Returning home is not easy these days. The eerie lack of residents, especially children playing on the lawns, have been replaced by soldiers patrolling the paths or lifting weights outside one of our day care centers, which have become their barracks. The sounds of war can be heard in the distance (and sometimes, not so distant). The knowledge that at any second there is liable to be incoming fire with or without warning. Nevertheless, I returned to visit the Western Negev last week again, for my fourth tense visit since being evacuated on October 8th, to the region which I have called “home” for virtually all of my adult life. I am a survivor of the October 7th massacre, as are my son, my daughter, my son-in-law, and three of my grandchildren. We all experienced the fear and trauma of hearing the terrorists just outside our homes, waiting for the moment when our “turn” would come; the moment they would burst in and shoot, torture, kidnap us.
When my cousin Gil, who is a historian and what I consider to be one of the great modern-day Zionist writers and educators, asked if I could take him around my kibbutz, and tell our story, I was honored to make the three-hour trip from my temporary refuge in Eilat to do so. He and his family have visited us many times in the past, so he had seen Nirim before October 7th. He had seen the carefully manicured lawns, the beautiful gardens and welcoming playground. He had heard our children playing in our playgrounds and the birds filling the sky with their birdsong. He had previous points of reference. He knew what our kibbutz looked and sounded like before we experienced the violent upheaval to our lives, when our homes were violated by the murderous Hamas Nukhba terrorists, followed by the less skilled but no less violent Shababim. Shababim are the everyday Joe/Mohammad on the street, who joyfully followed in the wake of the first wave of the carnage of the first attackers. There were men, women, and even children who could be heard eating and celebrating in our houses, as we secured ourselves in our saferooms as best we could, by physically holding down the handle that kept it locked, or in some cases, with the carnage of murdered residents strewn on the floor nearby.
Aside from Nirim, my cousin visited Kfar Aza and the Nova Music Festival massacre sites, as well. These trips are emotionally challenging. They can also be dangerous. Just two hours after Gil and I left Nirim to go our separate ways, an anti-aircraft rocket found its way into our infirmary wall, leaving a gaping hole and a demolished doctor’s office. At the end of the day, our homes are still considered to be part of a closed military zone and the sounds of explosions and mortar fire periodically pierce the air, making your heart race, providing a split second to consider the distance from which the noise is coming and whether you need to take cover. Yet, seeing these places with your own eyes, and hearing the stories, is important.
For this reason, a few days ago, I too, went to witness other areas near where I have lived for the past 48 years, which were so highly impacted on October 7th, to see the fields and communities which I know so well, which were also transformed by the violence and pure hatred of that same day.
Thanks to my friend Shirel, I was able to join a small group of social media influencers led by the very competent and knowledgeable David Sussman. Accompanied by a soldier from the Department of the IDF Spokespersons, I walked the paths of #KfarAza, strewn with signs of upended life: a ball here, an upside down tricycle there, tattered, dirty laundry barely hanging on, as if for dear life, to the bent and broken clothesline. All that normalcy was juxtaposed among the shells of burnt, destroyed homes and the remnants of people’s lives and families.
As we made our way through the surrounding devastation, I grappled with my own inner conflict. On the one hand, it was important and meaningful to me to go in order to bear witness to these sites. As a survivor, myself, of the massacre, I felt an obligation to learn more so as to be an even better witness. On the other hand, I felt somehow as if I was trespassing on holy land, in a community that needed respect and reverence, where so many people whom I knew personally were slaughtered. Was I performing a brave, responsible deed or was I desecrating these places once again in what might be conceived as being a sort of gruesome “tragedy tourism”?
We have all been reminded of late of the importance of “context.” So while I sat in front of my television set back in Eilat, just two days after my visit home, listening to the outrageous accusations of genocidal conduct brought against Israel, put forth by South Africa in the International Court of Justice in Hague, completely removing their recriminations from the invasion and attempted genocide by the Hamas on our communities, just because we are Jewish, I realized why it is so important for people to see for themselves exactly what the Palestinian leaders strive to do to all of Israel. If we would only have let them. The blood has barely dried in our fields. Despite Jewish custom which dictates burying the dead before the sun sets, we have been unable to bury many of our slaughtered in our home cemeteries. Some of the bodies of our loved ones are still being held captive in Gaza. We can’t even go home yet.
Indeed, many of us have no homes to which to return, and, most urgently: 136 of our hostages are still wasting away, feeling hopeless, forgotten and abandoned in the damp, dark tunnels of those genocidal monsters. They are being starved and tortured and likely raped, in those very same tunnels that were built with the money the world provided in order to build homes and hospitals and institutes of education for the Gazan citizens.
Every few days. we are notified of another one or two who have been killed in those tunnels, built with the money that was hijacked from the Palestinian people in order to build terror tunnels, to protect their weapons, to provide safe transport for the terrorists and their leaders, underground, undetectable by the IDF. These days, those hell-holes serve as warrens in which to hide the Hamas “loot”: the 136 Israeli hostages. Yet, already the world is looking away, moving its focus to what is happening in Gaza, which, while tragic for the innocent Gazans, who are also held hostage by their evil leaders, is the direct result of those murderous attacks on October 7th.
Adding insult to injury, rather than indicting the terrorist leaders who rule Gaza for the massive, murderous, inconceivably gruesome attacks on thousands of citizens of a sovereign country, the atrocities are already being denied. Decades after the Holocaust atrocities were unveiled, we all are painfully aware that there is an entire Holocaust-denial industry. Likewise, from the very first day of this war, despite the brazen footage that the terrorists proudly shared with the world, bragging about their accomplishments, the same nefarious agents are already attempting to deny the slaughter and justify the invasion.
It is for this reason that we CANNOT just sit silent. It is for this reason that it is our duty to bear witness any way we can, to every inch of proof, any way we can, in every place we can, and write, blog, vlog about what we have seen and experienced with our own eyes. It is for this reason that, as hard as it was for me, I needed to go to the sites of these atrocities, back to the region where I live, and my home, to bear witness and share that with the world.