At a kibbutz near Gaza, Israel displays the aftermath of Hamas rampage

Be'eri was one of the first Israeli communities to be attacked by militants on Saturday

Kibbutz Be'eri was one of the first places to be infiltrated by Hamas on Saturday. Photo: Thomas Helm / The National
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The National arrived late to the small junction at Dor Alon Urim, just south-east of the Gaza Strip, for an Israeli military tour of Be’eri, an affluent, now-deserted, kibbutz that was one of the first to be infiltrated by Hamas militants on Saturday, with many of its residents killed or kidnapped.

Google Maps was unreliable. It did not factor in military checkpoints and road closures. It could not factor in the need to twice suddenly exit the car, once for fear of rockets, the other for fear of Hamas in the area. Both were false alarms.

The route was strewn with burnt campsites, ruined vehicles and bombed petrol stations.

The disruptions did not matter in the end. The convoy to Be'eri, made up of press and military Humvees, set off far later than the scheduled departure time of 4.30pm on Wednesday.

That gave visitors time to get a bottle of water and food, and mingle with the troops getting a few hours of rest before they set off to the front.

When the order was given for journalists to get in their cars, there was a traffic jam for an hour. The foreign press had come in droves, desperate to witness the scene of the massacre and get to the kibbutz, which had not been open since the massacre on Saturday.

The convoy moved on, through the sound of artillery and jets bombing Gaza, where the death toll is climbing rapidly.

On Thursday afternoon, 1,385 Palestinians were reported to have been killed in Gaza and the West Bank, the vast majority in the former territory. At least 1,300 Israelis have been killed.

On arrival, the press followed Maj Gen Itay Veruv, who assembled only five other soldiers to first enter the camp on Saturday morning and start fighting the infiltrators.

The first stop on the press tour was a house near the entrance in which roughly 40 residents of Be’eri sought shelter and were subsequently burnt alive.

“Come this way,” Maj Gen Veruv said. “Come with me and smell what a pogrom smells like.”

Turning the corner, the ground was churned from the fighting between soldiers and the militants, and houses were piles of rubble. The smell of corpses that could not yet be collected for fear of unexploded munitions got stronger.

A burnt golf cart, similar to one on which a kidnapped elderly woman was seen being taken away by Hamas into Gaza, in footage that has since gone viral, stood in the driveway of one home.

At another, unexploded grenades were strewn on a lawn. The danger was marked out with white tape.

Until that point, only the smell indicated the extent of death in Be’eri. Suddenly, bodies of Hamas members came into view, covered in plastic sheets.

“We’ve picked up all the Israeli bodies,” the general said. “We want you to see these ones.”

As night fell and the tour concluded, soldiers shouted at the visitors to stay close. The general warned: “Your biggest threat here is our troops – they are in a state of high alert.”

At the exit, soldiers filled the porches of the few houses that were not destroyed, although there were no residents to host them. Armoured vehicles were lined up in the driveways, their doors open and control centres visible.

This was very much still a front line, but the rush to get journalists in was clear. The scale of the crisis was perhaps most striking in Be’eri, and Israel wants the world to know.

But even kilometres before reaching the kibbutz, the scale of the chaos in the south was clear.

As The National left, reports from colleagues in the north of Israel painted a similar picture of chaos. Near misses, delayed plans, rushed driving and terrified troops.

No part of Israel is safe from a sense that terrible things, perhaps worse things, are yet to come.

Updated: October 12, 2023, 6:35 PM