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1 month after Oct. 7 massacre, the ruins of Kibbutz Kfar Aza testify to its horrors

KFAR AZA, Israel (JTA) — One month after their bucolic kibbutz turned into a site of carnage, Hanan Dann and Gili Okev returned for a brief visit — alongside two former world leaders, dozens of journalists and a handful of volunteers who were still engaged in the painstaking work of gathering the traces of their neighbors who were murdered.

The motley crew traipsing through Kibbutz Kfar Aza on Sunday had been brought together by the historic horror visited on the community of 750 on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists burst in. Between 52 and 60 people were murdered. Seventeen are believed to have been taken hostage in Gaza.

The residents returned to retrieve belongings. The world leaders — former British prime minister Boris Johnson and former Australian prime minister Scott Morris — and journalists had come to bear witness. And the volunteers were doing the same work they had been doing since days after the massacre, when they arrived to retrieve and prepare bodies for burial according to Jewish tradition.

They all carried on their work as the war that Israel launched in response to the attack carried on just kilometers away, its sounds audible and shadow palpable.

The bus carrying the press delegation stopped at the entrance to the kibbutz. David Baruch, who was accompanying the group on behalf of the Israel Defense Force’s spokesperson’s unit, instructed the 40 or so members of the press to walk the rest of the way, explaining that the IDF had received an alert for anti-tank missiles in the area and that the bus was a sitting target.

Baruch warned the journalists not to film any live reports. “The last time someone did that here ended up with four mortars fired from Gaza almost immediately,” he said.

Hanan Dann, right, speaks with the IDF’s David Baruch on Kfar Aza, Dann’s home kibbutz, a month after Hamas terrorists attacked it. (Deborah Danan)

When the group reached the “younger generation” zone, the area earmarked for young couples and families, the cruel capriciousness of the attack was laid bare. Around 40 houses, typical of kibbutz architecture in their modest appearance and size, had sustained varying degrees of destruction. Some were entirely blackened out, their walls pockmarked with holes made from grenade fragments. Others were left with gaping holes in their exterior walls from RPG impacts. All of them bore remnants of the lives that were once lived within their walls: a hammock covered with a thin film of dust, a handful of cards from a children’s game scattered among the rubble, a full mug of coffee on a kitchen table.

One house had the sentence “human remains on the couch” written in black paint on the outer wall. The adjacent wall featured yellow graffiti with the words “terrorist inside” and the date it was written, Oct. 11. One soldier at the site said Hamas terrorists were hiding in homes for days following the attack.

The couch inside the compact living room was stained with blood. Dann said his neighbors Sivan Elkabetz and Naor Hasidim were likely pulled out of their safe room and murdered on the couch.

“For the world this is maybe just another war in the Middle East. For Israelis this is a national tragedy,” Dann told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “But for me, this is a personal tragedy. These are people that are friends of mine.”

It was the second time Dann had toured that area of the kibbutz since the massacre. The first time he “lasted five minutes and couldn’t take it any more,” said Dann, a computer programmer who has been residing in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kfar Shmaryahu in the past weeks. His house, on the other side of the kibbutz, was spared and together with his wife, young children and parents, who had been visiting for the Simchat Torah holiday, he survived the hours-long ordeal in their safe room, reading terror-filled text messages from friends and neighbors, some the last they would ever send.

Dann recounted the harrowing story of the Almog-Goldstein family, in which it took a full week to determine, using DNA samples, that the father, Nadav, was killed alongside his eldest daughter, Yam, and that his wife, Chen, had been abducted to Gaza along with the couple’s younger three children.

“They couldn’t even count how many bodies there were after the murder,” Dann said.

“What would you rather hear? That your family has been all slaughtered and burnt to death? Or that they are being held captive by Hamas in Gaza? Which is the better news?” he asked. “This is the dilemma my friends are dealing with.”

The IDF’s tours of the kibbutz and other sites hard hit during the attack are meant to flood the world with firsthand information about what happened there to counteract the distortion and denial that have spread in the weeks since. As foreign news organizations rotate their staff in and out of the country, more journalists have been able to see what Israel wants them to share — but also locals are being asked to recite over and over the horrors they have seen.

