Evacuees from Kibbutz Nir Am at the Herods Tel Aviv Hotel, Jan. 3, 2024. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Evacuees from Kibbutz Nir Am at the Herods Tel Aviv Hotel, Jan. 3, 2024. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
featureIsrael at War

‘Until the hostages come home, I feel I have no right to’

Like many of the thousands of evacuees from Gaza border communities, David Barr of Kibbutz Alumim is unsure what the future holds.   

Ask teacher David Barr where he lives and he’ll answer, “At the moment in Netanya… and we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”

Barr and his wife, Ilana, are members of Kibbutz Alumim, a religious kibbutz located just over a mile from the Gaza border. He commutes from his current base in Netanya in central Israel southward to his teaching job at schools in Tel Aviv and Kiryat Malachi and northward to Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael.  

Kibbutz Nir Oz. Photo: Courtesy

In the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and the Hezbollah attacks in the North, Israel’s Tourism Ministry has been handling the placement of evacuees in hotels, and created subsistence allowances for families to live independently. The ministry has helped over 125,000 displaced people find safer places to live.  

Although efforts were made to keep members of individual kibbutzim in one general vicinity, when he thinks about returning home, and what home really is, Barr has complicated feelings.

He says the team at the Fattal Hotels chain’s Leonardo Plaza Hotel in Netanya, which houses the older residents of Alumim, has been special and understanding, and reminds him constantly, “This is not a hotel—it’s your home.”

Still, he says, six months after displacement, he has reconsidered his definitions of house and home. “While we live in houses, your house is not always your home,” he said. And when he thinks about returning to Alumim, he is hesitant.

“Until the hostages come home, I feel like I have no right to come home,” he said. He is not sure that the kibbutz, which housed between 400 and 450 residents before Oct. 7, and where he raised his family of four children since he made aliyah from Leeds, England, in 1985, will ever feel like home again.  

Many of the younger families feel that they just cannot go back, he explained. “There’s a break in trust in the army chiefs,” he said. “Many feel betrayed, and emotionally traumatized.

Since Oct. 7, the Tourism Ministry has paid 3.2 billion shekels ($852 million) to hotels for hosting evacuees and about 2 billion shekels ($532 million), through the National Insurance Institute, to another 100,000 evacuees living independently, Alon Shemer, deputy director-general of Human Resources at the ministry, told JNS.

“Complete buildings in Kiryat Gat, Tel Aviv and Kibbutz Shefayim are being rented to support displaced families,” he said. “An agency has been set up to help them rebuild when they are ready to return and to help them find options to come back home. There is a huge budget—15 billion shekels ($4 billion) to rebuild and boost security.”

Around 7,000 evacuees from communities around the Gaza border are still lodged in hotels, while approximately 50,000 have resettled back home and are benefiting from a return-home subsidy. Others have opted to relocate as a collective, temporarily inhabiting different locales until their ravaged homes are reconstructed.  

Gal Barr’s former home in Kibbutz Nir Oz. Credit: Courtesy.

Shemer estimates that it will take two years from the time the war ends to restore the 10 communities along the border that sustained the most damage.

Long before Oct. 7, Barr’s son Gal opted out of living where rockets were constantly disrupting family life and moved with his wife and two daughters from Kibbutz Nir Oz three years ago to a community in the north of Israel. A good thing, said Barr, as the modest home they used to live in was destroyed on Oct. 7. 

Another son, Assaf, along with his wife and three children were living in Kibbutz Karmia along the northern Gazan border. They were evacuated to Kibbutz Nahsholim, near Hadera, in central Israel. He has been serving in the Israel Defense Forces reserves.  

Daughter Shiran, married to Rotem, lived in Kibbutz Nirim near the Gaza Strip, along with their three children. They were evacuated first to Eilat and then to two different places in Beersheva.  

The constant moves are tough on the children, according to Barr. His youngest son, Omer, was in London and flew home for reserve duty as soon as he could after the war began.

As David and Ilana sat in their safe room from 6:30 a.m. on Shabbat, Oct 7, until 2:30 Sunday afternoon, communicating sporadically with the rest of their flock, David had a sobering thought: “Our family could be wiped out.”

They were rescued by the army, as were their children from nearby Karmia and Nirim.  

Sadly, no one knew where Ilana’s sister Naomi Shitrit was. She had gone for an early morning run. A day or so later, her body was identified, riddled with bullet holes.

Naomi Shitrit. Photo: Courtesy.

The Barrs joined the rest of their kibbutz in the Leonardo Plaza in Netanya after the mourning period ended.  

Kibbutz Alumim, largely agricultural, lost 23 foreign workers, its chicken coops, hothouses and all its crops. Four members of Alumim’s 12-member defense team were seriously wounded, some with life-threatening injuries.

The members of the kibbutz were sent to Netanya, with older families placed at the Leonardo Plaza and younger families at another nearby hotel.  

Livestock slaughtered by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Alumim on Oct. 7, 2023. Photo: Courtesy.

The Gaza border communities, according to Barr, were very unified before Oct. 7.

“Secular Jews and religious Jews get along well. I have friends in Be’eri and Kfar Aza and Niriim. Even the week before, we held lectures in the evenings to discuss how can we bring mutual dialogue to encourage the rest of Israel to live together the same way,” he said.

The Kibbutz Movement, according to Barr, is becoming a dinosaur as more and more kibbutzim privatize and therefore have much less need for an umbrella organization. He says that the individual kibbutzim hit on Oct. 7 are likely to undergo changes to address the new realities. The changes might even incorporate religious and non-religious Jews living on the same kibbutzim, he added.  

Barr spoke recently at Trafalgar Square in London, at a pro-Israel event that drew more than 25,000 Israel supporters. He pointed out that Western world leaders can’t possibly understand the mentality of Hamas. In an interview with JNS, Barr used as an example Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s praising his son’s martyrdom after they were killed in an Israeli airstrike.

David Barr at a pro-Israel demonstration in London’s Trafalgar Square. Photo: Courtesy.

“He didn’t mind at all,” he pointed out. “That is not a Western way of thinking.”

While most of the homes in Alumim are still intact and going home is possible, the hostages weigh heavily on Barr’s mind. 

Hostages Square
A man posts photographs of the Israelis still being held captive in the Gaza Strip by Hamas terrorists at “Hostages Square” in Tel Aviv on March 4, 2024. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

“How can we ever celebrate another holiday—a Yom HaAtzmaut [Independence Day]—when our hostages are still in Gaza?  

“Do I have the right to work in a field when on the other side of the fence there are hostages? Everyone’s story has become part of the puzzle of Oct. 7. The hostages could have been any one of us. I won’t go back until the last hostage, dead or alive, comes home,” he said.

“It may be realistically and economically impossible to leave Alumim, but if we go back before those poor hostages come home, it won’t be the same David and Ilana Barr that left Alumim on October 8.”

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war.

JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you.

The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support?

Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates