Testimonies from Be’eri massacre expose deep trauma predating Israel’s creation

Seized by Palestinian propaganda as symbols of Israeli weakness, Hamas atrocities from the southern kibbutz trigger despair, and resolve, in survivors

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

Israeli security seen next to burnt cars at the entrance to the Gaza border community of Kibbutz Be'eri, October 9, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Israeli security seen next to burnt cars at the entrance to the Gaza border community of Kibbutz Be'eri, October 9, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

As Israelis begin to grapple with the enormity of the massacres that hundreds of Palestinian gunmen perpetrated on Saturday in communities near Gaza, one place is emerging as an epicenter of the tragedy: Kibbutz Be’eri.

With about 1,200 residents before the assault, Be’eri is the largest of the 25 villages that make up the Eshkol Regional Council.

As of Monday, at least 108 bodies had been located in the kibbutz, which used to be known mostly for its thriving printing shop and its art galleries.

Now, the kibbutz is searing itself into the Israeli consciousness as the scene of what is already called the “Be’eri Massacre” on Wikipedia, where the event received its own entry because it’s a symbol of the war launched by Hamas’s attacks.

Be’eri is one of multiple scenes of atrocities perpetrated by hundreds of invading gunmen, who were filmed executing civilians as they begged for mercy, beating and taunting abducted captives, torching homes with families inside, mutilating the bodies of their victims and even torturing pets.

As of Tuesday, there were more than 900 confirmed fatalities on the Israeli side, more than 2,000 wounded and at least 100 who are believed to have been abducted into Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinians have died in retaliatory Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, and over 1,000 terrorists were killed on Israeli territory.

Be’eri, whose establishment predates that of the State of Israel by two years, is emerging on both sides of the border as a symbol of the attack because of its size, the scale and level of documentation of the killings perpetrated there, and the still-unknown number of abductees taken from the kibbutz into Gaza.

Israeli soldiers seen at the entrance to Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza Border, southern Israel, October 9, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The events in Be’eri are seen by some as lending legitimacy to punitive action in Gaza on an unprecedented scale.

“Whenever outsiders dare criticize us, we’ll show them images from Be’eri,” Hanoch Daum, a popular stand-up comedian and author, wrote on his Facebook page, which has over a half a million followers. “We’ll show the wholesale slaughter of families by sadistic terrorists who walked around smiling as they perpetrated a pogrom against women and children. They severed heads and mutilated bodies, burned whole families alive.”

To prevent “additional Be’eris,” he added, “Gaza must be demolished.” In the Middle East, Daum concluded, “only the strong survive. And we will survive.”

For many, Be’eri is a gaping wound, sending jolts of pain through Israeli society not only for the loss of life that occurred there, but for the suffering of the kibbutz members abducted and dragged into Gaza.

One of those missing is Amit Man, a 25-year-old paramedic whose last sign of life was a text message that she sent her sister Haviva from the kibbutz clinic, where she was treating wounded members. She wrote in it that terrorists were at the door and asked her sister to tell the family to be strong if something happened to her.

That message from Saturday afternoon is the last bit of credible information about Amit Man, her sister said on Tuesday. “We’re in an unbelievable loop of pain, uncertainty and helplessness,” Haviva Man told 103FM Monday night.

Yaffa Adar, an 85-year-old who has lived in Be’eri most of her life, is among the missing whose abduction was documented. She was last seen in a video sitting calmly in a car, surrounded by young men who were laughing as they said “smile” in Arabic.

Palestinian terrorists kidnap an Israeli civilian, center, later identified as 85-year-old Yaffa Adar, into the Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023 (AP Photo/ Hatem Ali)

Dozens of survivors from Be’eri, many of whom hid in bushes or in shelters during the attack, have been housed since their evacuation in a hotel near the Dead Sea, where they are receiving psychological support.

The feeling of abandonment and insecurity is a recurring theme in the testimonies of the survivors, many of them died-in-the-wool Zionists brought up on the ethos of the Israel Defense Forces as a nimble, reliant and resourceful protector of the people, by the people.

Amit Man repeatedly asked her sister where the army was, and whether it’s coming to liberate Be’eri. According to some accounts, the Israeli Air Force helicoptered into Be’eri two platoons of its special forces Shaldag unit, but apparently they were overwhelmed by the terrorists. In videos of Be’eri circulating in pro-Palestinian social media channels, bodies of men in battle vests are seen lying around the iconic yellow gate of the kibbutz.

Among the survivors and in Israeli society as a whole, the events of Be’eri touched on deeper trauma connected to the Holocaust and massacres of Jews throughout the generations, before there was a Jewish state.

“I feel like the State of Israel ceased to exist,” Amit Halevi, the 70-year-old chairman of Be’eri – in effect, the kibbutz’s mayor – told the Haaretz newspaper on Monday. “What is this, some pogrom in Lithuania?”

Uri Ben Tzvi, another survivor from Be’eri, told the newspaper: “I was like Anne Frank.” Ben Tzvi, 71, hid with his wife in a narrow and dark corridor in one of the kibbutz’s structures. They went there because the door to the corridor resembles that of a closet. “It was a pogrom. Like going back to the Kishinev Pogrom,” he said, referencing a 1903 series of massacres in what is now the capital city of Moldova that helped galvanize Zionist sentiment.

The psychological warfare machine of Hamas and its supporters seems to have picked up on this. Within hours of the incursion into Be’eri, an army of X users attached the Hebrew-language hashtags “Kibbutz_Be’eri” and “National_Catastrophe” to Arab-language propaganda posts featuring images of atrocities from Be’eri and elsewhere.

A man speaking Arabic, apparently a Palestinian reporter, as he delivers a journalistic overview of the takeover of Kibbutz Be’eri by terrorists from Gaza on October 7, 2023. (Screenshot used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Hamas appears to have singled out Be’eri as a symbol when it let a film crew make a journalistic broadcast from the occupied kibbutz, creating an unprecedented image of victory that resonated for many hours in Israeli social media and beyond.

“Kibbutz Be’eri will be no more,” Dani Fux, another resident in his seventies, told Yedioth Ahronoth reporter Nahum Barnea.

Fux said about 90 terrorists entered Be’eri at about 7 a.m. on Saturday. Two hours later, the Shaldag detachment of about 20 troops landed, but “within a short time, the force was eroded,” using a military euphemism. “From then on, we only heard Arabic. The terrorists went from door to door, abducted people or killed them. Sometimes they only killed. Sometimes they took the kids and killed the parents, sometimes the other way around.”

Fux fled his sheltered area, a room reinforced against rocket attacks, after realizing it was being targeted by the gunmen. He went up with his wife and son Dani to the attic and holed up there until Israeli troops regained control of Be’eri.

“Whenever the terrorists failed to gain access to the sheltered area, they torched the house. The smoke made the people in the house open the sheltered area,” Dani told Yedioth. Dani had a handgun and he and his parents agreed that they would use it if they were detected by the terrorists. They would die in all likelihood under that scenario, the family agreed, but “we would not be taken prisoner.”

Some of Be’eri’s survivors say they’re ready to pick up the pieces right now. “Within 48 hours of getting permission, I can reopen the factory,” Ben Suchman, the 47-year-old CEO of the Be’eri print factory – one of the kibbutz’s main sources of income – told the Calcalist daily on Tuesday.

Suchman, whose family has lived in Be’eri for three generations, acknowledged the “tremendous sadness” that is gripping the survivors of his once-thriving community. But it “has tremendous strengths, too,” he said of the kibbutz. “It will deal bravely with this life-altering event, which will forever be a part of our lives but will never break our spirits.”

Most Popular
read more: