Winnipeg woman who was in Israel when Hamas attacked shares her story

A Winnipeg woman who was in Israel with her son when Hamas militants launched a deadly attack says her heart aches for those who were not able to escape the country.

A week before the attack, Gayla Guttman had flown to Israel to visit her son who was completing a five-month internship in Tel Aviv. The week they had spent together had been a good one – they visited Jerusalem, they walked on the beach of the Mediterranean Sea, they took in the sunsets.

That all changed on Saturday, Oct. 7, when Hamas militants, who have been declared a terrorist group by Canada and many other Western Nations, stormed Israel.

Guttman and her son were asleep in their hotel room early that morning when her oldest son in Winnipeg called.

“(He) said called and said, ‘Where are you? Do you know what’s going on?’ And we, of course, had no idea,” she said.

“He said, ‘There’s rockets going off in Israel all over.'”

Unsure of what to do, Guttman said the hotel they were staying in told them to take cover in the stairwell if they heard any sirens or booms.

She said the first sirens went off as she and her son were packing their things.

“Panic set in and we grabbed whichever belongings we needed – our passport, purse, whatnot – and ran to the stairwell.”

Eventually, someone came to tell them it was over – at least for the moment. When they went to have breakfast in the hotel, they were told a rocket had hit not too far away from them.

“We spent that afternoon just sitting in the hotel lobby. Trying to play games with each other to keep our minds preoccupied, but still turning to the news and listening to people talk,” she said.

She and her son decided to go spend the night with a friend who lived north of Tel Aviv – further from the fighting. Their house, Guttman said, had a bomb shelter.

Even at their friend’s home, they heard booms in the distance. They were told that was Israel’s Iron Dome intercepting the rockets.

“The night was restless and sleepless, but we made it through,” she said.

Guttman’s flight out of Israel left the next day. She was told it was the last Air Canada flight to leave Tel Aviv. It would be days before her son would get a flight out of the country as well.

“Saying goodbye was the hardest thing ever,” Guttman told CTV News. “I knew he was in good hands with our friend, but leaving my son in a warzone with no knowledge of what was going to happen next was the worst.”

Her son was able to get a flight out of Israel to Cypress after his first flight was cancelled last minute.

“It was a bit unnerving until we finally received that text from him that he landed, and the tears flowed, and it was just – thank God,” she said, adding her son is set to arrive back in Canada next week. “All I can think is that he and I are now safe, but we continue to ache, and we all do, for everybody else who’s left behind…”

Since the initial Hamas attack, at least 2,800 people have been killed and thousands more injured on both sides of the conflict.

Guttman says it’s been hard for her to process what has happened – it seems almost surreal, thinking back to her time walking the streets of Israel in the days before the attack.

“I feel that it hasn’t even really hit me yet properly. But then when I think that I heard those sirens and I had to go into a bomb shelter, that’s when I sort of take a step back.”

Guttman, who is Jewish, was among thousands of Winnipeggers who attended a rally Wednesday night at the Asper Jewish Community Campus. She felt it was important for her to be there.

“It’s horrific. Nobody deserves anything like this and it was innocent lives that were taken for no reason at all,” she says, adding she and her family are now trying to raise awareness about what is going on there.

“Keep your thoughts and prayers with what’s going on in Israel and please understand the gravity of what is taking place.” 

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