Two weeks after Kibbutz Beeri lost 10 percent of its population in the bloody Hamas attack, Israeli soldiers are stationed within sight, primed for a looming ground invasion of Gaza.
The small community — traumatised by the bloodshed, grieving its dead and fearful for friends taken hostage — has become a symbol of the horrors Israel suffered in the October 7 onslaught.
Residents say some of the Hamas militants’ guns still lie amid the rubble of Beeri, where one third of houses were destroyed and the survivors are wracked by doubts about the future.
In all, 108 of Beeri’s 1,100 residents died when Hamas launched its attack from the Palestinian territory of Gaza, just four kilometres (2.5 miles) away, said resident Romy Gold.
More than 1,400 died in Israel in the deadliest attack in the country’s history, which prompted it to launch a withering bombardment of Gaza, where more than 4,300 have died, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
In tiny Beeri, nine kibbutz members were buried on Saturday, even though Jewish law normally forbids funerals on the sabbath, the day of rest.
Gold, 70, who served as a paratrooper in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, said that on Sunday he will attend the burials of five members of one Beeri family.
“I am not sure that any of us is in a condition that we can absorb, understand what happened,” said Gold, who was carrying an M16 assault rifle.
The kibbutz is now in a closed military zone as Israel builds up to the expected invasion that seeks to uproot Hamas. But the army briefly opened up parts of Beeri for journalists.
Gold said a machine gun and other weapons carried by the Hamas militants remained scattered around some of the houses that reporters were not allowed into.
The horrific scenes of October 7 are seared in his mind.
The community was jolted when an alarm sounded, sparked by Hamas gunmen who cut a hole in Beeri’s perimeter fence, recalled the army veteran.
“I had a rifle and a few magazines,” said Gold who rushed to join the community’s 10-member emergency squad.
“There were 150 Hamas in front of us, hitting us with machine guns and hand grenades.
“For some reason some of us survived,” he marvelled. “Around us whole families were shot or butchered or burned alive.”
The gruelling gun battle lasted for most of the day.
“The squad is supposed to survive for between half an hour and an hour before the army is supposed to take control,” Gold said.
“We were here for 10 hours and actually ran out of bullets.”
Five of the squad were killed, others badly wounded.
The army said that dozens of Hamas gunmen were killed or taken prisoner at Beeri.
Gold estimated the small defence squad he was with killed or wounded at least 14 of the intruders.
On the day Beeri was laying to rest some of its own, Israeli soldiers nearby were loading shells into tanks.
Gold said the Gaza ground invasion “cannot come fast enough. Something needs to be done”.
“Whoever did this to us should never go free. They should be punished.”
Some other residents, now living with relatives or staying in hotels, feel the same way.
Yossi Landau, a leading member in volunteer emergency responders group Zaka, said he no longer wants “any relationship” with Gaza.
“I hope that the terrorists will not be alive anymore,” he told AFP.
It is a view shared by the majority of Israelis, but not all, according to a new survey.
A poll of 510 people by the Maariv newspaper this week found that 65 percent of Israelis support a ground offensive, while 21 percent oppose it.
One kibbutz resident who was kidnapped, Vivian Silver, 74, is a leading activist in the Women Wage Peace group.
It has long helped Gaza Palestinians get hospital treatment outside the besieged territory.
Other women in the group were also killed or abducted, said Gold.
Silver’s son, Yonatan Ziegen, said his mother would not want an invasion of Gaza.
“You can’t cure killed babies with more dead babies,” he said in one media interview. “We need peace.”
A invasion and its aftermath will delay any return to devastated Beeri, and Gold acknowledged that some families are reluctant.
“We need some kind of assurance that it will not happen again,” he said. “That is not the feeling we have got.
“I don’t know what will happen, but the best thing is to look forward and be positive. This is too early. Now we are just surviving and in grief.”