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29 נובמבר 2023 | משך הקריאה: 7 דקות
Kefar Aza's story

The terrorists entered Kfar Aza through the back fence. During the press tour sponsored by the Government Press Office, the security guards urge us to move quickly through the open area from where the terrorists invaded, for fear of sniper fire.

The bus drops us off at the entrance to the kibbutz.  At first glance, it looks like nothing happened here. The entrance is as green and beautiful as ever, and the lawn is inviting, with two people standing in the middle, Yisrael and Hanan, both kibbutz members. They’re both wearing t-shirts that say “Kfar Aza is my home”.  They’re wearing identical dogtags demanding a return of the hostages.

“It began at 6:00 am on Saturday” says Yisrael, “with unremitting missile fire. We usually go to the shelters, wait 3-4 minutes, and it’s over.  This time it didn’t stop. Then we started to hear gunfire and receive messages on the kibbutz WhatsApp group, that there were terrorists in the kibbutz. They told everyone to go into the shelters and not to open the door for anyone – that’s how the battle for the doorknob began.”

Israel, a man in his 60’s, speaks with a clear, strong voice, but his hands are shaking. He describes how he and his wife sat in their reinforced room for hours, as he held on with all his strength to the doorknob. “There was a battle for the doorknob.  They were yelling, “open the door!”, but I didn’t open it.  We were silent.  We didn’t answer.  My wife helped me hold the doorknob.  I held it for seven hours.  At some point they left the door but remained in the house.” Israel takes us to his house and explained that its location gave the terrorists a strategic vantage point that allowed them to hit many of the kibbutz members and their homes. They climbed to the roof and from there they fought with the first responders team and the soldiers who arrived.

“The first responders team tried to get to the kibbutz armory, but most of them were cut down,” he says.  “The ones who managed to grab a gun went out to fight and were killed in the fighting.” Among those killed in battle was Ofir Leibstein, the Regional Council Chairman. You can still see signs around the kibbutz with his picture and a slogan that now takes on a completely different meaning: “We carry on together”.

They sat in the reinforced room with no electricity, and with dwindling amounts of oxygen, water and phone battery. They were in that room for 36 hours while the terrorists were standing on the roof of their home and inside it, shooting at anyone passing by. “We heard names, we heard screams that penetrated our hearts … and we stayed inside.” Israel takes a deep breath, stops talking.  Touches the hostage dogtag. “When we were rescued, on Sunday afternoon, there were still terrorists and tens of bodies in the entrance to our home”, he says.

Atrocity, slaughter

We enter the kibbutz.  The fence that the terrorists came through is completely destroyed. A burning smell permeates the air. Tens of Zaka volunteers are still roaming the ruins of the burnt, shattered homes. The entire road of houses was attached.  Some of them still reek terribly. Some of the doors have encouraging signs, in complete opposition to the sights we’re seeing, with words such as “To Life” and “To Flourish”, surrounded by soot that’s blacker than black. Loud blasts shake the earth during our visit, unmistakable evidence of the battles raging in Gaza.

Simcha Greinman, a Zaka volunteer, tells us that he’s been in Kibbutz Kfar Aza and Kibbutz Be’eri since Simchat Torah, working under fire to remove bodies and collect human tissue. They saw horrendous things that are hard to hear, let alone see.

Caution: Disturbing graphic descriptions

In one house they found the body of a naked woman, holding a hand grenade. The only conclusion they could reach from that image was that the woman was raped while being threatened by a hand grenade, whose pin was out and ready to go off if she moved.  She couldn’t move.

In another room, in Kibbutz Be’eri this time, they found five family members slaughtered, burnt.  The two little children were hugging their parents’ legs, and the parents were leaning against the grandmother.  All of their heads leant against each other. Outside of the room was a birthday cake and photos of the family on the refrigerator. “We collected the bodies, walking back and forth between that room and the room with the birthday cake and the photos on our way out.  An entire family in bags”, says Greinman.

