her. Both were injured by the falling shrapnel – Eliyahu’s left hand, back, and leg. When the medics arrived, Adael was lying with her head on her father’s lap. Luckily, the blood from Eliyahu’s hand had dripped onto her head making it look like she had suffered a head injury – she was therefore among the first to be evacuated. In fact, Adael hadn’t suffered a head injury; the shrapnel had severed the main artery in her leg and unbeknownst to the medics, she was bleeding to death.
Brought Back to Life
Upon arrival at the ICU unit at the Soroka Medical Center, Adael was covered with a sheet and put to the side. There was no heartbeat and no hope.
“As soon as I arrived at the Emergency Room in Soroka, I tried to find out what had happened to Eliyahu and Adael,” Aviva says. “Despite my terrible condition and the staff trying to stop me, I yanked open the curtains around the cubicles, looking for my family. Finally, I found my husband crying.” Eliyahu Shitrit (photo on left) had realized how badly injured Adael was. Aviva kept searching madly for Adael until her brother, a policeman, who had arrived at the hospital, promised to go and find her. “Then I began to pray. I screamed to Hashem to save Adael. I begged Him to take every single one of my merits. I was ready to start all over again. As long as Adael lived. Then I began to feel pain,” Aviva says.
A Russian nurse later told Aviva, “Angels pushed me towards your daughter. Something made me approach her, despite the fact that she had been covered. The head nurse saw me and told me to leave her because there was no more hope for her. As I walked away, I felt the angels pushing me again towards here again. I checked and found a faint pulse. I yelled out so that we could save her.”
Aviva’s prayers had saved her daughter.
A Family Recovers
Although Shalit suffered shrapnel wounds, she shrugs them off. “I’ll get over them,” she says. Although Eliyahu’s back, hand and leg injuries will not heal as easily, it is Aviva and Adael who have suffered the most. Aviva spent six weeks in Soroka Medical Center undergoing four operations on her legs due to a stubborn infection that refused to heal. “Pini Rabinovich, Southern Region Coordinator for OneFamily, came to us the day after the attack and he has been in touch with us daily since then, accompanying us along the road to recovery,” Aviva says. Unfortunately, the shrapnel in Aviva’s leg is lodged too deeply in a muscle to risk removal. For Aviva, walking will never be easy.
Adael Shitrit (photo on left) spent three months at Soroka Medical Center and then moved on to the Sheba Medical Center (Tel Hashomer) in Tel Aviv where she underwent an intensive rehabilitation program for another eight months. After that, she spent six months commuting between her home and Soroka where, three times a week, she underwent procedures to build up her upper thigh. “A balloon was inserted into my stomach and thigh area. At intervals, the balloon was blown bigger and bigger to encourage my skin to stretch and grow.” Adael, today twenty-four years old and overflowing with youthful energy, can laugh at the memory. “I was absolutely enormous,” she says. Then she adds, “I have a metal plate in my thigh area.” Sometimes, when I go through an X-ray machine, the machine beeps and I have to explain that it’s all part of me. When I joined a trip to England for teenaged terror victims sponsored by OneFamily, the X-ray machine at the airport beeped wildly. Even though I had a letter from the hospital explaining about the plate, I was still taken aside to be searched.”
Although three years have passed since the attack, the Shitrit family is still undergoing rehabilitation. A recent infection in Adael’s thigh put her in the hospital for two months. “You can either break down or cope,” says Aviva, her dark eyes alive with a mixture of pain and determination. “We’re heading towards the chuppah for Adael and Shalit.”