Hamas Violence Empties an Israeli Kibbutz Where 1,100 Once Lived

Kibbutz Be’eri lost 110 residents in Saturday’s massacre. Those who remain are asking the world to bear witness. 

(Bloomberg) — Dwellings lie in ruin, food is rotting, walls have collapsed. A Hamas militant lies dead in a small grove. Cars are crushed or exploded, glass lies broken underfoot. Where 1,100 people lived until a week ago, troops and tanks stand guard amid the emptiness.

Kibbutz Be’eri, a bucolic Israeli collective next to the Gaza Strip with winding bicycle paths and a profitable printing company, is no more. Last Saturday morning, as thousands of rockets and missiles rained onto the area, heavily armed Hamas militants went house-to-house killing and abducting families. Bodies left on the ground, witnesses said, were booby-trapped with explosives. A tenth of the community at Be’eri was killed. 

“I saw bodies, I saw the injured and I saw the terrorists,” said Gili Roman, aged 39, whose sister Yarden Gat is missing and presumed to be held hostage in Gaza. Yarden, her husband Alon and their three-year-old daughter Gefen were taken from their home. They jumped out of a moving car and came under gunfire. 

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Yarden, knowing her husband was stronger and faster, handed him their child and hid. Alon ran with Gefen and ducked with her behind a thorny bush where they concealed themselves for more than 12 hours. Yarden hasn’t been heard from since 10:45 am on Saturday morning. No body or blood was found where she’d last been seen. 

“My sister knows that we will do everything to get her back,” said Roman. “Her daughter is alive because she’s the most amazing mother I know.”

Alon’s mother has been killed and his sister Carmel is also being held inside Gaza, Roman believes. His father hid in a bathroom and watched from a small window as the family was hauled away in vehicles. The bathroom door is scarred with bullet holes.

Be’eri is one of a dozen communities around the Gaza Strip, along with several military bases, that fell prey to last Saturday’s shock invasion by Hamas — which is designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union. Several thousand heavily armed militants appeared out of nowhere carrying detailed maps, according to Israeli military officials.

About 1,300 Israelis, most of them civilians, are dead. Another 100 to 150 are being held hostage. Some militants are believed to remain at large in southern Israel. 

The attack has upended the Middle East. It’s frozen diplomatic endeavors between Israel and Saudi Arabia, pushed Lebanese Hezbollah to threaten from the north, and driven Israel to declare all-out war on Hamas. In support of Israel, the US has sent a battle fleet into the Mediterranean as well as flying some top officials to Tel Aviv.

Israel has been bombing Gaza for a week, killing more than 1,500 people, and is massing troops for what is widely expected to be a ground invasion. It has ordered the Palestinians of the northern part of the strip to move south. An ugly and possibly long war is on the horizon.

Roman, who is a peace educator, was asked whether he considers his country’s response appropriate, and whether he fears a ground invasion would risk the lives of his sister and other hostages. He said he’s not a military strategist and leaves to his nation’s leaders to make what he hopes are sane decisions.

But as he showed journalists from a dozen countries the house where his family was holed up before being kidnapped — Gefen’s yellow, red and blue plastic swing still attached to the front beams amid the rubble — he spoke of the need to bear witness.

“We are walking on history,” he said. “I need the world to see this, to stand with me, to help me get my sister home.”

There’s cruel irony in the story of Yarden and her family. They had left the kibbutz for central Israel just a month ago when Yarden, a physiotherapist, decided that she didn’t want to raise Gefen in a place where Hamas rockets fall on a constant basis. Alon, who worked in the kibbutz bicycle shop, agreed. When the attack occurred they were simply visiting for the weekend. 

They come from a left-leaning and nature-loving family, as the bookshelves, filled with volumes on hiking and touring, revealed. A sign from a recent anti-government demonstration, which proclaimed that Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was turning into autocratic Hungary, was still in the living room amid the mayhem.

Israel, which had been divided for nine months over Netanyahu’s populist policies, now has an emergency government of national unity with one stated purpose: the destruction of Hamas and the killing of its leaders. Fierce political differences feel like a distant memory, although Netanyahu’s standing has plummeted as a result of the security failure represented by the invasion. 

Israel has taken upon itself to convince the world that what happened last Saturday — the worst single massacre of Jews since the Nazi Holocaust — defines Hamas and must never be permitted to recur. It says the Islamist group, which rejects Israel’s existence, must be destroyed the way ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, was destroyed six years ago. 

To that end, world leaders are being shown horrific photos and videos from last Saturday’s massacre. Some are coming to see the killing grounds for themselves. Top US officials — Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have been. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was in Israel on Friday, as was Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, being shown the destruction from missiles by Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.

Alon’s brother, Or Gat, who was also at Kibbutz Beeri on the day of the journalists’ visit, said the presence of all these world leaders needs to be turned into action. Many of the residents, including his sister-in-law Yarden, are of German origin and hold German passports. 

“I want my family back,” he said. “I can’t imagine what they’re experiencing. I want the German government to bring my sister-in-law home. Please. Don’t form committees. Don’t hold talks. Do something.”

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