In another house in Be’eri, Zaka collected the body of a 5-year old boy, and in the next room, the body of a 3-year old, with a knife stuck in his head from one side to the other. “We found the rest of his brain later on a shovel nearby”, adds Greinman.

“I was asked if I saw bodies, if I saw severed heads … Yes.  I saw horrendous atrocities.  Rape as well – many bodies of naked women, massacres, people who were burned alive.  There is no doubt about what happened here.  And we have had to deal with this with our own hands.”

I look inside a house and all I see is an abyss.

Human Remains

The houses in Kfar Aza seem to have lost their identity.  Ceilings have fallen in, entrances are burned, everything is charred. A hodgepodge of furniture stands on the side of the road, all jumbled together, some burnt. The doors have technical notations by the Zaka teams, “blood stains in the entrance to the reinforced rooms”, “blood stains on the couch”.

“When we still had Internet and electricity, we wrote back and forth in the WhatsApp group,” Hanan tells us.  “People wrote that they heard Arabic, and gunfire. Rumors about who was hurt and who was murdered.  Uncertainty. We began hearing what had happened at Nova, the neighbors started writing that they were trying to get to their doors.”

Hanan explains to the foreign press that the reinforced rooms are supposed to protect against missiles, not against a terrorist attack. “I hid with my two children, my wife and my parents in the reinforced room.  We saw the videos of the Hamas cars in Sderot and Ofakim – we understood that we wouldn’t be able to protect ourselves.”

At some point, Hanan says, the army made it to the kibbutz – between the Kalashnikov gunfire by the terrorists, they started hearing Israeli M16 gunfire. “At this point, one of the members in our group wrote that he, his pregnant wife and their little girl were in their reinforced room and that he was tired, he couldn’t hold on to the doorknob any longer.”

The army spread out in the kibbutz, engaged in a massive battle with the terrorists. At 5:00 pm on Sunday, Hanan, Israel, their families, and many other residents were rescued, under fire.  “The soldiers rescued us first and then went back to fight the terrorists”, says Israel. “They brought an armored car up to our door, I told them there were terrorists on the roof, that they should be careful.” “There are final messages in the kibbutz WhatsApp”, adds Hanan.  “Things like, ‘there’s a terrorist in my house’. You go to that person’s home, see the bloodstains and realize what happened”.

Israeli solders reached Kfar Aza at 9:00 on Saturday morning.  They included the Oz Regiment, the Duvduvan Unit, Maglan, elite commando teams, paratroopers. They fought tens of terrorists belong to the “Sejuyia” brigade of Hamas. In one of the intersections we meet the brother of Or Yosef Ran, a Duvduvan fighter who was killed here at the age of only 29, in that battle on Saturday. “He and our nephew fought here, side by side, and were killed together”, says his sister, who came here to commemorate Or’s memory.

Festival

There was supposed to be a kite-flying festival that day at the kibbutz. Many families were hosting visitors and family members who came to enjoy the festival.  Kfar Aza is 1.8 km from the border with Gaza. One thousand people lived here before October 7th.  72 of them were murdered, many others are kidnapped or missing.

At some point that day, civilians from Gaza entered the kibbutz.  Israel tells me that they came with cartons and looted everything they could carry.  “For them, there really was a festival here”, he says. The blasts from Gaza are still thundering, making us jump as we walk.  On our way out one of the reporters asks Israel if they plan to come back here after their horrible experience. “We’ll be back”, he promises.  “We’ll recover, we’ll double our population, and we’ll stay here on the kibbutz.” On our way out, we again walk by the Zaka volunteers, who are suddenly gathering together. One of them begins singing a Hassidic song and the others slowly join in.  They put their arms around each other, form a circle, and ask everyone around them to join them.  Soldiers, security personnel, journalists slowly join the growing circle.  The music pierces your heart, maybe also the heavens.

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פוליטיקלי קוראת קיימת מאז 2012.
פוליטיקלי קוראת היא גוף התקשורת הפמיניסטי היחיד בישראל.
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