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At the entrance to Kibbutz Alumim, two miles from the Gaza border and halfway between Kibbutz Kfar Aza and Kibbutz Be’eri, a handful of reservists and several police officers are guarding the front gate.
I haven’t been here for years — 40, in fact. Two-thirds of a lifetime ago, on my first Passover after making aliya, I spent three weeks on this kibbutz, painting the branches of avocado bushes white (to ward off the sun?), alongside Avital Sharansky, who was fighting valiantly for her jailed husband’s release from the Soviet Union.
I never gave a thought to Gaza’s proximity.
The area is semi-closed off now, but I was only stopped once on the way, and the guards at the gate let me in as soon as Stevie Marcus phones them to vouch for me. He’s the husband of a friend, and one of only a handful of people currently living on the 120-family kibbutz. Almost all of the residents have been evacuated to two hotels in Netanya. Stevie has to be here, at least during the week; he has 730 cows to look after.
He rides up on a motorbike and I follow him down a narrow road past hundreds of cows, past the living quarters of the kibbutz’s former Thai and Nepalese workers, to the milking parlor and its offices.
Kind, no-nonsense and phlegmatic, Stevie tells me what he knows about what happened here on October 7, when the Gaza terrorists’ onslaught began throughout this area. Residents were told to stay in their safe rooms all through that black Shabbat and into Sunday morning, so he stresses time and again that what he’s telling me is “as far as I know.”
The first group of gunmen, on motorbikes, came in through the kibbutz’s back gate — which faces the Gaza border. One padlock to deal with, and they were inside.
For whatever reason, that first group of killers drove right through the kibbutz to the main gate, rather than heading toward the homes. And they opened deadly fire on everybody driving past on the main road. These included people fleeing from the massacre unfolding at the outdoor music festival a little further south.
Further terror cells got into the kibbutz at other points — about 40-50 in all, he believes. Mercifully, the kibbutz’s civil defense squad was able to get to its stored weapons, and Stevie shows me where they formed a line and managed to hold off many of the killers.
Then he walks me to the buildings, just a few yards from the milking parlor, where the Thai and Nepalese workers lived. And here, he says, about 19 of them were slaughtered.
“If you don’t mind, it’s a bit bloody,” he says apologetically, when I tell him I want to see inside.
Stevie has worked for 20 years at the dairy barn, although the current milking parlor is only a year old. He shows me where a grenade hit some of the piping and where fire burned through cables. He shows me his and his colleague’s burned offices. There are bullet holes everywhere. But the milking parlor itself is largely undamaged.
He walks me the two-three minutes to the back gate where that first cell entered. On the way, we pass a feed machine that was burned, and what’s left of two huge barns, also set on fire by the terrorists, which were full of hay that morning and were still burning two weeks later.
We look through the gate to Gaza, clearly visible in the not-far distance.
Then we head over to the cows. He says they had no food from that first Saturday until Wednesday. Desperate for food, some of them cleared gates, some got stuck trying to.
Fifteen of the 730 cows died, including a couple, he says, who were caught in the crossfire: He points to where battles were fought on the other side of the enclosure where we’re standing.
He tells me what little he knows about two police officers who came to the kibbutz because they heard about the onslaught — came with nothing but their handguns and were killed at the front gate. “They had no chance.”
Some hours into the nightmare, paratroopers arrived by helicopter. An RPG hit it a minute after they had landed and got out. “They also fought. Lots of special forces came, from Sayeret Matkal and Yahalom.” Dozens of terrorists were killed near the front gate, including by forces in another helicopter.
A Yahalom officer was killed inside the kibbutz. A kibbutz member was killed at Re’im. Another was killed fighting in Gaza 10 days ago. Some members of the civil defense squad were injured. But not a single kibbutz member was killed on the kibbutz.
Over 100 residents were massacred at Kibbutz Be’eri, just a little to the southwest. Many, many dozens were massacred at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, just a little to the northeast. Ever mindful of the lives that were lost here, it could have been much worse.
Quietly and unintentionally inspiring, Stevie talks about this barn that’ll need to be rebuilt, and that office. It seems clear to me, from the way he speaks, that, for him, life at Kibbutz Alumim will certainly go on.
I ask him about how others feel. They’ve all talked about it at the hotels, he says. “The older generation say, Of course. It’s our home. And the younger generation say, Not unless it’s safe.
“And everybody’s right.”
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