March 21, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Looking into Kfar Aza, five months after the October 7 massacre

This kibbutz has been on the frontline in other wars. However, nothing like October 7 ever happened before.
March 21, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Looking into Kfar Aza, five months after the October 7 massacre

This kibbutz has been on the frontline in other wars. However, nothing like October 7 ever happened before.

On the morning of Saturday, October 7, Hamas terrorists breached the fence at Kfar Aza that runs around the community. It is one of the closest Israeli communities to the Gaza Strip, and the suburbs of Gaza City, the built-up areas of Jabalya and Beit Hanun, are easily visible from here.

Hamas crossed the mile of open fields that separated the kibbutz from Gaza and massacred its people.

I visited Kfar Aza on Wednesday. It was warm, the kind of spring day that would usually be full of life. However, today, this community – which once hosted almost 900 people – stands empty. Guards stand at the entrance, and people patrol in cars or golf carts.

Many groups have visited to witness the evidence of the massacre and hear the stories of the place. One resident provided a tour, but like the rest of the community, was evacuated.

The tour began in the reverse of how Hamas would have encountered the community – in the center, and moving outwards towards the fence. Many houses do not look damaged on the outside, but life has been frozen nonetheless; one yard still had a sukkah in the yard. Bicycles, toys, everything that marks a peaceful life is here.

But now there is no civilian life. Only the birds make noise, along with the humming of a Hermes 450 drone overhead, the kind used for surveillance and airstrikes. There was also, at times, the roar of artillery.

But, the war felt distant on a more general level. Here, life stopped; we are still living October 7 over and over again – that is how other border residents described it.

Before vs. after the attack

Before the war, there were over 100 children in Kfar Aza, along with many young people, in a neighborhood of small, older white homes near the fence. This area bore the brunt of the attack. A small path leads from there, laid out in several lines, perpendicular to the border.

Some of the homes were burned, others were ransacked and riddled with bullet holes. Signs on each small home describe who was killed: “Nitzan Libstein was brutally murdered in this house”; “Ofir Shoshani was brutally murdered in this house.”

At one end of the group of youth homes is a house with a sign that the family erected after October. 7: “Sivani’s house,” in memory of Sivan Elkabets and Naor Hasidim. “I am Sivan’s mother. I hold a notebook close to me. I am writing to my daughter because I miss her. After all, I need her, because I feel that I failed to keep her safe,” the sign reads. It describes the story of October 7 and the murder of Sivan and Naor. “Come, see, may take pictures, and remember forever – what the monsters did on October 7, 2023,” the sign reads.

Sivan’s house is one of the few that are open to visitors. Each family decides for itself how to preserve the destroyed home. Additionally, the kibbutz is still deliberating over how to memorialize the victims, a difficult choice. To keep the homes here as they were on October 7 will be a harrowing museum of memory, but it will also preclude a return. Nearly half the homes were damaged, leaving the kibbutz members with questions about what to do. For now, they are preserved as they were on October 7.

Bullet holes are everywhere in Sivan’s house, as if the bullets were sprayed around just to destroy. Other homes were impacted differently, with no clear logic as to why some were targeted, and others were not.

A few were burned, but many are almost untouched. Security forces arrived at the kibbutz in force only in the afternoon, and evacuated survivors to a nearby gas station.

It took days to clear the homes, with some not fully secured until October 14. During that time, and after, when corpses were found, a small dot was made.

Before October 7, this was a thriving community. There were 40 young people homes, along with others built in recent years. Sixty-three members of the kibbutz were killed, including Alon Shamriz and Yotam Haim, two young men who were taken hostage and freed themselves in Gaza, only to be killed by the IDF on December 15. On Wednesday, President Isaac Herzog announced he would honor them, with awards presented to their families.

Walking along the deserted paths of Kfar Aza, I had an unsettled feeling that I had seen all of this before. That is because Hamas live-recorded the attack, along with CCTV footage that captured the attacks in real-time.

In my memory, I’ve been here before, I’ve seen these pathways. It is easy to imagine the terrorists walking along the roads. It would have been a clear, warm day, like Wednesday, except in the Fall. They would have broken through the fence and then broken into the kibbutz, and they would have felt initial surprise at the lack of opposition. The initial wave of attacks not only focused on massacring the young people who lived near the fence but also on the security team.

The security team was made up of volunteer IDF veterans. A small, stout building in the middle of Kfar Aza with a red roof was the armory. These communities had locked armories for the long guns and rifles that could be distributed in an emergency. However, in some cases, there was no time to give out the weapons. Because people were sheltering in their safe rooms waiting for rescue, there wasn’t always the possibility of distributing the weapons. This is because an attack of this nature, with 300 terrorists breaking into the community, was never imagined.

“This is where the heroic members of the civil guard were killed,” a sign on the building reads. Seven of them fell in that area; some were killed quickly while others were wounded. After the armory, we walked along a path next to several homes, each with its own story. In one, a family survived, in another, someone was killed, each with its own horror story.

Further along, there is a small rise, with a memorial for a man killed years ago in a rocket attack, a reminder that this kibbutz has been on the frontline of other wars. Yet nothing like October 7 ever happened before. I hadn’t been to Kfar Aza before Wednesday, but I had been near it many times, in every war dating more than a decade back.

Hamas always targeted this place, with the Iron Dome intercepting many of their projectiles once the system became operational. On October 7, after massacring 60 people here, Hamas kidnapped another 17.

Five are still held in Gaza, their photos festooning the kibbutz, hanging near a tree decorated with small signs marking the foundation of the kibbutz 67 years ago. Along with others, it was founded to secure the border with Gaza. Then, in the 1950s, there were infiltrators from Gaza, and later on, terrorist groups in Gaza, backed by Egypt at the time, carried out attacks.

Israel had to confront the terrorists in 1956, conquer Gaza in 1967, and then put down an insurgency in the 1970s and then again in the 1980s and 2000s. Today, the IDF is back in Gaza. From Kfar Aza looking into the enclave, it is not clear how this war will play out or whether this community will return to what it was in the past.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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