On a material level the attacked Israeli communities will rebuild. At some point the houses will be put back together, the streets will be repaired, and apart from an inevitable memorial on site – the external reminders of the October 7 atrocities will be gone.
I wanted to digest some of the reality of what took place during the deadly attacks before the rebuilding begins. October 7 conspiracy and denial has already taken hold, and I felt it was important for me to be able to say ‘I saw it’. So when I found out I could be taken to the scenes of the terrorist invasion- I got on a plane and headed to Israel.
I am not here to shock or to share horrific images. That is not my style. For those who wish to see it there are plenty of sources online carrying live footage that Hamas terrorists proudly streamed live. I am not even going to link to them. Others may be unlucky enough to get to see the official 47-minute horror show that Israel put together – and I would advise people strongly against it.
The Israeli South
The area that was attacked is very familiar to me. When I first came to Israel, the nearest town to my kibbutz was Sderot. Long before the era of rockets I worked alongside Palestinians from Gaza in the fields. Some of my fondest memories are of friendships built over Arabic coffee and early morning camp-fires on a moshav that was totally dependent on Gazan labour.
It was a different world – a time where the best market for Israelis in the region was inside Gaza. I still stay in this area almost every time I come to Israel. I am even here now – writing this on Kibbutz Bror Hayil – and Gaza is just a short drive from here.
Kibbutz Kfar Aza & Kibbutz Be’eri- the sites of two of the worst Oct 7 massacres, are 12 & 15 miles away respectively. A bit further to the south sits the campsite at Kibbutz Re’im that hosted the Nova festival. Sderot? just over 4 miles from me and I used to cycle there. This is all part of the first neighbourhood in Israel that I fell in love with.
I named those four sites (Kfar Aza, Be’eri, Re’im & Sderot) specifically because these are the sites I was taken to see. The army did not mess about – it wanted us to see the worst – it wanted to show us how Hamas had turned idyllic communities into a living hell.
As part of a small group I was taken under army supervision through an active military zone. Before entry I was kitted up with a helmet and some body armour. We were also given plenty of instruction before the group was allowed to continue. This included strict advice about only taking photos in places in which the families had given permission. The army was everywhere I went, and our trip was constantly moulded around the active battlefield. At times I found myself standing inside a burnt-out house just across from where IDF artillery was pounding at Gaza.
I promised no shocking images – and there won’t be any – but I still have a story to tell. The image below shows the key point at which the terrorists broke through to attack Kfar Aza. The part of the kibbutz immediately behind me as I took this photo was the site of an unspeakable massacre. The built up area in the background is Gaza – this is how close Gaza is to the idyllic community the terrorists came to destroy.
All of us have been affected by what took place on October 7. But as I walked through the devastation, what broke me was not the physical damage – it was the signs of humanity that still remained. For example, in one house – that was completely burnt out, a few playing cards lay scattered on the floor. Everything was gone, much of it consumed by fire – but somehow the playing cards had survived.
Or this one. This house like many was not burnt – but the insides had been brutally ripped apart along with the family who had live there. And on the wall – a sign of optimism and love – and a poignant reminder that life is short.
Here is another one. From the house of another family that had visibly experienced a living nightmare. The scenes inside are never to be forgotten. But this sign was by the front door. It simply reads ‘how fantastic – how great that you came to visit – it is so long since we saw you – where have you been – welcome’.
These are the images that stopped me in my tracks. How can a welcome sign in a house that saw such devastation from unwanted intruders do anything but destroy you inside.
And in every house – the clock had been ticking – and normal life was taking place – until it all stopped. So in one – a place in which the living area looked like a war zone – the kitchen looked virtually untouched. The most obvious result of deliberate destruction of human life. They destroyed the living area – because that is where the people were. An empty kitchen? Of no interest. And there sitting on a kitchen top were sweets waiting for the children to eat them. Given what happened in this particular area – it is unlikely those children survived.
I went inside dozens of homes such as this. Scrawled on some walls outside are warning signs about ‘bodyparts’ that may still exist inside – with instructions not to touch anything. In truth they refer to fragments – potential DNA samples – and this is part of Israel’s search for the remains of several dozen people they have yet to find. Endless, unspeakable, tragedy. And every single home I saw, was once an entire family.
Away from the residential areas – and onto the site of the biggest single massacre of the day. The 100s of young people who had gone to enjoy a rave and never returned home. Much of the clear up has been done – but not all. The mess that is still visible on the ground, along with picnic chairs and coolers is all circled by the signs that still mark the campsite. In this place the signs of massacre have already gone – it looks as if the kids just left a mess (behind me).
Finally I went to Sderot and saw an empty lot where the police station had once stood. Residents who are still there (most have left temporarily) recounted the horror that unfolded on that day. But by this point I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I had no questions left to ask. I remain glad I did it – but there are scars which will take time to heal – and this is from someone who only saw what was left – what about all those who actually survived it.
It is morning now and I have spent the night writing this at Kibbutz Bror Hail. All evening I have been listening to a relentless attack from air and from land. There is a not a single minute when a ‘boom’ is not heard and felt. The IDF are pounding Hamas into hell. After what I had seen earlier in the week in those Kibbutzim, I admit to finding it somewhat therapeutic.
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