ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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On Be’eri, bulldozers begin kibbutz rebuild by clearing out rubble of October 7

Over 1 in 3 homes were badly damaged in the Gaza-adjacent community, where a 2-year rehabilitation plan will cost more than NIS 300 million; 97 civilians were killed at the kibbutz

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Severely damaged residential homes line a street in the Olives Neighborhood of Kibbutz Be'eri on January 1, 2024. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)
Severely damaged residential homes line a street in the Olives Neighborhood of Kibbutz Be'eri on January 1, 2024. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

Bulldozers and other heavy machinery were in Be’eri Monday to start demolition works as part of a 2-year plan to rehabilitate and restore the heavily damaged kibbutz that has become a symbol of Hamas’s October 7 massacres.

The plan, whose demolition phase began Thursday, relates to about 130 severely damaged buildings that constitute at least a quarter of the total number of structures in the kibbutz, according to the Tekuma Authority, the government arm tasked with rehabilitating the Tekuma Region near the border with the Gaza Strip.

The rehabilitation of residential homes alone is projected to cost NIS 300 million ($82 million). Dozens of homes need to be destroyed and rebuilt completely, at a cost of at least NIS 1.5 million ($409,000) per residential unit.

Others are only partially damaged, requiring the removal of walls, for example, said Gilad Sheetrit, whose engineering firm was contracted by the government to draw up plans for the rebuild.

The project is largely focused on the Ashalim and Olives neighborhoods of the kibbutz, which took the brunt of the Hamas onslaught.

More than 100 Hamas terrorists murdered at least 97 civilians in Be’eri, which had been the largest kibbutz in the Eshkol Regional Council with more than 1,000 residents and 390 homes.

Speaking as a bulldozer cleared rubble from what used to be his home, Be’eri resident Yehuda Arussi recalled surviving the onslaught in his safe room, which had featured a non-standard wooden door built by the carpenter.

“It’s still home,” he told Channel 12 news as he looked at the remains of the semi-detached unit. Chava ben Ami, who lived in the unit abutting his, was murdered by the terrorists.

Yehuda Arussi stands in front of what used to be his home in Kibbutz Be’eri on February 12, 2024. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

In the damaged residential areas of Be’eri, terrorists torched multiple homes, sometimes to smoke out the owners sheltering in safe rooms inside. The terrorists proceeded to hole up themselves in several residences, where they exchanged fire with Israeli troops.

Multiple homes were damaged in explosions from grenades and rocket launchers.

Additionally, tanks and armored personnel carriers tore up infrastructure as they maneuvered across the kibbutz, according to Sheetrit. The tanks and APCs destroyed sewage, drainage and water piping, he said.

Oren Sharabi, left, her mother Nira and sister Ofir walk through their Kibbutz Be’eri on January 1, 2024. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

In one instance currently under investigation, an Israeli tank fired at a home on the kibbutz where several hostages were being held by terrorists, amid fighting that left nearly everyone inside dead.

Haim Jelin, a resident of Be’eri and a former head of the Eshkol Regional Council, told The Times of Israel that some of the damaged buildings may be preserved to commemorate what happened in Be’eri.

“It’s a balance. There’s a desire to preserve but also to move on,” he said. “There’s an idea about relocating some of the damaged homes, eventually, to an agricultural area. Not only from Be’eri but also from other affected kibbutzim and moshavim.”

Destruction caused by Hamas on Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, seen on October 19, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Repairs are underway in multiple affected communities near the Gaza border, including Alumim and Sa’ad. Bids have been solicited for reconstruction works in other hard-hit locales, including Nir Am, Nir Oz and Gevim, as well as Kfar Aza and Netiv Ha’asara.

Be’eri’s surviving residents voted to move temporarily into Kibbutz Hatzerim in the Negev until their kibbutz is ready to be resettled sometime in 2025, according to the Tekuma Region’s plan. Many of the residents are still staying at a hotel near the Dead Sea, where they moved immediately following their kibbutz’s evacuation starting October 7.

But work on Be’eri’s avocado and citrus groves and wheat fields continues.

Be’eri Print, one of the country’s largest printing presses and a cash cow for the kibbutz, resumed operating within two weeks of the onslaught, bringing back hundreds of employees.

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