“I saw heads, and I saw bodies,” said ZAKA volunteer Simcha Greineman after being asked by one reporter to verify IDF claims of Hamas beheadings. “I can’t say that I saw someone do [a beheading]. I collected heads without bodies, I collected bodies without heads, I collected children that were stabbed.”

He went on: “One child had his whole body burned but there was a knife stuck in his head from side to side.”

Images of decapitated corpses were shown to the group of journalists.

Greineman recounted a scene in which a family of five, including parents, two children and a grandmother, were found in the bedroom “standing in a circle, hugging each other, locked arms.” He and other volunteers from ZAKA, an organization that specializes in search and rescue for bodies, were tasked with detangling the family.

“We’re taking these last moments of life that they had, this circle, and we’re taking apart every body that was attached to each other, and putting them in the bag,” he said.

“It’s horrifying. People should not be mistaken about the savage attacks that occurred here,”  said Johnson, who resigned as British prime minister last July.

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson, right, and former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, at left, visit Kibbutz Kfaz Aza one month after the Oct. 7 attack. (Deborah Danan)

“You can’t help but be overwhelmed by the sense of that where we’re standing was once, a month ago, a place of innocence and now has been desecrated beyond comprehension,” said Morrison.

Both Greineman and Dann spoke about the kibbutz families who had helped Palestinian workers from Gaza. Dann said he had a friend who had become close with one of the workers whose daughter was ill with a heart defect, and helped them get medication and medical care.

“We were glad that workers from Gaza were coming to Israel with work permits to have jobs to meet Israelis, to see that we’re not all ‘those devils,’” he said, gesturing with air quotes. “We all really believed that things are changing. That Hamas has maybe matured from being this terrorist group to being the grown up; taking responsibility for their people, worrying for their welfare. And that concept really blew up in our face.”

Members of one family who had hired a Palestinian employee were now in Gaza themselves as hostages, Dann said.

“I can’t tell you if one of those workers was a spy,” he said. “We can assume that probably yes because they had intelligence. They came here with maps. They knew exactly where everyone was.”

Okev, another resident who had returned to the kibbutz to gather some belongings, said he and his fellow kibbutz members were struck by an overwhelming feeling of “disappointment.”

Simcha Greineman of ZAKA, which specializes in search and rescue for bodies, speaks at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, where has been working for nearly a month to extricate the remains of dozens of people murdered there on Oct. 7. (Deborah Danan)

“These people — not people, terrorists — they came to kill you just because you’re Jewish. There’s no other reason. They worked here, they lived here,” Okev told JTA. “We had lots of faith in them. But after seeing them over [in Gaza] celebrating on the streets, we lost faith.”

Okev spent seven hours trapped with his wife in their safe room with the terrorists just on the other side of the wall on the couple’s porch. According to Okev, they used the porch as a kind of headquarters to issue commands. The area was strewn with soot and charred farming tools, the aftermath of a battle between the terrorists and Israeli forces that would later unfold.

During their time inside the safe room, the couple, whose adult sons were not on the kibbutz when the infiltration occurred, sat quietly, prayed occasionally, and set up a blockade by the door.

“It wasn’t a question of whether they would enter or not, it was a question of when,” he said.

But they didn’t. Okev has no explanation as to why his life was spared when 12 of his close friends were murdered.

“Divine providence, what can I tell you,” he said. “There’s someone watching over us. He didn’t watch over the others, apparently. Or they were too good so He took them.”

Dann is unsure about whether he will ever return to the kibbutz.

“Even though my individual house is intact, this place is so full of blood. It’s a question that is still too big for me and still too big for everybody,” he said.

Okev, meanwhile, has a different take.

“We will come back here and we’ll build this place and it will flourish and grow. It won’t stay like this,” he said. “We won’t let them move us.”

The post 1 month after Oct. 7 massacre, the ruins of Kibbutz Kfar Aza testify to its horrors appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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On Explosive Northern Front, Hezbollah Lurks; IDF Conducts Precise Defense

UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol in the village of Khiam, near the border with Israel, in southern Lebanon, July 12, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

JNS.orgAs Israel prepares for the strong possibility of a resumption of war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces is also currently in a heightened state of alert and preparedness along the border with Lebanon, responding to the continuous threats posed by Hezbollah.

