Returning to Kfar Aza, couple says ‘It was worse to be a refugee than to be at home’

Three months on, harrowing memories of Oct. 7 aren’t enough to deter Ayelet Khon and Shar Shnurman, who survived the Hamas massacre in their safe room, from returning home

Israeli soldiers survey the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the Israel-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 15, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)
Israeli soldiers survey the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the Israel-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 15, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

A sticker on the front door declares the house contains no dead bodies or body parts. On the walls, months-old spray paint confirms no gunmen or explosives are present.

Three months on, signs of the October 7 Hamas onslaught remain everywhere in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, but the markings recorded on their house, and the harrowing memories they evoke, have not deterred Ayelet Khon and Shar Shnurman from coming home.

The couple are among the first to return to their house in the traumatized community just a few kilometers from the Gaza Strip. It was one of the hardest hit by Hamas’s October 7 massacres, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border from Gaza by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians, many in the process of horrific acts of brutality.

Tens of thousands of Israelis were forced to leave their homes when the fighting erupted in Gaza as Israel vowed to destroy Hamas. After weeks living in central Israel, the couple insisted on coming back.

“For us, it was worse to be a refugee than to be at home,” said 55-year-old Khon.

For nearly everyone else, it is still too dangerous. Fighting across the border is audible and when rocket sirens go off, there are just around 10 seconds to take cover.

The government is paying for displaced residents to stay at otherwise vacant hotels and guest houses.

View of the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, southern Israel, seen on October 15, 2023. (Edi Israel/Flash90)

Holding hands, the couple, who have no children, walked along a pathway past destroyed houses and makeshift memorials where neighbors were killed in the massacre.

“Kids shouldn’t be here right now,” Khon said.

Once water and electricity were turned back on, the couple broke ranks and returned to Kfar Aza. Now they are busy organizing their house, folding laundry, and sitting together on the front porch despite the frequent explosions in the background.

They survived the Hamas rampage by hiding for hours in their safe room, the sounds of non-stop shooting, grenades and RPG fire just outside their door.

Burnt-out cars in Kfar Aza, October 16, 2023. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

“I still remember that our neighbor in this house, in this house, in this house, got killed,” said Shnurman, 62, referring to a row of houses where residents were killed.

There is a sense, he said, that if they do not return to Kfar Aza, then very soon Israel will also give up on trying to restore normal life in larger cities farther north.

Khon said coming back brings some closure.

“I’m still here, the people that died here are people who loved this place,” she said. “Our neighbor especially, she couldn’t understand how come people don’t want to live in Kfar Aza. She was very much in love with this kibbutz.”

“Coming back to live here is doing something, the way I see it, is doing something for her. Not forgetting that she was killed here.”

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