I once believed that I understood the history of terrorism and antisemitism. On Oct. 7, with Hamas’s horrific attack on Israel, I had to turn the page. Evil has a new incarnation. We are in a new war. If we don’t defend ourselves, we will be overwhelmed as if by a tsunami.
On a fiery wave of antisemitism, Adolf Hitler almost destroyed the world. But we must remember, during the Holocaust, the Nazis hid the extermination. It took years to assess its scale and cruelty. In contrast, the sadistic Hamas terrorists put cameras on their foreheads and filmed their imaginatively managed attempted genocide—child by child, girl by girl—and then posted it on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and the like.
They documented how they set fire to children in front of their mothers’ eyes and vice versa, how they raped girls and then killed them, how they raped little girls and old women in pajamas and disemboweled pregnant women, how they cut off the heads of hundreds of people and then, not satisfied with that, tore them to pieces and gouged out their eyes.
This visit to the circles of hell had its deepest abyss at the Shura military base, an open-air structure where you can see rows of numbered white containers and some semi-closed tents in which work is done in silence. As I watch, busy soldiers come in and out and one of them explains to us: “Hundreds of still-unidentified bodies have accumulated in these refrigerators due to the burning, torture and mutilation.”
“Speak softly, don’t make any noise,” IDF Col. Chaim Wisberg asks of the group of visiting European parliamentarians.
“We have three ways of identifying bodies,” he says. “The first is the direct one, now impracticable, the second with an examination of the teeth, the third with DNA.”
The remains were found in the most disparate places and then carefully divided into bags with numbers. They try to put the parts Hamas cut off back together: Heads, genitals, arms, feet, hands.
“The corpses of raped women arrive full of fractures,” Wisberg says. “Before understanding that a section belonged to a woman and her child who had been burned and tortured together, a lot of study was needed.”
We see hundreds of bags in the containers, arranged by size. The volunteers are quiet and kind, all in uniform. One named Sheryl explains, “We look for dignity, the memory of those poor remains, in an earring to be returned to the family, in the manicured nails of some girl of whom almost nothing else remains. … Let’s fix what is there with love. Relatives who want to bury their loved ones enter here only with certain DNA results.”
On the road towards Israel’s south, every bush speaks, telling of the monstrous atrocities of Oct. 7. The army is now deployed and they warn us on the way to Kfar Aza that the community is off-limits due to a suspected terrorist incursion. We take a wide detour to arrive at Be’eri, the epicenter of the massacre, the kibbutz where at least 260 boys were killed and others were kidnapped.
Nearby, we find a large torn white tent. We see the household goods, the rags. The ditches were full of murdered boys. The grass over which they fled in vain has the color of betrayal. The yellow is yellower, the black of the final incineration.
In Be’eri, we meet Commander Golan, who saved 19 people in Turkey after the recent earthquake. He is a typical example of the humanity of the liberal kibbutzim, long sympathetic to the Arabs. Golan shows us the burned houses with entire families inside. He says that he found the charred body of one of his fellows and picked up a phone nearby because the writing on the screen said, “My love.” He told the murdered man’s wife that her loved one was gone.
“I didn’t want to wait weeks for identification,” he said.
The trenches in which the fleeing attendees at a music festival had attempted to hide were mass graves. As we speak, there is a lot of shooting going on. Don’t worry, Golan says, they’re our shots.
Eitan Dana, the local operations chief, conveys the sense of an Israel that fought like a surprised and wounded lion. His best friend, Commander Elhanan, and his brother, riding on a jeep shooting wildly back and forth, saved dozens of people and then were killed. This is just one example: People sacrificed themselves, they defended their families and strangers with their bodies.
The citizens of Gaza, it is claimed, are keeping hostages in their private homes. Here, the heart of Israel beats for the taken. A dignified, calm group of parents, children and grandchildren, with photos close to their chest, meet us to ask that everything, anything be done to free their loved ones. They tell us of their impossible pain.
A desperate Keren holds a photo of her Mia, who we saw wounded on TV. Shelly Shem Tov has seen the image of her 22-year-old son Omer being kidnapped. Dalit prays for her abducted aunt, uncle, cousin, the entire Katzir family. The daughter of 79-year-old Haim Peri says: “Soon! We don’t have time!”
Before leaving Be’eri, I found myself in a nursery literally flooded with blood, a lake among toys. I asked permission to pick up a piece of paper with a heart that a child had made. The commander told me, “Keep it as a pledge. Next year, this place will be full of children again, who will give life back to this kibbutz, to this school, to that child.”
To ensure this, however, we must defeat the monsters.