"It doesn't smell of death anymore, so the birds have started to return."

A video that portrays the Nova Festival and its horrific end in a way you've likely never seen—and the question of how Israel should preserve the memories of that day and the places it defiled.

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Today, we focus on the video above, which tragically needs little commentary. First, though, the schedule for the remainder of the week, followed by a few photographs of Kfar Aza and the area where the Nova festival took place.

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TUESDAY (2/20):  The last of the reserve units that first went into Gaza are now being pulled out, and Israeli news carried a fascinating interview with some members of one of the very first unit to go in—and the last to come out. The soldiers have some powerful messages for Israeli society—some of which may surprise you.

WEDNESDAY (2/21):   We will run the second half of our interview with Ari Harow, author of the new book, My Brother’s Keeper, and once a close political advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu. Harow has great respect for Bibi as a leader and statesman, but some very surprising things to day about what he things Bibi SHOULD do now on the political front versus what he thinks Bibi WILL do. We’ll have an excerpt for everyone, and the full conversation with a transcript for paid subscribers.

THURSDAY (2/22): In this past weekend’s papers, one story was front and center—the drafting of the ultra-Orthodox into the army. Even among the religious non-Haredi population, patience has run out. We’re going to present two articles, some politics ads, a comedy routine and memes making their way across Israeli social media showing how attitudes have shifted and are continuing to move … even among the religious right.

FRIDAY (2/23):  Finally, we’ll close out the week with a podcast, available to everyone, with Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s Special Envoy for Combatting Anti-Semitism. It’s an enormous and daunting task, so Cotler-Wunsh outlines her strategy.

Israelis are facing an unfolding crisis, but also an important opportunity to rebuild. If you would like to share our conversation about what they are feeling and what is happening that the English press can’t cover, please subscribe today.

How does one preserve the memories of what happened on October 7, and the sites where it all took place?

Some of it cannot be preserved; it’s changed already. When we met up with the IDF spokeswoman who would be taking us around, she began by saying, “It’s already different. You hear the birds, right? They’ve started coming back, because the stench of death has dissipated.”

Even the birds couldn’t stand to be there.

So, as it changes, what should be preserved? And how? Those questions are infinitely more complex than it might sound. If you visit Kfar Aza, or Kibbutz Beeri or any of the other twenty-two kibbutzim which were savaged on that day, you know that no photograph can begin to capture the horror of what transpired, or even the power of standing there, right where it took place. The space feels both defiled and sacred, at precisely the same time.

I was in Kfar Aza a few weeks ago. There are things that you see, even spray painted phrases, that still boggle in the mind. In the yellow paint on the left below, יש מחבל, “Oct 11, there’s a terrorist inside.” He was dead, obviously, but four days after the attack, the IDF was still so busy collecting Jewish bodies that all it could do about Hamas corpses was to note on the wall that they were still in there. On the right, in the black script, שרידי אדם על הספה: “human remains on the sofa.” An Israeli, obviously.

A house that had a red circle with a red dot in the middle means that a Jewish person was killed in the house.

(Clicking on a photo should enlarge it.)

Photographs by Daniel Gordis

The houses below also are also on Kfar Aza. Photographs of the people who were killed inside have now been hung in front of the houses. You can see the red circle with the dot on the house on the right. It’s on the one on the left, too; you just can’t see it from this angle.

Photographs by Daniel Gordis

The IDF spokeswoman who took us around the kibbutz, by the way, told us that when she takes foreign journalists to see the houses in the photos above, they commonly ask the same question: “But where’s the proof that it was Hamas that did this?”

I no have no idea how she does her job without going mad.

What should be done with those houses? Bulldoze them and rebuild the neighborhood? (It was the “young people’s neighborhood,” on the west side of the kibbutz, which explains why so many young people were murdered and kidnapped.) Or preserve at least some of them so people will be able to witness what happened? A kibbutz member said to me, “But what, we want our young kids playing on the kibbutz to see this regularly as they’re growing up?” Or maybe move the houses, destroyed as they are, to some location as a memorial?

No one’s really sure what to do. In some cases, kibbutzim have started bulldozing the remains of the houses so building anew can begin. In others, not yet.

What about Re’im, where the Nova festival took place? There would likely be no one there, nothing to see, the IDF spokeswoman told me. That was fine. I just wanted to be there, so I drove over.

As it turns out, there were people there. JNF was having a huge tree planting ceremony. About a hundred people, maybe more, had gathered to plant olive trees, symbols of peace, in holes that JNF had pre-dug. They’d placed two flags, a JNF flag and an Israeli flag, around each dug hole so people could more easily find one.

If you looked from the east towards the west, you got to see the spot for the olive tree, the peace symbol, as the smoke from battles in Gaza wafted a bit further away. Or, you could see a family on the left planting an olive tree—but with an M-16 on the father’s shoulder.

After all, the Gaza envelope was one of the epicenters of the Israeli peace movement. Turns out that believing in peace or wanting it desperately will not keep you alive. Or prevent your getting kidnapped. Or raped. Or mutilated.

So yes, the tree. And yes, the gun.

Photographs by Daniel Gordis

At first, it feels utterly pastoral, even with the tree planting and even with the smoke in the background. You need to force yourself to remember that the images you see in the video at the top of the page took place precisely where these photos were taken.

(If you did not see the posting about the Nova recreation at the Tel Aviv Expo here, you might want to take a look to see what a great job they did in recreating it.)

As for the faces of the murdered and kidnapped at the end of the video, they’re a small fraction of the victims of that barbarity. Israeli police now estimate “that 364 people were shot, bludgeoned, or burned to death and some were sexually assaulted at the Nova festival in a stretch of tree-dotted brush near Kibbutz Re'im. Around 40 were taken hostage back to Gaza, 5 km (2 miles) away.”


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Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside is for people who want to understand Israel with nuance, who believe that Israel is neither hopelessly flawed and illegitimate, nor beyond critique. If thoughtful analysis of Israel and its people interests you, welcome!