Surviving Terror: Dor Kapah’s Harrowing Escape from Hamas Attacks

Kapah is among a group of Nova survivors who embarked on a "Survived to Tell" Tour in the United States — an initiative spearheaded by Israel, in collaboration with the Seed the Dream Foundation.
April 11, 2024
Dor Kapah gives a massage to a music festival participant Photo by Inor Kagno

Dor Kapah, 30, stood before a group of students at Florida University, recounting a harrowing tale that seemed straight out of a war movie. But it wasn’t fiction; it was a gripping account of his escape from Hamas terrorists, relentlessly pursuing him no matter where he fled. His narrative unfolded with scenes of shooting, bombing and the tragic kidnapping and murder of his friends. The students listened in stunned silence as Kapah detailed the events of Oct. 7, a day etched in his memory and scarred with terror.

It’s one thing to hear about the targeting of 3,000 partygoers at the Nova music festival by Hamas terrorists, but it’s an entirely different experience to hear it firsthand from a survivor.

Kapah is among a group of Nova survivors who embarked on a “Survived to Tell” Tour in the United States — an initiative spearheaded by Israel, in collaboration with the Seed the Dream Foundation. The campaign, in partnership with the Building Israel Connections Engagement Project (BICEP), is touring across seven states and a dozen college campuses from March 28 to April 19. It’s especially important to bring the voices of victims to U.S. campuses because of the rise in antisemitism. 

According to ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, since Oct. 7 “the ADL has documented over 5,500 antisemitic incidents — a staggering 331% increase compared to the previous year … College and university campuses recorded 746 antisemitic incidents during this period, reflecting a remarkable 757% surge from less than 100 incidents reported one year prior.”

Kapah, a massage therapist, had worked at numerous Nova music festivals, but this particular one changed his life forever. “I arrived at the party on Oct. 6 at around 8:30-9 p.m. I was there with my friend Gilad Karplus, also a masseuse,” Kapah told the Journal. “The next day at 6:26 a.m., as we were massaging two partygoers, we noticed rockets above us. I immediately knew this wasn’t an ordinary attack due to the sheer volume of rockets. My first instinct was to pack up all our equipment and [load it into] my Jeep. We were waiting with other vendors, including Moran Stela Yanai, who was kidnapped and released back to Israel after 58 days.”

Gilad in IDF uniform, a few weeks after Nova Festival. Photo courtesy of Dor Kapah

Initially, many attendees were uncertain what to do. Unaware of the invasion by thousands of Hamas terrorists, they assumed staying put until the rockets ceased and the IDF intervened would suffice. But this time, it didn’t. Kapah vividly recalled receiving phone calls alerting him to friends being shot. “I knew this wasn’t an ordinary attack, and we needed to flee,” he said. “Indeed, at 8:13 a.m., the terrorists arrived at the festival area and opened fire. We heard the gunfire in the distance and initially thought it was Israeli cops engaging the terrorists.”

With his equipment stowed in the Jeep, Kapah and his girlfriend, Liel, along with Gilad, embarked on a frantic escape, unsure of their destination but determined to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the terrorists. However, their efforts seemed futile as Hamas militants appeared to surround them at every turn. 

“I attempted to head toward the exit, but encountered a traffic jam as people tried to escape,” he said. “Suddenly, 50-100 terrorists on foot approached, firing shots. I made a U-turn and opted for an alternate route — an open area.”

On the way out of the festival grounds, Kapah picked up two more friends, Ohad and Alex Lubnov, whom Gilad knew from his hometown in Ashkelon. 

Drawing on his instincts and training from his service in an elite IDF unit, Kapah steered away from the festival grounds. Along the way, fleeing individuals knocked on the Jeep’s windows, pleading for refuge. 

“I instructed them to hold onto the Jeep’s side until we reached a safe area to unload the equipment and accommodate them,” Kapah recounted, “but they continued running.”

Liel documented their perilous escape with her phone, capturing the moment they stumbled upon an abandoned army vehicle. 

