When the bulldozers came to knock down the houses of Netiv Ha’Asarah in the Sinai Peninsula, the residents experienced real trauma. They could have moved to the center of the country, far away from any danger, but their pioneering spirit led them to resettle just a few feet from the Gaza Strip.
In October 2023, Netiv Ha’Asarah was evacuated. Again.
Dozens of residents of the moshav, an agricultural settlement mixing private and public ownership of property, were murdered in the Hamas surprise attack of October 7. Netiv Ha’Asarah was evacuated of all its residents along with other border region communities.
After the images of horror and the hellish testimonies, will the residents of the moshav return to their homes? Will they succeed in rebuilding this community located just a few feet away from the Gaza Strip?
This is not the first time that the people of Netiv Ha’Asarah have been evacuated from their homes. But the last time this happened, it was a peace treaty rather than a war that forced them out.
Netiv Ha’Asarah was established as an agricultural moshav in 1973 in the Yamit region of northern Sinai. The Sinai Peninsula was one of the territories captured by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967. At first, the community was called Minyan [lit. “prayer quorum”], but pressure from residents ultimately led to it being renamed Netiv Ha’Asarah [lit. “path of the ten”], after the ten soldiers killed in a Yas’ur helicopter crash in 1971.
At its peak, some 150 residents lived in the Sinai moshav, primarily engaged in agriculture.
“Everything there was open, everything was spacious,” said Eshel Margalit, one of the founders. “Beaches that were something amazing, and the greenery of the palm trees … an exceptional landscape. In short, heaven.”
“We were strongly encouraged to join the settlement,” said Aviva Fuld. “I came for ideological reasons. I grew up in the Beitar movement which settled the country. I saw it as [ideological] fulfillment, we were seen as pioneers. I liked it very much. My husband was very tied to the land and to agriculture, we grew flowers, beautiful chrysanthemums, roses, vegetables. We were very successful in agriculture. Later on, I worked in the kindergarten as a kindergarten teacher. Many of my friends from the Nachal [an IDF program that combined military service with agriculture and community-building] were there. I didn’t come to some ‘nowhere,’ I came to a place that was familiar and pleasant and full of good company.”
This idyllic existence was suddenly cut short, however, when a peace treaty signed with Egypt stipulated that Israel must withdraw from the entire Sinai Peninsula. The meaning for Netiv Ha’Asarah was clear – the end of their settlement of Sinai and the evacuation of the moshav.
In the month of April, 1982, the residents officially said goodbye. They packed up their things and their families and left Sinai.
“It’s a difficult story,” Hagai Shaked, a resident, recalled. “After nine years, we realized what was happening when Sadat came to Israel, we knew it would happen. The majority chose to stay and so did we… Most of the residents didn’t see the destruction itself. People went through trauma. We were all together. We all went through the evacuation. This trauma is something that binds. It’s glue.”
“There was very, very serious trauma,” Shimon Sahar concurred. “To see the bulldozers with the wrecking ball that destroys the house. The trailers packing up all the equipment and the demolished home.”
But at least in this case, the evacuation didn’t come as a surprise, even if it came as a shock. The warming relations with Egypt, even before the peace treaty, were a very big hint for the Israelis in Sinai. Already in the years prior to the evacuation, residents of Netiv Ha’Asarah worked on finding on alternative location. The place they chose was in the northwestern Negev, right on the border with Gaza.
After the evacuation from Sinai, the residents moved to a temporary residence in a holiday resort in Ashkelon, since work was still needed to lay the foundations in the new location.
Some decided to resettle in other places, but many of the residents of Netiv Ha’Asarah wanted to continue the sense of “togetherness” they had in a new location. They wanted to reestablish the spirit of community, of pioneering, in a new home. “We came to [neighboring] Kibbutz Zikim, we walked around, we went up a hill and looked out at the sands of Zikim,” Shoshana Ta’aseh would later recall. “What a nice place here! The view is nice! The air is good! Here, this is what we want! And right next to the sea, close to family, to the city, I said – this is great, I like this place!”
And indeed, Netiv Ha’Asarah arose anew and flourished. Many of the residents worked and still work in agriculture as well as domestic tourism. The moshav was even expanded in the 1990s to make room for the next generation.
And why specifically on the Gaza border?
“We made a very good decision,” recalled Ovadiah Keidar. “We decided that we have to fulfill our Zionist mission and settle here up to the border with the Gaza Strip. There was a euphoric atmosphere due to the notion that peace with the Palestinians was just around the corner. And indeed, in the beginning, we worked in tandem with the Palestinians. There were no borders, and no gates and no walls. And then things started to deteriorate … And then it was decided to put up a fence and a wall, and this troubled us greatly as well.”
And what now? Can Netiv Ha’Asarah rise again?
We returned to Aviva Fuld. Two weeks after the massacre of October 7. She, her family, and many of her friends from Netiv Ha’Asarah are presently in a Tel Aviv hotel. She and her family were saved, but many of her friends are no longer among the living. “The old timers will return,” she says with pain. “Regarding the youth, it’s too early to tell. For us, we don’t have many options. We paid with our lives, with our bodies. But this is our country and we have nowhere to go.”
But Fuld says the young residents and maybe even the old timers will not agree to go back without a fundamental change. They have a clear condition: The future cannot be anything like the past. After the fighting is done, Hamas cannot continue to exist. Only after laying down this condition, does Aviva add, with a slight tinge of optimism: “We will arise from this black hole and rebuild our homes.”
We will end with a beautiful little poem, written by local resident Dani Tzidkoni, which we happened upon entirely by chance. This poem was written in Hebrew when the moshav was being reestablished for the first time, but it may also ring true now, following the difficult days Netiv Ha’Asarah has endured and during the challenging period ahead.
Here is an English translation:
When we came here for the first time,
We felt at home,
The sand is the same sand.
The sea the same sea.
The people are the same people,
And the beginning the same beginning.
And again we make the desert beautiful.
Anew, fields are sown,
Houses are built,
We try for grass.
With determination, we repeat it all from the beginning,
The daily struggle to succeed,
To profit, like the first time.
This time the beginning is not exactly a beginning,
And not exactly a continuation,
This time Netiv Ha’Asarah is a revival.
Some of the quotes from residents are taken from the Nativ Ha’Asarah – Local Story website (Hebrew)
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.