Residents of Devastated Kibbutz Be’eri Determined to Restore Homes and Lives

Toshiyuki Fukushima / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ofir Engel speaks on Dec. 20 about the terror he felt when he was held hostage by Hamas.

KIBBUTZ BE’ERI, Southern Israel — Kibbutz Be’eri, an agricultural community in southern Israel, was devastated by the cross-border attack by the militant Islamist group Hamas in early October, which resulted in 94 fatalities in the area. Despite 10 residents still being held hostage by militants, the community is committed to restoring the kibbutz.

Upon entering Be’eri, which is surrounded by olive trees, buildings and houses charred or destroyed in the attack can immediately be seen. In some of the houses, children’s textbooks and shoes were still scattered around, while some young people were actively removing debris and repairing electrical wiring.

Be’eri is about 5 kilometers from the Palestinian territory of Gaza, which Hamas uses as a base for the cross-border attack. The community now regularly experiences rocket strikes and air raid alarms, while the sound of artillery fired into Gaza from a nearby Israeli military base echoes through the area.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Ninety-four residents of Be’eri were killed and 30 were abducted during a Hamas raid on Oct. 7. Of those abducted, 20 have since been released, with some resuming their lives in the community.

Ofir Engel, 18, who was released by Hamas about three weeks ago, described his experience, saying they moved the hostages through tunnels in complete darkness with explosions constantly sounding through the night.

Engel emphasized the urgent situation for the remaining hostages, saying: “They have no time. They have to come back home now.”

Ella Ben Ami, 23, whose father is still being held, said, “I’m so afraid my dad won’t come back alive.”

Her mother was also abducted but was released about three weeks ago.

“My house was totally destroyed. I was born in this kibbutz, so I want to continue to live here,” Ben Ami said.

Toshiyuki Fukushima / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ella Ben Ami calls on Dec. 20 for her father’s immediate release by Hamas, at her destroyed family home in Kibbutz Be’eri, southern Israel.

Be’eri was established in 1946 — two years before Israel was founded — as a kibbutz, a kind of agricultural community unique to Israel.

Prior to the cross-border attack, Be’eri, with a population of about 1,000, was celebrated as one of the leading kibbutzim in southern Israel. It was particularly noted for its thriving printing business and its cultivation of melons and tomatoes, while cherishing the tradition of sharing farm equipment and distributing profits equitably.

The residents of Be’eri are currently evacuated to hotels along the Dead Sea in the south. They are scheduled to move to temporary housing in Kibbutz Hatzerim in June next year.

Residents are determined to restore Be’eri, which is expected to take about two years. Efforts are being made to raise funds for reconstruction from the American Jewish community and other sources.

Or Yelin, 30, described the kibbutz as “heaven” until Oct. 7. “We are eager and willing to rebuild this kibbutz by our hand,” said Yelin, who is a leader of the young people in the community.

According to Yelin, however, some residents are hesitant to return after the devastation caused by Hamas.