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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Hundred percent sure’ of death: Oct. 7 survivor tells story to Spokane Israel supporters

Gal Cohen-Solal speaks at Lewis and Clark High School Thursday about his experiences during the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in Israel. Cohen-Solal is a 37-year-old father of three.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Gal Cohen-Solal, his wife and three young children moved Oct. 1 to Kibbutz Reim. Less than a week later, their home and small community in southern Israel were under siege by Hamas.

Hiding in their safe room while bullets shot into their front door, Cohen-Solal was “a hundred percent sure” he and his family would soon be dead, he told supporters of Israel in a Spokane speech Thursday night.

“Imagine waiting for the engine of death to enter your house to kill your entire family,” Cohen-Solal said in the Lewis and Clark High School auditorium.

The event is being hosted as a collaboration between Chabad of Spokane and Inland Empire for Israel, an advocacy organization of Jewish people and Christians who support Israel in the ongoing conflict against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Cohen-Solal is a representative of Faces of October Seventh, which brings speakers across North America to share their personal experience of last year’s Hamas incursion into Israel.

Upon hearing gunshots around 6:30 that Saturday morning, the family had to either hide in their safe room or attempt to flee. That decision to stay saved them, as Cohen-Solal recalled seeing the massacred bodies of his neighbors who had tried to leave in their cars.

Though it had thicker walls and windows than the rest of their home, the family’s safe room was not safe. There was even an open vent in the room through which a grenade could be launched. As Hamas fighters targeted his home, Cohen-Solal could do nothing but wait for the invaders to find the vulnerability. He imagined jumping on the grenade when it did appear in a vain attempt to spare his family.

Cohen-Solal and his wife were unable to keep their three young children quiet, especially their youngest – a 2-year-old who could not understand what was happening. They were afraid of seeing their children die, but perhaps even more frightened of them becoming hostages. Both descendants of Holocaust survivors, the two were plagued by the stories of how their families had been taken hostage by the Nazis.

Mid-afternoon on that day, Israeli soldiers entered Cohen-Solal’s town and many hours later killed or expelled Hamas from Kibbutz Reim. Saved from death or Hamas captivity, the Oct. 7 survivor has since toured dozens of cities in North America to share his story.

The attack left approximately 1,200 people dead, according to Israeli authorities, and more than 250 people were taken hostage. As of April, there remains more than 100 hostages held by Hamas – alive and bodies that have not been returned to Israel.

More than 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the outset of the war, according to Gaza’s Health Agency, whose figures are used by the United Nations and major news outlets in the United States. Of that figure, Gaza’s Health Ministry claims 7,797 children and 4,959 women have been killed as of April 30.

Since the outset of war, the United States has approved billions of dollars for humanitarian aid and military aid. American government support for Israel has sparked wide-ranging protests across the country over alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinian civilians. In recent months, these protests have been acutely felt at college campuses where student activists have called for their universities to divest from any financial ties to Israel, including at local universities like Gonzaga and Washington State.

According to Inland Empire for Israel spokesperson Mike Barenti, his organization brought Cohen-Solal to Spokane in part as a counter to some of the local protests against the Israeli occupation.

And he said he is concerned about misinformation that is leading some people to begin questioning or even denying the events of Oct. 7.

“It’s like watching holocaust denial being created in real time,” Barenti said of the rhetoric. By sharing Cohen-Solal’s story, Barenti hopes to remind the public of the horror of that day and create more support for the Israeli state

Faces of October 7 co-founder Shoshana Rice emphasized her organization does not advocate a position on the war that has erupted since Oct. 7. It only shares firsthand accounts of Israelis who experienced that attack.

Chabad of Spokane Rabbi Yisroel Hahn, however, was explicit in his support of the Israeli war on Hamas and the justness of their cause in Palestine – calling the ground invasion of Gaza an “incredible, smashing military success.”

Part of that success, he said, included what he called the efforts of the Israeli military to protect civilians by giving ample advance notice of military planning through public announcements, the dropping of leaflets with information about upcoming military actions and even text messages. 

To Hahn, those protesting Israel on campuses and elsewhere have brought “a new wave of antisemitism” to the United States.

“The protests in the colleges weren’t just about anybody suffering or humanitarian causes, but were clearly directly against Jews – harassing Jewish students, identifying with a terrorist organization Hamas and preaching hate and death,” he said.

Asked why he is touring North America with his story, Cohen-Solal said he is afraid the American public will forget what happened on Oct. 7.

“There is a lot of ignorance; people are not getting the real facts. And I’m here to speak up for my people and for the people who cannot speak for themselves,” he said.

Though there were no visible protests of his event in Spokane, Cohen-Solal noted his speeches have faced opposition in other cities. Asked what he would say to those protesting his event or Israel’s actions following the Oct. 7 attack, Cohen-Solal said he would ask all protesters to “check the facts.”

“I fear sometimes that people get some ideology in their heads, and they don’t really want to hear another side,” he said.

This story has been updated