“With no soldiers in sight, I noticed an M16 and took it. Suddenly, we heard Arabic screams. I swiftly returned to the Jeep, and we drove until we reached a secluded area outside Kibbutz Be’eri.”

Stopping by a water tower, unaware of the presence of hundreds of terrorists at the kibbutz, the group momentarily paused. Alex stepped out of the vehicle to speak with his frantic wife, while Ohad went to relieve himself. Within seconds, Kapah discerned the ominous chant of “Allah hu Akbar” and swiftly accelerated. “Alex and Ohad ran to a nearby grove. I attempted to contact Alex, but he informed me of a motorcyclist hunting for them before abruptly disconnecting.”

Later on Kapah found out that Alex was captured by Hamas and taken to Gaza, where he is still being held. Meanwhile, his wife, pregnant at the time, gave birth to their second son. Ohad narrowly evaded capture, managing to flee.

At one juncture, Kapah reached out to the police, inundated with pleas from desperate partygoers seeking assistance. “They said they couldn’t help,” Kapah said.

Undeterred, the trio relentlessly sought an exit route, only to find themselves besieged by terrorists at every turn. “We navigated toward Kibbutz Be’eri, besieged by numerous terrorists,” he said. “Observing a large tree, two pickup trucks and five motorcycles, unmistakably not Israeli, I knew we couldn’t linger. We veered onto an old road towards Gaza. Moments before reaching an intersection, we saw three Hamas motorcycles. I urgently signaled to my friends to lower their heads,” Kapah recounted. 

“One of the terrorists was looking me right in the eyes holding a Kalashnikov. He was about five feet away from me. I motioned to him with my head that all is good and he motioned back.”

For a second, Kapah thought he was going to get away. That day, he was wearing an orange headband; many of the Hamas terrorists were wearing green headbands. On the rearview mirror, Kapah hung a Muslim prayer bead to warn off people in Arab neighborhoods he was visiting from breaking in his car. It was clear that the Hamas terrorist thought he was one of them. However, he realized his mistake when he noticed Liel’s head peeking up, and the terrorist aimed his weapon toward Kapah. “I hit his motorcycle on the side as he was chasing us, but then another motorcycle came from my left,” he said. “I hit him too, and then [I hit] another motorcycle. The friends started reciting the “Shema,” praying to God that this nightmare would end soon. Death never seemed so close. Gilad was struck in the back of his head by another group of terrorists they encountered. 

Two weeks after a bullet grazed his head and he received medical treatment, he joined his unit and fought Hamas for three months. Kapah said that during their escape, they witnessed the tragic aftermath of Hamas attack — burnt cars, bullet-riddled vehicles and the lifeless bodies of young Israelis strewn along the way. “It felt like a scene from ‘The Pianist,’” he said. “It was a horrendous sight.” At 7:15 a.m. the next day, he returned home with his Jeep, now riddled with bullets. He was safe, but inside he was broken completely and is still dealing with the events of that day. As Kapah recounted his story, he kept his composure. Only after he was finished with it and talked about the friends who died did he start to sob. “[I lost 50 friends], and 10 of them were very close friends,” he said. “That first week, I had to go to funerals on a daily basis and then to the shivah. Sometimes I couldn’t go because the funerals were at the same time and sometimes it was just too much to handle,” he said, choking on tears. Six months later, and he still can’t go back to work. “[Hamas] didn’t take away my love for music, but they took away my work and my trust in humans,” he said. “I can’t trust people and I can’t work anymore. It helps me telling my story, I feel it’s my mission and duty, so people will know and will never forget what happened.”

“I knew right then that I had received a message and that I was going back home.” – Dor Kapah

There was a moment during his hair-raising escape when he knew deep down that he was going to get out of there alive. It was when he and his friends were hiding from Hamas, and he noticed something shining on the ground. “I picked it up, and it was a ring engraved with the words: ‘Shema Israel, God is our Lord, God is one,’” he said. “I knew right then that I had received a message and that I was going back home.”

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