Liat Naor, 15, was still wearing a wreath of flowers in her hair and holding her own birthday cake when she was attacked by a terrorist with a knife outside a shopping center in Gan Shmuel in northern Israel on Sunday.
She was saved when a bystander, Adi Eshet, helped subdue the terrorist, who had begun the attack by ramming his car into a female soldier, 19-year-old Orel Azuri, before jumping out and stabbing people nearby.
“I was sure I was going to die,” Naor said, speaking in the hospital room where she is recovering from her stab wounds. She thanked Eshet “for the amazing birthday present.”
“Thank you for saving my daughter,” Naor’s mother, Yael, told Eshet.
Eshet, who was injured in the attack, recalled seeing Naor near the shopping center.
“She came out from the direction of the bushes nearby shouting for help,” he said.
Naor recalled the fear she felt: “I thought he would get me, that I couldn’t run fast enough. As I tried to run away, he stabbed me in the leg. I tried to take his knife, but he stabbed me in the arm.”
Eshet, with the help of others, was able to stop the terrorist.
She said a soldier who was also injured in the attack was sitting in a car on the nearby road and honked, signaling her to get into the car. The two were then evacuated to the hospital.
The soldier who called out to her was Niv Buhbut, who serves in the Kfir Brigade.
Buhbut’s mother, Yardena, said, “He was standing behind the soldier who was directly hit with the car. He was hit, but not stabbed. Only moments earlier, he had called to say he was on the way home.”
She said she had warned him against potential attackers in the area.
“A little while later I received a phone call saying he’d been hit,” she said, recalling the panic she felt before rushing to the hospital.
Bystander Benayahu Erzi also helped subdue the terrorist, who was later identified as 20-year-old Alaa Raed Ahmad Ziwad.
“No one prepares you for a situation like this, “and seeing the soldier who was hit with the car was very difficult,” he said,
“It was only a few seconds, but it felt like forever. We were calling her name again and again, wiping away her blood, splashing water on her face and speaking to her the whole time.”
Ezri also remembered Naor. He took her wreath from the scene and returned it to her at the hospital.
The attack is under investigation. Ziwad, originally from Silat al-Harithiya near Jenin, moved to the Arab Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, after applying to be naturalized under a procedure designed to keep family members together. He was given an Israeli identification card after moving.
Police believe he acted independently.
At the Haifa Magistrates’ Court, Ziwad claimed that he had no intention of carrying out a terrorist attack.
“I didn’t do anything, what do they want from me?” he said. “I’m innocent and they want to turn me into a terrorist.”
Ziwad’s attorney claimed that according to his client, the ramming was an accident. Ziwad said that after the car accident, he was attacked and used his knife in self-defense.
The judges, unconvinced, extended Ziwad’s remand by 10 days.
Umm al-Fahm is considered to be a stronghold for the northern branch of the Islamic Movement. Some in the village condemned Ziwad’s attack, while others encouraged attacks as a show of force.
“We are Palestinians living in Israel and we want to live in peace and make a respectable living,” said resident Omar Mehajneh, 48.
“I condemn the harm of innocent citizens and I wish a speedy recovery to the soldier who was injured.
“The family of the boy who was arrested say it was an accident. I don’t know if that’s true or not. We live in a country with laws and everyone should follow those laws.
“It hurts me to see what is happening to my people in the territories, but I believe in a peaceful struggle.”
One of Ziwad’s family members said, “We don’t believe he tried to carry out an attack. He is a good boy from a good family. He has never had any connection to extremist religion, and we were very surprised to learn that he is suspected of these things.”
Meanwhile, critically injured soldier Azuri is fighting for her life at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer after being rammed with a car by Ziwad.
She is suffering from hematomas and damage to her major systems. She is in a medically induced coma and on a respirator in the intensive care unit.
“She was operated on by several teams at once and has multi-system damage,” said Dr. Yoram Klein, director of the trauma unit at Sheba hospital.
“We were able to stabilize her at the initial stage, but her life is still at risk, and there is a long road ahead.”
Azuri’s family, friends and officers have visited her in hospital and are praying for her recovery.
On Monday morning, in the operating room adjacent to where Azuri was undergoing surgery, 4-year-old Ahmed Dawabsha was undergoing skin graft surgery to help recover from the burns he suffered in the Jewish terror attack on his home in Duma village that killed both his parents and his brother.
Ahmed’s grandfather, Hussein, said, “It is hard that on both sides innocent people are paying the price of terrorism.”