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Loved ones of Hamas attack victims diverge over Israel's war in Gaza

A house destroyed by Hamas in the Kufar Aza kibbutz in West Jerusalem, Israel.
Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
A house destroyed by Hamas in the Kufar Aza kibbutz in West Jerusalem, Israel.

BE'ERI, IsraelTo walk the streets of the small village of Be'eri in southern Israel nowadays is to relive the horrors from the single deadliest attack on civilians in Israel's 75-year history.

The streets of this once close-knit community are now lined with partially destroyed homes. Some were blown open, others burned. Inside one are blood-splattered walls. In another, two children's rooms are filled with books, binders, stuffed animals and paint supplies. The mattresses that lay in white bed frames are stained with blood.

A broken window of a house in the Kibbutz.
/ Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
A broken window of a house in the Kibbutz.
A mattress covered in blood in a child's bedroom.
/ Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
A mattress covered in blood in a child's bedroom.
An IDF spokesman leads a press tour of destroyed homes and shows signs of what happened in the attacks.
/ Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
An IDF spokesman leads a press tour of destroyed homes and shows signs of what happened in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas militants.

On the road leading into this kibbutz, a backhoe scoops up the bodies of Hamas militants who stormed this community of just over 1,000 people about three miles from the border with Gaza.

The Israeli military has been leading journalists through this village in recent days to give the world a glimpse of what happened once Hamas militants crossed the border from Gaza into Israel undetected, storming several communities where they killed at least 1,400 people and took some 200 hostages.

Many residents of the towns hid inside safe rooms waiting for Israeli forces to rescue them. For hours no one came. When it was finally over and they emerged, the scene was unlike anything they'd ever seen before.

"It was like an apocalypse," said Dan Alom, 23, who waited 15 hours before help arrived. "Everything ruined, bodies lay around."

Destroyed cars, houses, and other carnage present in the Kibbutz.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
Destroyed cars, houses, and other carnage present in the Kibbutz.
A car with glass inside and bullet holes. The police did not know what happened to the people in car.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
A car with glass inside and bullet holes. The police did not know what happened to the people in car.
On the road passing Sderot Abandoned stroller and blanket.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
An abandoned stroller and blanket on the road passing the city of Sderot.

More than a week since the Hamas attack, which set off a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza where the group is based, survivors are still waiting to identify bodies and plan funerals

"We're just still trying to figure out how we're going to deal with so many funerals," Alom told NPR's Morning Edition. "We don't know where to bury them because it's not safe."

Over 100 people here were killed, some 10% of the community.

Soldiers patrol the destroyed neighborhood.
/ Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
Soldiers patrol the destroyed neighborhood.
In some of houses, signs of attempts to hide in showers, barricade themselves inside, and of blood on walls, and in beds were found.
/ Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
Blood is splattered across the walls of many homes, where people attempted to hide in bathrooms or bedrooms.
A destroyed house belonging to Dan Alom.
/ Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
A destroyed house belonging to Dan Alom.

"I just don't know how to deal with it," he said. "For more than four or five hours we were slaughtered and no one came to help us. I don't know whose fault it is but I just know we've been slaughtered."

Alom holds out hope that the two teens he counseled at camp might be alive. Maybe, he says, they're being held in Gaza. He wants them back.

"I am worried about them. And after they will be home, I don't care what happens with Gaza, I really don't," he said. "Shoot them all. I don't care."

It's a sentiment repeated among traumatized, grieving and frightened Israelis.

Shoot them all.

Eliminate Gaza.

Erase Gaza.

Israeli soldiers man a checkpoint outside kufur aza-sight of the incursion by Hamas.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
Israeli soldiers man a checkpoint outside Kfar Aza, site of the incursion by Hamas.
Inside a bomb shelter outside Kufar Aza.
/ Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
Inside a bomb shelter outside Kfar Aza.
Military gathered outside of Kufur Azza kibbutz on Oct. 14, 2023.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
Military gathered outside of Kfar Aza kibbutz on Oct. 14, 2023.

Their anger is not yet aimed so much at the government for its intelligence failure or Israeli forces for their delayed rescues, but toward the Palestinian enclave.

Visible from Be'eri are plumes of smoke on the horizon rising from Gaza.

