Indian nurses risked their lives to save elderly Israeli couple from Hamas

Sabitha Baby, 34, and Meera Mohanan, 34, guarded the safe room for 12 hours when Hamas militants took over the house

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The bullet holes in the door bear witness to what happened at this house on October 7.

For about 12 hours, two Indian nurses cowered in a safe room with their elderly charges as Hamas militants went on a killing spree in the south of Israel.

Sabitha Baby and Meera Mohanan, both 34, have been described as "superwomen" for putting their lives at risk to protect their bed-ridden patient and her husband, who has Alzheimer’s.

They held fast to the metal door, in a desperate attempt to keep the militants out.

“We could hear them walking around in the house,” Ms Baby told The National.

"We were dead silent. A cough or a loud gasp, and all of us would have got killed."

Their patient Rahel, 76, and her husband Shmolik, 85, lived in the Nir Oz kibbutz, one of dozens of farming communities near the Gaza Strip that were attacked by Hamas on October 7.

It is not clear how many of Niz Or’s residents were killed in the surprise Hamas attack, which claimed more than 1,400 lives in the south of Israel, including the elderly, women and children.

The first sign of danger came when the community alarm sounded, just as Ms Baby was about to switch duty with Ms Mohanan at 6am after watching over Ms Rahel through the night.

Things took a terrifying turn when Ms Rahel's daughter, who lived a few metres away, called to say there were “terrorists inside”.

She asked the nurses to secure the house by closing all doors and windows.

Ms Baby and Ms Mohanan panicked but knew that Mr Rahel and Ms Shmolik, who they affectionately called ammachi and appachan – which means mother and father in the language of their native Kerala state – were entirely dependent on them for their safety.

What unfolded next was a nightmare.

'Terror and death next door'

“We heard loud bangs of people shooting at our house and shattering of glass windows," said Ms Baby.

"We had just 10 seconds to run into the safe room where ammachi was lying. Luckily, appachan also woke up and walked in."

But with armed men outside as the four of them huddled inside the safe room, the nurses say their sense of duty prevailed over their fear.

“We had no choice but to defend ourselves and our patients. We could hear people moving from room to room looking for people and shouting in Arabic," said Ms Baby.

"It felt like terror and death were next door and we were hiding."

“They tried to break open the door several times. Meera and I pulled the door handle as tight as possible from inside. There were moments we went weak, but we held on with all our strength."

As the hours dragged on, the nurses heard more people coming and going. At one point, there was a knock on the safe room door and a man's voice said in English that they were there to help.

But the nurses knew better – they could hear other men speaking in Arabic.

Later, it became apparent that the militants had been using the house as a base during the attack, Ms Baby said.

It was not until 1pm that the Israeli army came to their rescue and a full-scale battle between Hamas and soldiers began, the nurses said. But they were told to remain in the safe room until the soldiers had made sure that all militants were neutralised.

“We stayed in the room for nearly 12 hours," said Ms Mohanan.

It took a toll, especially on the elderly couple because they had not taken their regular medicines or any food.

When they were finally escorted out, they saw that there was little left in the house.

“They ate and drank at our place, vandalised the house and stole everything they could including wheelchairs and walking sticks," Ms Mohanan said.

The nurses’ laptops and other valuables had been taken as well.

Ms Rahel and Mr Shmolik are now living in temporary accommodation near Tel Aviv along with their nurses, who said that, as far as they knew, none of the couple's family members died in the attack.

“They are traumatised by what happened to their entire community,” Ms Mohanan said.

“The [militants] killed so many and took many of our neighbours as hostages. It is God’s grace that we are alive.”

She said it would take months, if not years, for all of them to get over what they endured.

Updated: October 25, 2023, 7:21 AM