Hundreds of people have been killed in attacks by the militant Islamist Hamas in southern Israel. Several in the kibbutzim on the border with the Gaza Strip. They were completely surprised by the extent of the violence.
Be’eri, Kfar Aza, Re’im – in these towns, all kibbutzim, the unimaginable has happened: hostage-taking, kidnappings, murders.
They are in close proximity to the Gaza Strip, and the people there were among the first victims of attacks by the militant Islamist Hamas.
The terrorists broke through the border with Israel in the early hours of October 7th. As a result, Hamas kidnapped, injured and killed many civilians and soldiers.
Hostage taking in the kibbutz
“It is a disaster. And it’s still not over,” says Micky Drill, who has been a project manager at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Israel for years.
There are reports of fighting in Kibbutz Magen, just four kilometers from the border with the Gaza Strip. Micky Drill lived for ten years in the exact place where the fight is now taking place. He now lives south of Tel Aviv.
The south of Israel on the border with the Gaza Strip is rural with many kibbutzim. Some have 400 people living in them, others have up to 800 residents.
There have been kibbutzim in what is now Israel for over 100 years, even before the founding of the state in 1948. A few are also in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.
The original collectivist communities and ways of life are based on certain principles such as social justice and mutual support. Many kibbutzim have now been privatized, but still produce a significant share of Israel’s agricultural output, although only four percent of Israelis still live in kibbutzim today.
Popular places despite rocket fire
According to Micky Drill, the area in the south that has now been hit by terror has become increasingly popular in recent years – like the entire kibbutz movement: “The kibbutz movement today is on the rise and it is very popular. This area consists mainly of kibbutzim and has seen a tremendous increase in population in recent years, despite the military threat. These are strong communities, lots of nature, a completely different standard of living than in the narrow city.”
This is quite astonishing, because anyone who lives in the Gaza Strip also lives with constant rocket alarms. Sometimes people only have 15 seconds to find a shelter.
But people have gotten used to this threat over time, says Micky Drill: “The entire infrastructure has adapted to it. All the houses there are protected with concrete ceilings. But what happened now is a completely different matter.”
The kibbutz residents are traditionally left-wing politically
In the early hours of the morning, Hamas fighters, some reports of up to 300 men, entered Israel. Videos on social networks show shocking scenes of dead civilians, burning buildings and exposed hostages.
“No one could have imagined that people would ram the fence with an excavator and then break into the kibbutzim and slaughter people and take the families and children from their beds to Gaza,” says Drill.
Only a few kibbutz residents voted for Israel’s government
Some speak of Israel’s “11. September”, a tragedy for the country. For the people in the kibbutzim, Drill estimates, the attack also means a “huge breach of trust” – including in their own government and the army.
Because she had always said before: You are safe thanks to the missile defense system and the disused tunnels, which have been a security problem for years. “And that wasn’t true,” says Drill.
In addition, the kibbutz residents are traditionally politically left-wing. There are also religious kibbutzim, but most have their tradition in socialist ideals. Only a few people voted for the incumbent government here, says Drill.
Kibbutz residents disappointed with government and army
Many residents even remember times when the Gaza Strip was open. “We rode our bikes to the sea back then,” says Drill. It wasn’t until 1994 that Gaza was sealed off with, among other things, the border fence.
Now, Drill says, many are disappointed with the government and the army – also because it took a long time for the latter to even get there. At the beginning, the kibbutz residents had to defend themselves against the terrorists.
In Kibbutz Be’eri, almost 50 people were held hostage for hours until the army managed to end the hostage-taking.
“The terrorists knew exactly where the weak points were, where the kibbutzim were guarded, whether they were guarded at all,” says Drill.
One of the most prominent victims of the October 7 attacks is Ofir Liebstein, a regional chief and long-time spokesman for Kibbutz Kfar Aza. He was among the first to die.
Previously he had repeatedly spoken out in favor of peace. He described life on the border like this: “Life here is 99 percent like heaven. But one percent of it is hell, and that hell can break loose at any time.”