For the community of Nahal Oz on the Israel-Gaza border, the events of the past few days have had a shocking, shattering effect. For decades, life in this region was often calm, restful and full of the wonders of nature, despite the ever-present dangers. The people of the border region are strong and resilient, and will prevail through this challenging time, as they have done so many times before.
For decades, the Israel-Gaza border has been something of a paradox.
The events of the past few days have had a shocking, shattering effect. Until recently, however, when you walked through the many small Israeli communities that populate this region, you couldn’t help but wonder at the idyllic, peaceful atmosphere that often prevails in a part of the world that is also known to be so volatile.
For Israelis who live in the kibbutz of Nahal Oz, life has the ability to be calm, restful and full of the wonders of nature. Like many kibbutzim, Nahal Oz is known for its warm communal lifestyle: members share many of their responsibilities and some resources, which fosters a tight-knit community, and the kibbutz prioritizes a deep concern for their cultural and social activities.
Jewish and national holidays are celebrated with joy, as children take a central role in the festivities. For each new season, the kibbutz is decorated accordingly and excitement is palpable in the air, as teenagers rush around hanging garlands and creating baskets of seasonal food for the kibbutz members.
Kibbutz living today is a mix of the old and the new. While kids grow up with Instagram and Snapchat and still beg their parents for the latest Nike trainers, there remains an emphasis on simple living and natural pleasures. Food is fresher, water is usually unfiltered, and less money is spent on material luxuries such as designer clothing or fancy events.
Weddings in Nahal Oz often consist of outdoor ceremonies and a party planned by the communal efforts of the kibbutz members, days off are spent outdoors at least as frequently as they are spent indoors, and tree-climbing and bare-footed walks in the fields are as common today as they were when the kibbutz was first established.
The kibbutz was founded in 1951 by Nahal soldiers, right on the border with the Gaza Strip. It became a civilian community just two years later. Nahal Oz was the first kibbutz to be established by the Nahal program, which combined IDF military service with community building and agriculture. Due to its success, many other kibbutzim followed suit in the years afterwards.
Established on the principles of collective agriculture and communal living, which are characteristic of old kibbutzim across Israel, Nahal Oz was a pioneer in the area, which was arid and dry, and even 70 years ago, kibbutznikim in this small community were proving to the rest of the world that life can thrive in this difficult region.
While kibbutz life has changed drastically in the last 50 years, some things remain the same including communal meals, celebrations, and educational programs. For many, the appeal of kibbutz living comes from the opportunity to work the land of Israel, creating beautiful ties with the earth and fulfilling a deep-seated and long-standing Zionist dream.
Of course, now members of the kibbutz can also work in many other fields. They need not eat in the shared dining room, and they have their own individualized personal belongings and homes, but it is these changes which were necessary to make life in Nahal Oz sustainable for the 21st century, and for many people, these updates to kibbutz guidelines have only made it a more complete haven.
That being said, Kibbutz Nahal Oz still has a very strong agricultural tradition. Members of the community have been successful in cultivating crops, such as potatoes, carrots, wheat and other vegetables.
But farming doesn’t bring in the income that it once did, and life in Israel can be expensive, even for a kibbutznik. So eventually in addition to agriculture, the kibbutz started to engage in other ventures, specifically thriving in tourism-related activities. Nahal Oz opened its doors to those interested in experiencing communal living and learning about Israeli kibbutz history and culture, in doing so creating a large secondary financial venture but also enlightening those who wished to learn about the community, and helping to promote their work.
But life isn’t always easy for the residents of Nahal Oz. While the picture just painted may sound like a modern-day Garden of Eden, the stability and peace of the kibbutz is often under threat.
This is because of Nahal Oz’s proximity to Hamas-run Gaza.
Throughout its history, the kibbutz has been subjected to many rocket attacks and infiltrations from terrorist militants in Gaza. In 2014, the kibbutz faced one of its biggest calamities as tunnels from Gaza were dug by terrorists seeking to infiltrate Israeli communities and harm and kill their residents.
Since then, the kibbutz has fluctuated between being a peaceful natural paradise and being the target for barbaric acts of terrorism.
But despite these monumental security challenges, the residents of Nahal Oz have shown, and continue to show, remarkable resilience. They have continued to live and work in the kibbutz, enduring periods of extreme difficulty while maintaining a strong sense of community.
Nahal Oz was among the many border communities that came under violent attack on Saturday, October 7, 2023. This barbaric attack resulted in many innocent Israelis being murdered and wounded, with people taken hostage as well. We at the National Library of Israel are sending strength to the members of Nahal Oz and all the residents of the border region who need our hopes and prayers right now.
We know that they are strong, resilient, and capable, and will prevail through this challenging time as they have done so many times before.
This article is part of our special series: “Life on the Border: A Tribute to the Communities of the Gaza Border Region”. Click here to see all of the articles and stories.