Israeli security seen next to burnt cars at the entrance to Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza Border, in southern Israel, Oct. 9, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90) רחבות ברזל
By Ben Sales
(JTA) — The grim and mounting toll of Hamas’ attack on Israel was thrown into stark relief on Monday when more than 100 bodies were found in Kibbutz Be’eri, a small community on the Gaza border that was invaded by the terror group on Saturday.
When Israeli troops entered the kibbutz they found scenes one Israeli news site described as “hell”: dozens of burnt cars and houses — and bodies lined up in rows on the street. Zaka, a first responder group, reported the number of dead.
Survivors said that in many cases, residents were shot to death at point-blank after being forced out of their safe rooms when their homes were set ablaze. “We assessed the situation of the fire and looked out for the terrorists and decided to jump,” Miri Gad Mesika told the Israeli news site Ynet. “We fled to our neighbors across the street, and watched our house go up in flames before it was completely burned down. I have no idea how we survived.”
Be’eri, a kibbutz with a population of roughly 1,000, has lost 10% of its residents and accounts for a significant proportion of the growing death toll of Hamas’ attack.
Another nearby kibbutz, Re’im, was the site of a massacre of an outdoor nature party in which 260 Israelis were killed. Altogether, more than 900 Israelis have been killed, more than 2,000 wounded and more than 100 captured in the attack.
Among the people who disappeared during the attack on Be’eri was Vivian Silver, a Canadian-born woman who was prominent in efforts to build peace between Israelis and Palestinians, including in Gaza. “I am not 100% sure if she is in Gaza or is dead on the ground in her house,” her son Yonatan Zeigan told the New York Times. “She works in the peace industry. … That was her life’s work. She was always invested in that, in making the world a better place, and she failed. … I hope she felt how much I love her.”
Unlike many other kibbutzes in Israel, Kibbutz Be’eri, which was founded in 1946 and moved to its current location in 1948, had remained a workers collective. Its two industries, a printing company and a food technology company, were successful, allowing residents a high quality of life, and many children who grew up on the kibbutz returned to raise their own families there.
A video circulating online appears to show the Hamas attackers entering the kibbutz by hiding in its guard station at the entrance gate, shooting into a car coming into the kibbutz and then using that car to open the gate.
“We were getting everyone into safe rooms and then gunfire began in several kibbutz neighborhoods,” one resident, Ofer Gitai, told the Israeli news site Walla. “At the beginning we didn’t understand the extent of the incident. We got a defense squad together that fought bravely against the terrorists. They fought face to face as the terrorists went into houses to murder residents.”