At KU, Israeli father and businessman recalls his family’s 30-hour ordeal during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

Gal Cohen-Solal, an Israeli resident, father and businessman, shows an image of his family during a speech at the KU union on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Cohen-Solal and his family were displaced by Hamas militants in October.

When Hamas attacked his kibbutz on Oct. 7, 2023, Israeli father and businessman Gal Cohen-Solal, his wife and their three kids were hiding in their safe room — and throughout his 30-hour ordeal, his mind was racing about what he might have to do to protect them.

In his mind, he told an audience at the University of Kansas on Thursday, he was running through scenario after horrifying scenario. “Jumping on a grenade.” Letting the militants kidnap or kill him instead of his loved ones. As they hid, they could hear the gunfire outside, he said — and could sometimes hear the militants trying to break into the house.

“I was afraid,” he said. “I was afraid.”

Cohen-Solal is one of a group of Oct. 7 survivors traveling around the U.S. to share their stories about the attack. As the Associated Press has reported, Hamas militants burst out of Gaza on Oct. 7 and attacked several Israeli communities, killing some 1,200 people and taking another 250 hostage. Around 130 hostages remain in Gaza, a fourth of whom are believed to be dead.

Cohen-Solal recalled how truckloads of Hamas militants entered his small community on Oct. 7 with an arsenal of deadly weapons — “AK-47s, RPGs and PK machine guns” — and overwhelmed a handful of guards there. He said that at a nearby festival, the militants began “shooting people like ducks on a range.”

And he played surveillance video of the militants storming his gated kibbutz and the destruction that followed.

“This is how my day started,” he said, while the video showed the militants abducting someone. He said they were “pretty much going from one house to another, just kidnapping or killing everyone inside.”

Cohen-Solal and his family had no choice but to hide and keep quiet. He said his wife was forced to cover the mouth of one of their kids, who was panicking.

“And then she started crying because it reminded her of the Holocaust,” he said of his wife. “Then we switched, and I put my hands over my kid’s mouth and took them off every 10 to 15 seconds so he could breathe.”

The battle outside escalated to the point that Cohen-Solal said he could tell the difference between the sounds of AK-47s and M16s. He showed an image of the aftermath from bullets that sprayed his house, striking his refrigerator.

“I have no idea which company it is, but you can tell them that their refrigerator is bulletproof,” he said, drawing a laugh from the audience.

The family slept in the safe room, and when they woke up, he could no longer hear the gunfire. After 30 hours, the attack was finally over.

But Cohen-Solal told the Journal-World that the fallout for his family isn’t over yet. He said the attack displaced them and that they now “are refugees in our own country.”

The war in Gaza that followed the Oct. 7 attack has been a political flashpoint both in the Middle East and around the world, and protesters in the U.S. and other countries have decried the Israeli government’s actions and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. As the Associated Press has reported, so far, at least 28,663 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Over 68,000 people have been wounded in the war. Some 80% of the population of Gaza has been driven from their homes, and large areas in northern Gaza, the first target of the offensive, have been completely destroyed.

Anti-Israel protests have occurred at KU, too. On Thursday, there were about 25 demonstrators protesting outside while Cohen-Solal spoke, and multiple people in the audience interrupted his talk and had to be removed from the room.

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

A demonstrator is removed during a speech by Gal Cohen-Solal at the KU Student Union on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Cohen-Solal is an Israeli resident, father and businessman who was displaced from his home by Hamas militants.

For his part, Cohen-Solal stressed that he was at KU on Thursday simply to “tell a private story,” not to promote a political agenda. He said that he wanted to live in peace with Palestinians, but that it wouldn’t be possible unless Hamas was gone.

“The only solution for us to live together — us and the Palestinians — is without Hamas,” he said. We really want to live in peace, but we cannot live in peace when I’m afraid that something will happen to my kids. And if Hamas exists, they will try to do this again and again, and we cannot let it happen.”

Cohen-Solal said that in his opinion, Israel was taking a methodical approach to the war in order to minimize civilian casualties. He said he thought the blame for many of the civilian deaths in Gaza lay with Hamas and its tactics.

“The only problem is that Hamas is using (civilians) as human shields,” he told the Journal-World. “They’re going inside hospitals and using United Nations buildings.”

Thursday’s talk was facilitated by Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, the director of the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Life at KU. He said he organized Cohen-Solal’s visit in part because of the rampant “disinformation here in Lawrence” regarding “what happened on Oct. 7 and what it means for Israel and in Lawrence.”

“Our goal here tonight is that people should be able to hear firsthand,” he said. “There is nothing like a direct story. It’s not about politics — it’s about understanding the impact on these lives.”

Ultimately, Cohen-Solal told the Journal-World, the reason he wants to share his story is because he fears “that people one day will say that Oct. 7 never happened.” He wants people to spread the message of what really happened that day.

“… Hopefully, people from here will take even some small part of it and share it with others,” he said.

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

Gal Cohen-Solal, an Israeli resident, father and businessman, delivers a speech at the KU union on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Cohen-Solal and his family were displaced by Hamas militants in October.


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