No one can prepare you for what you will face once you arrive at the sites where Hamas' atrocities took place on October 7, 2023. Not even the proposition: "there will be psychological support in case you cannot handle what you will hear and see." see" that we were told a few days before our arrival in Israel.

Arriving in the Negev desert, about 5 kilometers from Gaza, the place where time froze on October 7, you are greeted by a huge banner with the phrase "Bring them home now." The phrase that has been haunting us for months while waiting for the release of the hostages from the Hamas terrorists. A sign warns you: “You are standing on the Nova site. Note that this area is threatened by rockets. The available time to reach the shelter is 15 seconds. If you receive an alert, lie on the ground and protect your head for 10 minutes." You are not afraid. You see Israeli Defense Forces soldiers around you and you know that they will protect you and guide you properly if necessary.

You are facing the spot where the Supernova festival took place. You are freezing. Everywhere photos of dead festival participants, the vast majority of them under 30 years old. You walk among them. They smile at you, they talk to you, but you don't listen to them. Right next to the area with their photos, trees have been planted. A tree for every dead. Maybe it's a way to bring them back to life.

We meet 28-year-old Bar Hinitz, a survivor of the festival. He describes to us the horrible moments they lived that day. You hang from his lips. You don't want to miss a single word. He had gotten into his car to leave as soon as the Hamas raid took place. At one point he realizes that the terrorists are nearby and are killing people in their cars as they were stuck in traffic and could not leave. He grabs a bottle of water, very important to keep his strength up under the hot desert sun, and gets out of the car to escape. Gunshots and screams could be heard everywhere. It shows us in which direction he ran to save himself. You look around. There is no place to hide. There is no point where they can't spot you. You run and just hope to escape the wrath of the Hamas terrorists, who used to rape and execute anyone they found in front of them. He manages to hide with others in some bushes. By coincidence one of them was an acquaintance of his from his town, Nes Tsiona. Bar looks at him and sees an eyelash on his cheek. He takes it and says "it's time to make a wish, my friend". They laughed and for 5 seconds escaped the terror that had overwhelmed them. After an hour, a man with a gun approaches the scene. He reassures them that he is an Israeli army officer and tells them to follow him. After running many kilometers they managed to get away from the scene of the tragedy. His best friend, Dan, didn't make it. They found his body three days later at the place where he had gone to have fun.

In a place near the festival site they have collected all the cars damaged by Hamas. Adam, a soldier in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) explains why they brought it all together. Nothing reminiscent of that fateful day should be thrown away. Among the burnt cars was an ambulance. You wouldn't recognize it unless Adam pointed it out to you. The ambulance had gone to the festival site to provide First Aid to the injured. 16 injured people gathered hoping to be saved as you are not allowed to attack an ambulance. Hamas saw them and threw a grenade. They were all killed.

Not far from the festival site, is the Be'eri kibbutz where the terrorists broke in to continue their "mission", to kill as many as they can. The cheerful sign that welcomes you, tricks you into the utter chaos that follows. Burnt houses everywhere. Remnants of the fighting that took place between Hamas terrorists and the Israeli army. The inhabitants, unfortunately, could not resist.

We are greeted by Niv Higgins, a resident of the kibbutz like his whole family, and he begins to tell us about the events of October 7th. He was in Tel Aviv when Hamas invaded the kibbutz. His parents called him to tell him that something strange is happening and that they hear gunshots and everywhere they speak Arabic. They hid in the shelter early in the morning. Hamas tried to open the door to kill them. He did not make it. But they managed to kill his aunt, Galit, whose house is at one of the entrances to the kibbutz. The terrorists went door to door and executed residents, threw grenades and set houses on fire. Niv's parents stayed at the shelter until 10pm. The Israeli soldiers took them out. It wasn't until his mother saw the tank that she knew they were at war. Niv, was informed by the army to go and fight in another place. By the time IDF soldiers arrived, the terrorists had killed 101 residents and taken 36 hostages, 11 of whom remain captives in Gaza to this day. The youngest victim was a 10-month-old baby and the oldest victim was an 88-year-old woman.

We tour the kibbutz with Niv. We enter a ruined building that until October 7 was Be'eri's clinic. They had killed them all. Doctors, volunteers and patients. Impossible to hold back your tears. All the words seem poor to describe what you see for yourself. Outside the houses of people brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists, hang banners with their photos and names. Death reigns inside. In the garden of a destroyed house, a basketball and a bicycle are waiting for the children... Bullet holes everywhere. And amidst all this blackness, blooming gardens begin to emerge. You begin to see the normal life of the people of the kibbutz. They are houses that the terrorists did not have time to invade because the Israeli army prevented them. And suddenly you realize how close life is to death. A garden away.

A canteen with small tables, just 4 kilometers from Gaza, is the rest station for soldiers fighting Hamas terrorists. It was built by three brothers, Kobi, Eliran and Dror, immediately after the October 7 attack. With the help of other volunteers and donations, they offer meals, clothes, coffee, medicines, 24 hours a day. We sat with Israeli soldiers, ages 20-25, who came to eat and rest before continuing to defend their homeland, Israel. Despite the difficulties they are going through, they are smiling and willing to answer our questions. They joke with Dror. We all become a group. I have always admired the solidarity and mutual support of Israelis in their difficult times.

In the center of Tel Aviv is Hostage Square, where a clock counts the days, hours, minutes and seconds that innocent civilians remain captives of Hamas in Gaza. Next to it, someone has written: "Our wounds are centuries old. So is our endurance and strength."

* Dorella Camhi is a member of the Diplomatic Corps of the World Jewish Congress

Source: The President, 20.5.2024