It's being crushed by a relentless wave of Israeli airstrikes, choked by a complete siege that's barred food, fuel, electricity and water from entering, and is bracing for Israel's ground invasion, all aimed at ridding the territory of Hamas.

Over the weekend 34 aid trucks entered Gaza, the first humanitarian aid into the Palestinian enclave since the war began. Another 20 are expected today, according to Lynn Hastings, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In an interview with NPR's Morning Edition, Hastings stated that given the dire needs in Gaza, the deliveries are "a drop in the bucket," adding that "it's not nearly enough."

The aid does not include fuel, meaning hospitals treating the thousands of wounded will soon collapse, desalination plants for water can't run and trucks distributing the aid won't be able to refuel.

It is against this backdrop that more than 5,000 people in Gaza have been killed. Entire families and more than 1,600 children are gone.

The devastation there is harder to recount because the borders are sealed and so few journalists are inside.

Black smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike on the eighth day of the clashes in Gaza Strip, Gaza on October 14, 2023.
/ Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images
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Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images
Black smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike on the eighth day of the clashes in Gaza Strip, Gaza on October 14, 2023.
Palestinian citizens inspect damage to their homes caused by Israeli airstrikes on October 14, 2023 in Gaza City, Gaza.
Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Palestinian citizens inspect damage to their homes caused by Israeli airstrikes on October 14, 2023 in Gaza City, Gaza.
Palestinian citizens inspect damage to their homes caused by Israeli airstrikes on October 14, 2023 in Gaza City, Gaza.
Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Palestinian citizens inspect damage to their homes caused by Israeli airstrikes on October 14, 2023 in Gaza City, Gaza.

An advocate for peace is shot and killed

Miles away from the border with Gaza, sitting in a Jerusalem café, 27-year-old Noy Katsman said they want the war to stop. They know Alom's pain but they say retribution won't bring their country safety.

Katsman lost their brother, Hayim, 32, in the village of Holit about a mile from Gaza. Hayim was hiding in the closet when Hamas militants shot him and was one of 30 Americans killed in the attack.

Hayim Katsman was killed in the village of Holit about a mile from Gaza.
/ Courtesy of Noy Katsman
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Courtesy of Noy Katsman
Hayim Katsman was killed in the village of Holit about a mile from Gaza.

In life, Hayim was a peace activist. He wrote his doctorate on the dangers of the right wing in Israel and was critical of the government for encouraging illegal Israeli settlements and uplifting extreme anti-Arab voices.

That's why Katsman believes their brother, despite his tragic killing, "would say we should never kill innocent people" and would encourage Israelis to re-think the long-term repercussions of retaliation.

It's a view Katsman stands behind firmly, having seen Israel repeatedly try and fail in stamping out Hamas at the expense of civilian life.

"My government, instead of saying, 'OK, we failed, maybe we need to do something else,' they're saying, 'Oh, we need to kill more Palestinians. We need to now destroy Hamas,' " said Katsman. "It's right-wing politicians who gain power from violence and hate, these are the people who gain from it. But we lose from it."

Violence brings more violence, they said.

"You need a basic understanding of how people feel," they added. "And if after they kill us, a thousand people, we are going to kill 3,000 of them, that's not an understanding of people, because these people will grow up and hate us even more."

As they speak, people at the café begin to stare.

A waitress approaches to ask about the nature of Katsman's interview with NPR.

Noy Katsman's older brother Hayim was killed on the kibbutz he had called home for nearly a decade.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
Noy Katsman's older brother Hayim was killed on the kibbutz he had called home for nearly a decade.
A market in West Jerusalem, near the shiva for Noy's brother.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
A market in West Jerusalem, near the shiva for Noy's brother.
A man in tent holding shiva for Noy's brother in West Jerusalem, Israel.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
A man in tent holding shiva for Noy's brother in West Jerusalem.

"Is it pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli?" she asks.

"It's pro-life," Katsman replied. "My brother died on Saturday and he was a peace activist and I'm talking in his name."

As the waitress walks away, Katsman slams their coffee cup onto the table.

"That's the problem – Israelis only care if something is pro-Palestinian or pro-Israel," they said. "This question is a distraction. People die. People die from both sides."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.
Taylor Haney is a producer and director for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First.