Photo Credit: courtesy
Take your pick. The oranges of Be'eri

Have you ever seen the essential oil in a mandarin burst into the air when you peel it? Taken a deep breath, filling your lungs with the clean smell of citrus fruit, fresh and ripe, asking to be picked off the tree?

Last week I went to Be’eri to help the farmers pick their oranges and mandarins. The groves are straight, clean, and lush, full of fruit more delicious than any other I’ve tasted.


Two months after my first visit to Be’eri following the Hamas massacre, I still find myself reluctant to write about Be’eri. I’d rather write about their oranges.

It was January when I went for the first time, three months after October 7th. I thought I was ready to visit Be’eri.

I had already been to Nir Oz and Nirim, seen the destruction, and heard survivors speak of their murdered neighbors, those taken hostage, and what had happened to their families on October 7th. As terrible as their stories were, I knew that what had happened in Be’eri was worse.

The Hamas massacre was so horrific that most of what happened was not shown on Israeli TV, to not traumatize the public. Numerous survivors refused to describe what they saw in detail because the details were too horrible.

We all saw the staggering stream of bodies being carried out of Kibbutz Be’eri. That image was deemed to be “clean” enough for the media to air. 97 people were murdered from a community of around 1200.

I didn’t see the Hamas livestream of their slaughter. I saw the videos and heard the testimonies of the rescue workers who desperately searched for the living and discovered people who had been tortured, raped, and burned to death.

I knew what had happened and thought I was ready to see Be’eri. I wasn’t.

My friend Eva Hetzroni lived in Be’eri, (2.5 miles/4 kilometers from Gaza). When Gazans rioted near the fence, burning tires (riots we now know were covers for practicing how to invade Israel), Eva told me of the air being drenched in smoke and having difficulty breathing.

Helplessly I would apologize and sometimes afterwards I would cry that my friend was suffering from the hate of her neighbors.

No one prepared for the hate that would boil through the fence and incinerate everything in its path…

When things were peaceful, Eva would tell me about her husband Avia and her beloved twin grandchildren Liel and Yannai.

Eva passed away some months before the war. It took me a few weeks to gather up the courage to check what had happened to her family. The lists of the murdered and the hostages from Be’eri were so long… Avia was murdered. Yannai was murdered. Liel was murdered. Their great-aunt Ayala, “Aylush” (who was raising them because their mother had become disabled during childbirth) was also murdered. The twin’s mother, Shira, and her caregiver survived.

The front door of Avia’s house was still marked with Zaka’s sticker indicating that they had checked the house. There was also a piece of tape where someone had written his name: Avia Hetzroni, HYD (the abbreviation for May God avenge his blood).

Avia was a senior emergency medical technician and ambulance driver for Magen David Adom. Everyone knew him.  He was one of those people that made others feel confident and safe. People turned to him for help because he always seemed to know what to do, and he did it with a gracious and generous spirit.

I braced myself before walking into the place where this capable man was murdered. It seems he was in the “safe room” when the monsters came. Although the house had been cleaned, the bullet holes remained, telling the story of what had happened.

Bullet holes in the security glass of the safe room/ (made to protect people from missile shrapnel, not terrorists shooting in through the glass).

Bullet holes through the outside of the safe room door.

Bullet holes in the wall across from the door.

The monsters shot through the window, broke into the house, and shot through the door to kill the man who helped save so many other people’s lives.

I was told Avia crawled, dragging himself wounded, from the safe room towards the kitchen. That image flashed through my mind before I could erase it. The room I was standing in didn’t have streaks of blood on the floor. Not anymore. Others had to deal with the reality of that horror.

Walking towards the house where Liel and Yannai lived with their aunt Ayala, I was struck by the beauty of Be’eri. The homes are comfortable and solid, structures that speak of easy living and permanence.

Other kibbutzim, as lovely as they may be, are different. The houses are often very simple, structures designed to be put up fast and provide sufficient shelter. After all, what do people need in a place where they spend much of their time outside and never lock their doors? The contrast between the lovely communities and the destruction wrecked on them is gut-wrenching. Of all the places I witnessed, the dichotomy is most harsh in Be’eri.

Heavyhearted, I knew I was going to see the place where Liel and Yannai were murdered. I thought I was ready. Turning the corner, I felt like I walked into an invisible brick wall.

My eyes understood what they were seeing. My brain gasped, grasping for enough oxygen to process what was in front of me.

This wasn’t a terror attack. It wasn’t a battle. This was a war. Inside our borders, inside our homes.

I’ve never found it so hard to put one foot in front of the other. To go see, from close.

The smashed homes, riddled with bullets and charred by smoke don’t begin to tell the stories of the monsters who swarmed here destroying everything in their path and laughing with joy. They tortured children in front of their parents and parents in front of their children. They mutilated, raped, and burned alive entire families.

And they did it for hours and hours on end.

I walked through destruction that told the story of the war that happened when the army finally arrived. Late and too few they came – not as they should have, an organized army ready for battle, but as individual warriors, heroes willing to sacrifice themselves to save others. They succeeded in pulling some out of the hell they were in. Other times, they failed.

They didn’t succeed in saving Liel and Yannai or their aunt Ayala. I was hesitant to walk into their home and did so with reverence, trying to imagine what they experienced.

Liel’s room had a blue wall with a decorative metal piece that looked like butterflies or leaves. The house, with things flung everywhere, looked like a hurricane had blown through it. The monsters barged in and dragged them to the neighbor’s home where they and others were held hostage for hours. Rage welled inside me to see that the monsters spray-painted the walls with writing declaring Allah’s supremacy and crediting their unit for what they had done to my friend’s family.

They had so much time on their hands that they could “sign” their work.

Swallowing my rage made my head hurt. I thought I was going to lose it when leaving the house, my feet crunched on beads strewn across the floor. Liel’s beads? Was it a piece of jewelry she loved or beads for handicrafts that she wanted to do? I don’t know. I only know that she should be alive and isn’t.

I would rather write about the oranges of Be’eri. Or their extraordinary printing business. I don’t want to write about the horror or the feeling of being violently violated.

Perhaps people who have experienced rape or had their home broken into can understand what it means to have your sanctuary, your home, your body, broken into and ripped apart in a way that makes it clear that what you thought was yours isn’t in your control. The violation that cannot be healed. The burden of knowing what happened which must be carried forever. The breaking of the spirit when you discover that you imagined yourself to be safe but it was a fantasy, not reality.

It’s not something you want to talk about. It’s not something you want to even admit to out loud. But we must.

Otherwise, how will we live?

The people of Be’eri, like the people of Israel, are strong. Broken, yet still standing, we put one foot in front of the other and do what we must.

There are houses to rebuild, although it will take a long time and enormous effort before they can again become homes. The printing house is working. There are oranges to be picked.


{Reposted from the author’s blog}

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Forest Rain Marcia 'made aliyah', immigrated with her family to Israel at the age of thirteen. Her blog, 'Inspiration from Zion' is a leading blog on Israel. She is the Content and Marketing Specialist for the Israel Forever Foundation and is a Marketing Communications and Branding expert writing for hi-tech companies for a living-- and Israel for the soul.