‘It’s hard to do anything else’: S’pore couple in Israel recount day of Hamas’ surprise attack

At about 8am, Oct 7, the tranquillity of the morning at Mr Lim Keng Yeow’s home in Arnona, Jerusalem, was shattered by the wail of an air raid siren.

Gabrielle Chan and Sarah Koh

Gabrielle Chan and Sarah Koh

The Straits Times


Mr Lim Keng Yeow and his wife Karen had 90 seconds to run down from their fourth-storey flat to the shelter in the basement every time the siren in Jerusalem went off. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIM KENG YEOW/THE STRAITS TIMES

October 10, 2023

SINGAPORE – At about 8am last Saturday, the tranquillity of the morning at Mr Lim Keng Yeow’s home in Arnona, Jerusalem, was shattered by the wail of an air raid siren.

The 57-year-old and his wife, Madam Karen Phuah, ran down from their fourth-storey home into the air raid shelter in the basement, where they joined other residents in the same building in waiting for the danger to pass.

The shelter, slightly smaller than a badminton court, is spartan – three leather couches, a few plastic chairs, a handful of mattresses and a toilet provide a humble sanctuary.

The vertical dash was one of five that the Singaporean couple had to make last Saturday as Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel.

More than 700 Israelis were killed, along with at least 1,200 wounded, after Hamas launched some 2,200 missiles from the Gaza Strip and infiltrated southern Israel.

In return, Israel declared “a state of war” and launched retaliatory strikes, with more than 400 Palestinians killed so far.

Back in the basement in Arnona, about 88km away from the conflict zone, the residents in Mr Lim’s building brought food to share as they waited 10 minutes for the danger to pass each time the siren sounded.

“In between sirens, I just find myself wanting to get more and more information,” said Mr Lim, who has been there with Madam Phuah since Aug 22.

“It’s hard to do anything else,” he added.

Mr Lim and his wife are in Israel to pursue a degree course called the Hebraic Roots of Christianity at the Jerusalem University College.

Mr Lim spoke to The Straits Times for 30 minutes on Monday afternoon (Singapore time), during which the call was punctuated with what sounded like explosions in the background.

“I just got an alert that rockets and missiles were fired,” he said, as he shared screenshots of alerts about rockets and missiles from the country’s national emergency portal. The alerts came with the estimated time that the projectiles might hit certain parts of the country.

“We are told to stay indoors so that we can be near a bomb shelter,” said Mr Lim, adding that all his university classes had been cancelled on Monday, and he and his wife plan to stay in their flat. Classes will resume online on Tuesday.

Madam Phuah said: “I am afraid of the danger as it really did not sink in till the declaration of war.

“Having to actively be on the lookout for rocket and missile alerts, be wary of varied information and to take care of your own safety, all at the same time – this is what being vigilant looks like to me now.”

The couple are exploring the option of flying home soon, although there is uncertainty about whether flights to Singapore will continue amid the conflict.

While Mr Lim and Madam Phuah could be back in Singapore in the near future, Mr Kenny Lim, 47, and his family have no plans of moving back from Israel.

Mr Kenny Lim, who lives in Israel with his wife and their five-month-old baby, said having experienced a strong sense of community in Jerusalem, he is confident that neighbours and strangers will come together to help one another.

The clergyman said: “I’ve lived in Israel for 10 years, there is little that I have not seen.

“But if the conflict were to come to Jerusalem, I know my family and I won’t be alone in this. We have our own community… I’ve experienced it through my years here that Israelis are very helpful.”

He said he heard the first air raid siren go off at about 8am last Saturday, and quickly ushered his family into the bomb shelter – about the size of 2½ king-size beds – inside their apartment.

“We heard nine air raid sirens within two hours after we heard the first,” he said.

He added that he is “shocked and saddened” at the visuals he has seen online of women, children and the elderly being kidnapped and harmed.

Said Mr Kenny Lim: “Stories like that keep coming up, and it’s really heartrending.

“My heart goes out to those who suffered the loss, victims and the trauma they will go through.”

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