As we pulled into the entrance of Kibbutz Kfar Aza on the edge of the Gaza envelop, I asked myself: “Am I an invited guest, or am I invading the community?”
We stepped foot inside the kibbutz, and we were dropped into a reality that nothing can prepare you for. No media coverage nor social media post can fully describe the current state of the community.
Houses and cars are completely burned and charred. There are bullet holes through doors and walls. Furniture, clothing, and household belongings are among the rubble, covered in blood stains.
As I stood in destructed homes, again I asked myself: “Am I an invited guest, or am I invading the community?”
When Hamas terrorists came into these homes, though, they never asked themselves that question.
“Am I an invited guest, or am I invading the community?”
While walking through Kfar Aza, with each step I felt and heard the crunch of broken glass and medal scraps under my feet. The pathways we were walking on were the same pathways residents of Kfar Aza walked on to get home after work to see their family, pre-October 7. The same pathways children would take to get to the playground and to school, pre-October 7. The same pathways that survivors walked on, after spending over 35 hours in their safe room, with the direction to keep their eyes closed so they did not bear witness to the 60 lifeless bodies—60 members of their community who fell victim to the barbaric acts of Hamas on October 7.
Something that cannot be articulated through pictures or words is the smell that hit my nose from the moment we stepped foot in the kibbutz. It was a sharp stench that I will never be able to describe. A smell that can only be described as the smell of death.
As I looked out, I could see Gaza in the near distance. It is challenging to imagine what life was like for the community of Kfar Aza, with hopes of living in peace with a neighbor who has threatened your existence, time after time again. I took a step back, trying to bring my mind back where my body was. To my right, I saw a lemon tree. The tree was perfectly intact. Bright, yellow lemons were hanging from the branches. Lemons represent longevity, purification, love, and friendship. In that exact moment, I needed to see that lemon tree.
Leaving Kfar Aza, our eyes were red and tear-filled. We were physically holding each other up, trying to make sense of what we witnessed. As we approached the exit, I saw a large Israeli flag waving in the wind. As a representative from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit explained to us, following the evacuation of survivors, the IDF displayed every Israeli flag they found during their search process. This flag had a prominent hole, right under the Star of David. This flag could not be more representative of Israel and our Jewish community right now. There is a hole, and we feel it every day, but we continue to stand strong and show our pride.
In that moment, I answered my question. I was an invited guest, and it is my responsibility to share about the smell of death, and the lemon tree.
Eliza Kanner was part of the World Jewish Congress Elevate Changemakers Delegation to Israel and visited Kfar Aza on November 6, 2023.