KIBBUTZ BE’ERI, Israel – From Kibbutz Be’eri on the Gaza border, you can see the horror and cruelty of the Israel-Hamas war in 360 degrees. On one side you can see the shells of burnt houses, still covered in bloodstains and bullet casings from Hamas’s October 7 massacre of at least 1,200 Israelis. Then you turn around and see smoke rising from destroyed buildings in the Gaza Strip, just a few miles west of the kibbutz, during the current bombardment. At night the sky over Gaza glows orange and red with explosions and flares illuminating and destroying targets on the ground, and during the day the rubble and destruction left behind can be seen.
When The Daily Beast visited the once-peaceful surroundings of Kibbutz Be’eri, the streets were filled with the sights and sounds of war: the screech of jets flying overhead, the crack of artillery and the roar of armored vehicle engines. This is part of a military attack on Gaza in which according to the The Hamas-run Health Ministry, Israeli warplanes and artillery have killed more than 11,000 people in the Gaza Strip. Hamas fighters lost their lives along with innocent men, women and children in their thousands of attacks on refugee camps, homes and hospitals. The bombing tactics were condemned as “clearly wrong”. from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “The nightmare in Gaza is more than a humanitarian crisis. It is a crisis of humanity” and required an immediate ceasefire. The Israeli government said the campaign was necessary to root out Hamas.
Be’eri had always lived in the shadow of war, and even before October 7, rocket fire from Gaza had been frequent. But residents led quiet, serene lives, and many were sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians next door. Many of these were peace activists and sometimes employed Palestinians from Gaza to cross the border and work on the kibbutzim. Meanwhile, most of the residents have been replaced by heavily armed and uniformed soldiers. The remains of destroyed and burned-out civilian cars lie in a parking lot, while tanks patrol the area directly in front.
It is impossible to understand the brutality of the Israeli campaign without also knowing the terrible cruelty of the October 7 massacres. In Be’eri alone, over 120 people were killed, either burned, blown up with grenades or shot execution-style. “The first thing that comes to mind is the smell of corpses,” Simcha Greinman, a member of Zaka, an emergency response team that was responsible for recovering the bodies and cataloging the deaths, told The Daily Beast. Standing in front of the charred remains of a house in Kfar Aza, another destroyed kibbutz, he recalled: “We went into the back room and saw five family members, two children, the parents and a grandmother, living together.” They were standing in a circle and hugged each other…burned to the bone.” He began to choke and seemed to be holding back tears as he continued, “Our job is to take the bodies and put them in sacks. They take this circle that they had, the last moments of their lives, and take it apart, lay it down and put it in a bag. If you look out of the room you can still see a birthday cake. It’s unbelievable, what kind of person could do something like that?”
Across Israel, the trauma of these attacks has already left deep scars on the national psyche. Almost everyone The Daily Beast spoke to in Israel has a connection to someone who was killed, wounded or taken hostage to Gaza.
It is these horrors that have led to such an overwhelming Israeli response. “People outside Israel do not understand the deep-rooted trauma in the Jewish people, it has rekindled the fear that we could be exterminated,” said Uriel Zimmerman, who was working with Jerusalem authorities on Oct. 7, answering calls from relatives and friends, who could do this You should not contact your loved ones. “It is important to understand both sides recovering from trauma, nothing here will help the situation. How can you behave logically when all you do is react and survive?”
“I can’t imagine how the war will get rid of Hamas but just continue this terrible cycle of violence.”
— Itmar Avneri
But despite the shared suffering, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has come under heavy criticism for its failure to prevent the attack. Polls overwhelmingly show that most citizens of Israel believe he should resign either now or after the war ends. Most Israelis support the attack on Gaza, but even within Israel there are those who believe it will do more harm than good. Last week, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to demand the return of the 241 known Israeli hostages and pressure the government to do more to ensure their safe return. To mark the 30th day since the massacres, they lit candles and held placards with slogans, the most prominent of which was: “Bring them home NOW!” This slogan is commonly seen on posters, T-shirts and pendants throughout Israel.
Maoz Inon, a businessman and peace activist, told me in an interview before the Knesset: “My parents were killed in the early morning of October 7th, they were among the first victims of the Hamas attack. Since then, it has been a month of sadness and torment, and I am almost drowning in this ocean of pain.” He tells me that he is channeling his pain over the attack on Kibbutz Netiv HaAsara, where his parents died. “I have been on a mission since my parents died. And this mission is divided into objectives. The first goal is to bring home those who have been kidnapped and held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. My second goal is an immediate ceasefire and an end to the war. Because the war only serves Hamas and Benjamin Netanyahu. As the war progresses, he will receive support from our politicians and world leaders, that is his strategy.” Several times the crowd chanted “Lekh! Lekh!” the Hebrew word for “Go!”
Some of these calls even come from people with ties to the kibbutzim. Itamar Avneri, co-founder of the Standing Together movement for Jewish-Arab solidarity in Israel, was a former resident of Kibbutz Be’eri. Although he had left several years ago, he said, “I am haunted by dreams and thoughts about Be’eri. I still have friends in Be’eri, I know at least one woman who was kidnapped to Gaza.” Nevertheless, he believes the bombing campaign is counterproductive. “Many Israeli Jews are afraid, and I am also afraid, many are angry, and I am very angry. Many people want revenge and I understand why, even though I’m not seeking revenge… but there is no military solution to this overall situation. I can’t imagine how the war will get rid of Hamas, just continue this terrible cycle of violence.”
He sees the only solution to the violence as a delayed return to the negotiating table. “We need Israeli-Palestinian peace, and we have to work very hard for it… but I believe in it. Deep in their hearts, all Israelis and all Palestinians, except the most extremist groups in both societies, know that millions of Palestinians and millions of the Jewish people are not going anywhere… we must find a way to live together in peace. And when we have such an agreement and such peace, we will be shocked at how easy it was and we will wonder what the hell we were doing all these years. Why didn’t it happen twenty years ago?”