Since Oct. 7, the IDF has deployed significant military resources, including artillery, tanks and engineering corps, along the Lebanese border, striking Hezbollah anti-tank missile squads and other terrorists whenever they are detected, either after an attack or preparing for one.

This low-intensity conflict when compared to Gaza has resulted in some 90 casualties for Hezbollah and nine Israeli casualties—six military personnel and three civilians.

Several Israeli homes and military bases have sustained heavy damage from Hezbollah strikes since Oct. 7, and tens of thousands of Israeli residents from areas near the border with Lebanon remain evacuated, displaced from their homes by the threat of the Radwan Hezbollah elite terrorist unit.

In response, the IDF has employed a defensive-responsive posture aimed at protecting Israeli territory from Hezbollah’s aggression but not escalating the situation into a full-scale war front at this time.

Its approach is characterized by a reactive rather than proactive stance. Operations are tailored to respond to specific threats and attacks from Hezbollah, avoiding initiating aggression. This goal remains to protect civilian lives and property, as well as to make sure that Hezbollah cannot surprise the north as Hamas did the south. Still, the decision of any expanded war efforts in Lebanon remains up to the war cabinet.

Hezbollah’s tactics, meanwhile, involve embedding its operations within Lebanese civilian areas; using southern Shi’ite villages as bases of attack; firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli northern homes and military positions; and continuing to pose a serious and persistent threat.

The question of whether the Radwan unit, which has murder and kidnap squads much like Hamas’s Nukhba unit, could breach the Israeli border and conduct attacks has no clear answer at this time, although the IDF is present at the border in large numbers and has proven effective at detecting Radwan unit movements in real-time.

Hezbollah’s terror tactics not only endanger Lebanese civilians but are designed to complicate the IDF’s response—a familiar use of human shielding that Hamas employs as well in Gaza.

In this explosive situation, the IDF currently exercises restraint in its counterstrikes, relying on precise intelligence to target terrorist threats while minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage.

UNIFIL ineffective in curbing provocation

The role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in challenging Hezbollah’s flagrant violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans Hezbollah from operating in Southern Lebanon, is nonexistent.

Worse yet, Hezbollah has been actively using UNIFIL as human shields, launching attacks on Israel in some cases from tens of meters from UNIFIL positions.

UNIFIL’s ineffectiveness in curbing Hezbollah’s activities is self-evident, highlighting the limitations of international peacekeeping forces in such scenarios.

Despite this, the IDF continues to remain in contact with UNIFIL and has been transmitting its concern over Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities with no tangible results.

So far, Israel’s policy on the Lebanon border is a delicate balance between essential defense and cautious restraint. But it remains unclear how long this can continue since northern residents will not return to a persistent Hezbollah threat to their lives in the new, post-Oct. 7 reality, and the IDF cannot remain fully deployed in the north indefinitely.

The result is a paradox that appears to suggest difficult decisions in the future by the Israeli war cabinet if the north is to be sustainable and its residents granted a new sense of security.

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The Determination of Israel’s Reservists

IDF soldiers are seen at rest stop near the border with Gaza. Photo: Reuters/Jim Hollander

JNS.orgWho is the Israel soldier? They can be of any age and profession. It may have been a long time since they held a weapon. Many of them are at Tze’elim, one of the IDF’s largest bases, just across the border from Gaza on yellow sand.

When I meet them, they are waiting, as the brief ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was still holding. A short time later, Hamas broke the truce, attacked Israel with rockets, and the fighting began again.

These soldiers are older and more emotional than you would imagine. Their intentions are clear: “Never Again.” The Oct. 7 massacre will never be permitted to reoccur. Israel must be freed from the nightmare of Hamas.

In Tze’elim, rows of barracks and numerous disorderly tents house thousands of soldiers of all kinds. We meet with a group of them from Brigade 252. They are soldiers from the miluim—the reserves. They have completed their three-year military service—or two years, if they are women—but they all keep their “miluim bag” under the bed. If the phone rings, as happened on Oct. 7, they rush to the front, whether they are in Tel Aviv or traveling in Japan, whether they are left-wing or right-wing, professors or taxi drivers. They tear themselves away from the operating room and the shop, the lawyer’s office and the bus they drive.

