After three months spent tirelessly scouring the news, I thought I understood what happened on October 7th. The loss was still too much to bear, but I thought I understood.
Then came the curveball.
During one of my many trips to the Otef (the Gaza Envelope) as part of my work with ReGrow Israel – an initiative dedicated to saving and strengthening the devastated farming communities in the western Negev – one sentence stood out. I was meeting with the head of agriculture in Nahal Oz and as the afternoon drew to a close, his words rang out clearly against the backdrop of distant artillery fire.
“Agriculture wasn’t collateral damage: it was a target, a deliberate target.” He went on to explain, with chilling detail, the precise, coordinated and systematic nature of Hamas’s agricultural terrorism.
They didn’t just destroy whatever they could find. They came with hammers and deliberately targeted key taps to flood orchards.
They didn’t just kill Jews and Israelis. They sought out, massacred and abducted foreign workers to undermine a vital source of labor for the agricultural sector.
They didn’t just wantonly steal whatever caught their eye. They went straight for the computer chips that regulate entire irrigation systems, starving whole fields and crops straight at the source.
Even as someone working in agriculture, the fact that agriculture had been a deliberate target of war had been lost on me. This narrative has been remarkably absent from our collective conversations about October 7th.
It shouldn’t: it holds two important lessons for us all.
The first is a powerful lesson in resilience. I have never seen such resolve.
Two days after the attack that cost the lives of over 90 of his family and friends, Motti returned to Kibbutz Be’eri and stepped into his new role – a battlefield promotion of sorts. As the kibbutz’s Head of Farming lay in hospital, Motti gathered the cows that had been roaming free and herded them back to safety, navigating blood-stained streets and weaving between tanks.
Some of the fields belonging to Nahal Oz are currently green with young wheat, despite being located only 700 meters (four-tenths of a mile) from Gaza. How? Because they sowed those crops under fire. Many other kibbutzim have done the same, sharing what little equipment they can find so they can keep going, even at great personal risk.
The second lesson is the vital and unquestionable importance of agriculture for Israel.
Of course, farming was targeted: It embodies the Jewish people’s attachment to the land of Israel and our sense of stewardship over this little patch we call home. For residents of kibbutzim and moshavim, farming is part of their DNA.
Of course, farming was targeted. It underpins Israel’s food security and the slightest shock sends ripples throughout the country.
Of course, farming was targeted. It drives the economy of the western Negev and takes years to rebuild.
Of course, farming was targeted. Our unrivaled agricultural prowess is one of Israel’s proudest achievements. It’s a shining example of our tiny state helping to better the entire world: ushering in smarter and more sustainable farming that will feed generations to come.
We should never lose sight of the national role shouldered tirelessly by our farmers. We need them. They need us.
Rebuilding these communities isn’t just about helping some of the bravest and most inspiring people you’ll ever meet; it is vitally important to Israel.