Reporter's notebook

Two weeks after Hamas massacre, volunteers still searching ashes of ravaged Be’eri

Some 20% of kibbutz’s residents killed, abducted or declared missing following Oct. 7 onslaught; forensic teams combing through rubble to find answers for devastated families

Carrie Keller-Lynn

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

  • The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • Looking towards the Gaza Strip from Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    Looking towards the Gaza Strip from Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • IDF reservist Haim Otmazgin commands a ZAKA mission to search for remains in Kibbutz Be'eri, devastated by the Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    IDF reservist Haim Otmazgin commands a ZAKA mission to search for remains in Kibbutz Be'eri, devastated by the Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, seen on October 20, 2023. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, seen on October 20, 2023. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
  • The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
    The remains of Kibbutz Be'eri, destroyed by Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)

BE’ERI — A team of about 20 forensic volunteers continued Sunday to sort through the wreckage of Kibbutz Be’eri, which just two weeks before had been a thriving community of about 1,100, before Hamas killed or kidnapped almost one-fifth of its residents during the terror group’s devastating October 7 assault.

The bodies of some 108 of Be’eri’s residents murdered during the attack have been largely retrieved by volunteers from ZAKA, a group that handles human remains after terror attacks and other disasters, and 70 more residents are missing or have been abducted into the Gaza Strip.

However, 15 days after the carnage that decimated the agricultural community and left many of its homes in ruins, ZAKA’s forensic teams remain, diligently sifting through the rubble to give certainty to distraught families of missing people.

“We haven’t gotten to all of them,” said ZAKA volunteer Yossi Landau, standing between a bullet-ridden home with a collapsed roof and the porous fence separating Be’eri from its fields. Dust blew over him as he spoke.

Deeper within the kibbutz was Haim Otmazgin, a reserve commander in the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command, who has been at Be’eri since the day after the attack and is still overseeing ZAKA’s forensic work.

Counting homes on a mobile map, Otmazgin estimates that his team has already combed through a third of the private residences.

Some remains of Kibbutz Be’eri, devastated by the Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)

“Today it’s a flower garden compared to what it was in the beginning. This round of searches is quieter, we’re looking for small things,” he said. His team members, speaking over the drone of a car alarm that none of them have figured out how to silence, note that ZAKA continues to find pieces of human remains.

Having had the time to feel the strands of the kibbutz’s once-vibrant life rather than just the echoes of its death, Otmazgin said that he cannot shake off encounters with casually strewn personal effects, reminders of the people who are gone.

“They yell ‘Come back, come back,'” he said. “I think that the object doesn’t know that its owners have left.”

Some remains of Kibbutz Be’eri, devastated by the Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)

All around Be’eri, children’s toys are scattered across lawns, and at least one home has a downed treehouse. A single rollerblade lies on the sidewalk.

Sitting next to the front door of a burned-out home is a sign that reads “new driver,” next to a melted plastic food container and a charred tube of sunscreen.

VHS tapes of vintage home movies are piled on the floor, knocked down from their shelf.

The remains of Kibbutz Be’eri, devastated by the Hamas attack on October 7, photographed on October 20, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)

Bullet holes pierce refrigerator doors, between magnets with family photos.

Otmazgin said he thinks ZAKA’s teams will need until mid-week to complete their sweeps.

As of Sunday, police say the bodies of 769 civilians, among the 1,400 people killed in Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, have been identified.

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