Commander A. is thin, with gray hair and a kind smile. He is religious. On the morning of Oct. 7, he was in synagogue without a telephone. Someone told him “something never seen before is happening.” A. rushed to his collection point in the south and has yet to return home.

On Oct. 7, the reserves were immediately thrown into the battle to retake the kibbutzim that had been attacked and massacred by Hamas terrorists. They hunted down the Hamas men who remained and collected the wounded and dead Israelis in the fields and on the roads. A. closes his eyes. He has seen hell.

The 252 was then sent into the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, home to 50,000 inhabitants who serve as human shields for what is essentially a massive rocket launching pad. The reservists were trained in a mock-up of a Gaza city. They practiced how to enter, shoot, exit, climb, attack and go through tunnels full of TNT. They trained against ambushes, snipers and RPGs.

A. says that, when they went into Beit Hanoun itself, “We had to quickly learn a lesson: Beit Hanoun’s ambush is in his heart, not its outer circles. The terrorists let you enter easily. There’s a row of houses, two or three more, and that’s where Hamas is waiting for you—where you don’t expect it, in civilian structures.”

A. explains, “If we decide to destroy a structure and there are civilians inside, we warn the civilian population. … There are precise rules for evaluating whether we have to act, whether it’s essential because if we don’t act, the lives of soldiers or Israeli civilians are in danger. We try to stop Hamas’s continuous use of human shields by moving the civilians out completely.”

A. is happy to say, “Of civilians killed in Ben Hanoun, the number is zero.”

Israeli soldiers, however, were killed. Maj. Moshe, a 50-year-old engineer who works in high-tech, explained, “An army generally advances on a territory that, once occupied, is the starting point of your next step. But here, through the tunnels under the ground, suddenly you find the enemy shooting at you from behind.”

Thus, great efforts were made to locate the tunnels. “With the use of sophisticated instruments, and also sometimes suffering unexpected explosions given that Hamas’s specialty is to mine everything with large quantities of explosives, we quickly understood that the tunnels were a very sophisticated network, not holes of various sizes dug here and there, but an enormous spider web that converged on the urban center.”

“The structures used by Hamas, which they protected with human shields, included a mosque, a school, a hospital, a public swimming pool, civilian homes, children’s rooms, even their beds. There were weapons everywhere,” he says.

As a result of the truce, Moshe states, some of the evacuated civilians have begun to return. “We can block them,” he says, “but not attack them or approach them. There is a truce.”

Nonetheless, I point out, three soldiers were wounded two days ago in an attack. “True,” Moshe replies, “and we returned fire. If we are in danger we respond.” He notes that some of the returnees are Hamas terrorists, “but we are in a truce, we act according to the rules of defense.”

“We have two ways of being at war: offensive and defensive,” he continues. “The offensive is much easier: You face the enemy. You can move. Defense is unnerving, even dangerous, especially when there are civilians around.”

However, he says, there is much to do, even during a truce. “For example, we had completely dismantled the explosive systems inside a building, and then we realized that everything had been mined again.”

Hamas, he says, is “easier to deal with than endure while you can’t move. So, we wait for orders. The mission is to destroy Hamas and bring the kidnapped people home. That and nothing else.”

Now that the soldiers are back at war, the humanitarian issue is certainly important to them; not because of what the Biden administration tells them, but because that is what an Israeli soldier is.

First and foremost, however, they are Jews who know exactly what was done to their people on Oct. 7 and will continue their war of justice and survival. One of them tells me, “Yes, I feel when we fight, feel it physically, that our kidnapped citizens are not far away, and I fight for them too with all my heart. This is the most just war of all time.”

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The Moral Bankruptcy of IfNotNow

IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Photo: IfNotNow via Facebook.

JNS.orgA few days ago, I attended a webinar entitled “Jews for Ceasefire,” presented by the young Jewish anti-Zionists of IfNotNow. It was hosted by an earnest young woman named Gen (IfNotNow activists often don’t use their surnames), who began by reaffirming what the group calls its main goal: to “end American support for Israeli apartheid.” She went on to emphasize that all the positions taken by IfNotNow are “deeply grounded in Jewish tradition.” To prove the point, she called on Rabbi Monica Gomery, who led a prayer and enthusiastically praised the group’s work.

Next up was Noa, a young woman who said, “I’m going to root us in the moment.” “The moment,” however, did not include Hamas’s Oct. 7 genocidal attack on Israeli civilians. Noa said nothing whatsoever about it. Instead, she presented a litany of alleged Israeli abuses inflicted on Palestinians. Her omission appeared to be deliberate, as it helped portray the IDF’s defensive military operations in Gaza as an unprovoked act of aggression.

Following Noa, there was a testimonial from a young man named Boaz. He made what appeared to him to be a confession that his grandfather helped perpetrate the “nakba.” What he meant was that his grandfather was a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence. For Boaz, his father’s participation in Israel’s successful effort to prevent a second Holocaust was a source of shame, not pride. As he explained, he was trying to work through his guilt. A poster behind him bore the slogan, “Palestine will be free,” a popular euphemism for that second Holocaust.

After Boaz’s self-flagellation came the highlight of the webinar—an appearance by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Tlaib has been an ally of IfNotNow for some time. In fact, the group’s leadership began collaborating with Tlaib before she was elected to Congress. During her presentation, Tlaib referred to them as her “siblings.”

Sporting a t-shirt that said, “Justice from Detroit to Gaza”—a slogan that falsely connects Israel to police brutality controversies in the U.S.—Tlaib declared that Congress must demand a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas and “stop funding war crimes.” Like her IfNotNow supporters, Tlaib conveniently made no mention of the Oct. 7 attack or the hostages held by Hamas.

It apparently did not bother the leaders of IfNotNow that the House of Representatives had just censured Tlaib for her genocidal call to free “Palestine from the river to the sea.” Indeed, IfNotNow leaders repeat the same call in their training sessions. That training also endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to economically strangle Israel, as well as the so-called “right of return,” which aims to demographically eliminate the Jewish state.

It seems that IfNotNow leaders are unperturbed that Tlaib has characterized Hamas’s rampage of crimes against humanity as justified “resistance” to an “apartheid state.” These Jews, it appears, are perfectly happy to align themselves with someone who supports murdering large numbers of Jews. They are also unbothered by the fact that Tlaib posted a video on social media that says, “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people”—a genocide that is not happening. One of IfNotNow’s campaigns calling for a ceasefire is entitled, “No Genocide in Our Name.” Having erased Hamas’s genocidal attack, IfNotNow appears to have fabricated one.

In addition, IfNotNow has officially endorsed Tlaib’s statement, “You cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government.” To them and other young Jews who clasp hands with Tlaib and her compatriots, condemnation of Israel is the sine qua non of being a progressive, and a policy of racist exclusion must be imposed on any Jew who doesn’t get with the program. IfNotNow looks to Tlaib to lead the way, even though, like antisemites throughout history, she is happy to exploit them and eventually discard them once they have outlived their usefulness.

Most tellingly, IfNotNow has been unfazed by Tlaib’s open antisemitism, such as her claim that American supporters of Israel “forgot what country they represent,” clearly invoking the “dual loyalty” libel. She has also engaged in antisemitic conspiracy theories, talking about the “people behind the curtain” who are exploiting victims “from Gaza to Detroit.”

Worst of all, Tlaib is the only member of Congress to call for an end to the Jewish state. It should not be surprising that IfNotNow is fine with that, as they proudly state that they take no position on Israel’s right to exist.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has perfectly and accurately described such people as “Hamas’s useful idiots.”

The origins of IfNotNow’s ideology are obvious. Like Tlaib and many other “social justice” ideologues, IfNotNow divides people into two groups: Oppressors and the oppressed. Depending on your racial or ethnic identity, you by definition belong to one or the other. There are no gradations, no nuance and only one permissible narrative. Thus, decades of genocidal Arab violence go unmentioned, including the Oct. 7 massacre. There is only Israeli oppression and Palestinian “resistance.”

It would be a mistake to believe that IfNotNow is an inconsequential outlier. They have nine chapters across the United States and an office on K Street in Washington, D.C. The webinar I attended had more than 1,600 attendees.

They also have powerful friends and an enormous amount of money. According to NGO Monitor, IfNotNow has received grants from the wealthy Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, the New Israel Fund’s Progressive Jewish Fund and the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

All that, plus support from a member of Congress. It seems that racism, hate and support for genocide pay off.

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