Ruth Marks Eglash
Inside the kibbutz where Hamas massacred more than 100 Israelis
The Gaza periphery is known for the blooming red flowers that cover the landscape each spring, but this fall, the fields and communities surrounding the Palestinian enclave were covered in red blood
KIBBUTZ BE’ERI – It’s been nearly three weeks since Hamas carried out its brutal terror attack on multiple army bases, more than 20 civilian communities and a music festival in Israel’s south on Oct. 7. Since that day, I have been reporting extensively on the horrific events and their fallout as the Israeli military prepares for a broader invasion into Gaza with the aim of wiping out all terrorist threats in the enclave.
Over the past 20 days, I’ve listened to countless survivor testimonies and heard the painful cries of relatives of the more than 220 people – the elderly, women and children – horrifically kidnapped and now held captive by terrorist groups inside the Palestinian enclave. I’ve also interviewed first responders, both civilian and military, as well as visited the army base where bodies of some of the more than 1,400 murdered people were brought for the gruesome task of identification.
Nearly a week later, the acrid smell of that place has stuck with me.
Yet nothing prepared me for a visit on Monday to the scene of one of the worst Hamas atrocities on that awful Saturday: Kibbutz Be’eri.
Known for the blooming red flowers that cover the landscape each spring, this fall, the fields and communities surrounding the Palestinian enclave were covered in red blood.
I am no stranger to the Gaza periphery. My father was raised on one of the kibbutzim there and, as a child, we would often visit. That was before the intifadas or the disengagement from Gaza that enabled terrorists to take over the coastal strip. It was also long before their rocket fire, mortars and shells rained down every time there was tension with Israel.
As a longtime journalist, I returned to the area several times during various flare-ups in fighting. During the 2014 war, which Israelis refer to as Operation Protective Edge, I spent countless days visiting and interviewing residents of communities and towns in the area. I recorded their close calls with the rocket fire and understood their fears that one day terrorists might somehow tunnel below the border fence and suddenly appear inside their homes.
From many of the people I met and spoke to, I also heard about their dreams of peace with the people in Gaza. They told me how they wanted to visit friends in the Strip and many said they still had fond memories, despite the current threats, of the old days when they could freely go into Palestinian towns and villages just a few miles away.
I also went to the area many times for army briefings about the security situation. On those tours, I was given details about Israel’s advanced, high-tech border fence and given assurances that it reached down so deep it would block any Hamas tunnels that tried to snake underneath it.
During what Palestinians called the “Great March of Return” in 2018, the army even gave journalists a bird’s-eye view of the mass – and often violent – protests, hoisting us up above that “secure” barrier in a cherry picker. Back then, the border seemed as impenetrable as the kibbutzim were beautiful.
The Be’eri that greeted me – and around 100 other journalists from all over the world – this past week was anything but idyllic.
The destruction and the smell of death, even two weeks later, were everywhere. Around the kibbutz’s wire perimeter fence, which Hamas terrorists easily tore down, the army had erected mounds of dirt to stop any future infiltrations. On the day I was there, army tanks raced back and forth preparing for a likely ground invasion into Gaza. Soldiers, weapons ready, were everywhere.
In the homes, and on the once carefully manicured pathways in between, the bodies of dead kibbutz residents – and terrorists – had been removed and most of the blood stains washed away. Yet it was still traumatic wandering past the short row of houses that once contained happy families and wondering about their fate.
At the entrance to the last home in the row, the one closest to the perimeter fence and with a view of the kibbutz’s orchards beyond, I found a clue; a nameplate belonging to a family I recognized as being among the hostages.
Inside their place, the devastation was heartbreaking. A once-complete life, with all its cozy comforts – a smart fitted kitchen, dining area, living room – was charred black. Every window was smashed, and the door blown away by gunfire.
In each of the four other tiny houses along the same row, the destruction was similar; lives blown apart – books torn and trashed, photo albums with their contents spilling out, photographs of happy faces littering the floor. In the other rooms, closets were emptied of their contents, clothing scattered across the floor; shoes – mostly singles for some reason – lay in every corner.
In one of the homes, dirty, ripped-up mattresses lined the floor of what was once a neat living room, and I wondered with a chill what horrors might have taken place here during the long hours that these cruel Hamas terrorists moved back and forth between the kibbutz and Gaza on that fateful day. First responders have reported finding decapitated bodies, others with arms, legs and even genitals sliced off.
At the entrance to another home, among the broken flowerpots and charred bushes, the carcass of a tiny black dog still littered the yard. I opted not to go inside. It was too much.
Across the roadway, another once well-kept pathway was marked by homes with even greater destruction. This row had clearly been set alight, most of the structures, along with entire roofs, had totally collapsed in on themselves. Any walls still standing were riddled with bullet holes.
How will the kibbutz ever be able to rebuild after this? I thought with a shudder. Would they even want to?
As I made my way back to the group of foreign journalists, most of whom had flown in just to cover this story, I wondered if they realized the full context of what they were seeing. Most of these communities, which were part of the Jewish Agency’s “11 points in the Negev plan” were established in the 1940s even before the State of Israel was created.
Some, like this kibbutz, were named to honor Israel’s founding fathers – Be’eri was named after Berl Katznelson, one of the intellectual founders of Labor Zionism, whose nickname was Be’eri.
I also wondered if they realized that these tiny farming communities actually form the backbone of Israel’s agricultural sector and now, after the massacres of Oct. 7, the crops still growing in the fields all around us were about to die because the loving hands of those that once tended to them were either murdered, kidnapped or have been relocated to other parts of the country, their fields now part of a closed-off military zone.
According to estimates, some 20,000 residents from these border communities are now homeless, and Israel now faces a crisis of internal displacement it has not seen in its entire 75 years.
In this horrific attack, the people on this kibbutz – and the other communities around it – not only lost their lives and that of their loved ones here, but they also lost the entire contents of their lives, their homes, as well as their livelihoods.
And finally, I wanted to ask the thousands of foreign reporters and photographers who have flocked here for this conflict and will soon fly home if they realized that for Israel, the loss of these once-vibrant communities in a massacre so unfathomable has totally shattered its soul.