Kibbutz hit by Hamas becomes military site as Israel strikes Gaza

More than 140 people were killed when militants attacked the Kfar Aza community near the Palestinian enclave on October 7

Israeli soldiers use decimated kibbutz as base

Israeli soldiers use decimated kibbutz as base
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A handful of Israeli soldiers rest on a sofa in Kfar Aza, behind a heavy machinegun pointed at the Gaza Strip, only a couple of kilometres away from what was once a peaceful farming community in southern Israel.

An extremely loud bang goes off nearby as yet another Israeli artillery round heads towards the devastated Palestinian enclave. Fighter jets roar and drones hover overhead.

More bangs follow at regular intervals as smoke rises above Gaza, where more than 10,500 people have been killed – including 4,324 children – in a month of heavy Israeli bombardment.

“This is war,” one soldier says with a laugh, speaking with what sounds like a Spanish accent.

Kfar Aza was home to about 750 people until October 7, when militants from Gaza launched deadly cross-border raids that left more than 1,400 dead, and took an estimated 240 hostages.

Kfar Aza is now an army base of sorts, filled with soldiers, guns and military vehicles.

The machinegun position overlooks the broken gate where the attackers from Gaza entered. It was this part of the kibbutz, nearest to Gaza, that was hit the hardest.

Burnt cars, overturned washing machines and abandoned motorcycles lie outside charred homes.

A soldier says it is not clear whether the motorcycles belonged to the residents or if they were used by the attackers.

In some houses, the shoe racks are still full – perhaps a sign of how little people took when they left, or that the occupants were no longer alive.

Israeli army Maj Doran Spielman said about 140 people were killed in Kfar Aza and about 100 are still missing.

It is not clear whether the missing are among the hostages being held by Hamas, the militant group that launched the October 7 attacks. Hamas has refused to release a full list of its captives.

Israel says its military campaign in Gaza has two main objectives: destroying the capabilities of Hamas and rescuing the hostages.

“We're working day and night to try to find every possible way to get them home,” Maj Spielman said.

“Part of it is being there on the ground and collecting intelligence, of which we've done a lot, including from the woman who was rescued.”

He was referring to the soldier Ori Megidish, whose rescue from Hamas captivity was announced on October 30.

“Now we are taking over terror compound by terror compound in Gaza, and we've uncovered a lot of intelligence, maps, information, data. We're also interrogating the fighters, one of whom gave himself up right from here. It's like piecing together a puzzle,” he told The National.

Almost none of Kfar Aza's residents have returned since the attack, although some have visited to collect belongings.

One of them is Maor Moravia, 37, who has lived in Kfar Aza for five years.

Although the sound of rockets and warning sirens is not new for a community only minutes from Gaza, Mr Moravia said he knew October 7 was different when he heard gunshots.

He showed footage on his phone from that day, when he and his family hid in their home's safe room for 20 hours.

“We locked all the doors, all the windows. It was very hot; we didn't turn on the air conditioning, we wanted to be silent. We turned off the lights, the TV.

“There was no food or water, we just sat there waiting for whatever was coming. They came to our street and started knocking on the windows to hear if anyone screams or if there are noises.”

Israeli forces arrived at 5pm but it was 2am before Mr Moravia's family was taken to safety.

“I come here every now and then,” he said. “We are hoping to come back here, we want to come back to rebuild our community. We need our government to finish what they are doing [in Gaza]. We can't let this happen again, we need to be secure.”

Mr Moravia said he used to feel sympathy for civilians in Gaza, which has been under a strict Israeli blockade since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, but not since watching videos that he said showed Gazans celebrating the October 7 attacks.

Maj Spielman expects other residents also want to return, but that most of them will not.

“Some of them, their houses are relatively intact; some of them have business here and they feel like they want to keep it going,” he said.

“But it's literally a handful of people who are here right now,” he added, saying that some families had come back to collect things including toothbrushes.

“Most families have not come back and I don't think most of them will come back while it is like this, it's too painful for them. They are already psychologically … trauma does not even begin to explain.”

Updated: November 08, 2023, 2:15 PM