Standing Strong

Rebuilding after Hamas' attack

On October 7th, in the darkest hour of Jewish history since the Holocaust, Hamas unleashed an unprecedented nightmare upon thousands in Israel. Thousands of terrorists targeted the peaceful Kibbutzim bordering Gaza, igniting homes and butchering civilians. Kfar Aza, Be'eri, and Nativ HaAsara were among the hardest hit --enduring relentless attacks and suffering horrific loss of innocent life.  

In the aftermath, Shai Fund received heart-wrenching pleas for assistance from displaced families like this one: "I am from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, with my twin kids aged 15. We have NO HOME to return to." These pleas for assistance echoed the experience of many Israeli citizens, who suddenly found themselves trapped in the warzone with no home.  

To everyone’s shock, no one was spared in this indiscriminate violence, not even the vulnerable, elderly or children. The unthinkable brutality of Hamas left Kibbutz homes burnt to the ground, and the once peaceful neighborhood paths, where children once played, were littered with trails of shrapnel, destroyed cars, and wreckage from rocket explosions.  

This attack on Israel has led to the mass displacement of over 250,000 from both the northern and southern regions. Worse still, over 242 people were taken hostage by Hamas. With loved ones still trapped in Gaza as hostages, they have left everything behind.

What are Kibbutzim?

Shortly after the attack, news spread about the horrors these once idyllic communities had endured, but what exactly are the Kibbutzim?  

The Kibbutzim, which means " communal settlement,' are small peaceful rural communities spread across Israel. There are approximately 270 of them throughout the land, each with populations of between 100 and 1,000 residents.  

The very first Kibbutz, called Degania Alef, was established in northern Israel during Ottoman rule in the 1910s. Since then, kibbutzim have developed into vibrant hubs of innovative economy, contributing 10% of Israeli industry. As traditionally agrarian communities, the Kibbutzim in the South of Israel can even be seen from space as oasis-like green patches, blooming in the desert.  

The original pioneers of the Kibbutz are known for intentionally fostering a strong culture of Shalom, which means peace in Hebrew. As part of their DNA, it continues to shape their outlook; and through enacting Shalom, many members of the Kibbutzim surrounding Gaza, have cultivated friendships, trade and collaboration with Gazans, which defy geo-political tensions.  

This spirit of co-existence can be seen in people like Nabil Barawi, a Gazan who worked on the farms at Nir Am Kibbutz for 40 years,; and through the older residents at Nahal Oz, who regularly built bridges with people by interacting with Gaza City, frequenting their markets, and contributing to their economy.  

The Kfar Aza Kibbutz

Since the dawn of Kfar Aza it has been a peaceful haven, and vibrant community of 750 residents, with thriving industries including innovative factories and farming. Through their ingenuity, these residents have become pioneers in developing automated water systems, which enable Kibbitzes and farmlands across Israel to flourish in the desert.  

The story of Kfar Aza began in August 1951, when 900,000 Jews were expelled from surrounding countries in Africa and the Middle East. As refugees and immigrants came from Egypt and the Moroccan city of Tangier, searching for a new place to live, they were inspired by the thriving Kibbutzim of Ein Harod and HaShahar, and began to establish the Kfar Aza Kibbutz.

Before the horrors of October 7th , when Hamas butchered 52 residents in unthinkably barbaric ways, Kfar Aza was a thriving haven for the founding members and young families who had built their livelihoods there. The heart-wrenching story of the Kfar Aza inhabitants is unrecognizable from the picture of peace they had drawn in the sand with their gardens, farms and innovative economy.  

Today, the Kibbutz is the tragic memory of lost loved ones, shattered families, and orphaned children. It has become a ghost town. Yet as a testament to the Kibbutz’s resilience, this devastation has not stopped crucial businesses from rebuilding. In doing so, they are already restoring life, hope and productivity to the Kibbutz.

The Kibbutzim Peacemakers

In the heat of the hostage crisis, the resilient spirit of Kibbutz residents was demonstrated in the remarkable example of Yocheved Lifshitz, an 85-year-old woman, from the Nir Oz Kibbutz, who was thrown on the back of a motorbike and taken hostage into Gaza.  

While held captive, she endured significant abuse and was repeatedly beaten with sticks, but when she was finally released, Yocheved shook her captor's hand, and said ‘shalom’ to them in a departing remark to Hamas.  

This defiant gesture of peace embodies the essence of the Kibbutzim. It demonstrates the vital role these small communities play in preserving the Jewish people and cultivating a resilient peace seeking culture in the land.  

This reflects more than a century of history, where the Kibbutzim have been a testament to Jewish perseverance, building resilient communities under numerous imperial rules and defiantly thriving in the wake of post-war displacement, from Europe and Russia.

Unfortunately these peace efforts were betrayed when it was later discovered spies from Hamas had entered Israel through the 20,000 Gazens who were given work permits. Thee spies used window of opportunity to draw out maps and note defense details, which were instrumental for planning the Octber 7th attacks.

Rebuilding the Kibbutzim: Shai Fund Response

Following the unthinkable horror and bloodshed that devastated Israel on October 7th many Kibbutzim have been abandoned, and those populating the surrounding regions have also fled to safer areas, leaving everything behind.

The challenge of rebuilding peace, security, and stability is great. For many inhabitants of the Kibbutzim the thought of returning feels miles away, with more than 250,000 thousand people displaced from both the northern and southern border regions, in need of assistance.  

In response to the attack, Shai Fund immediately acted to provide emergency relocation for 330 people via land and air; 30 of them survivors that miraculously escaped the Hamas attacks on the Kibbutzim and the Nova Music Festival.

Alongside this, essential resources were delivered to assist in the aftermath of displacement, providing 11,239 of those affected with clothes, food, hygiene kits and medicines, as well as sweets and toys for children. This is only the beginning of the work that lies ahead, to restore what has been broken in Kibbutzim and the wider region.  

For many of those affected by the attack, life has come to a standstill. Even so, they are dreaming of returning one day. In a powerful expression of courage and hopeful resolution, some families of hostage victims in Kfar Aza addressed an audience in the UK Parliament stating:

The ‘people from Kibbitzes are dreaming about coming back to life. Life is stronger than any darkness. People are dreaming about coming back to their houses. This is the time to rebuild Israel again and have peace in the area.

We are deeply grateful for the generosity received in supporting Shai Fund efforts to bring hope to people facing these desperate situations of loss. Although it will take time to rebuild, through standing together with the victims from Kibbitzes, life and hope can be restored in these havens of peace, cooperation and tranquility.

Written and researched by Joshua Bellingham, Shai Fund Communications

donate todayBack to Stories & Updates