Every Hostage Has a Story: A New Exhibit at the National Library of Israel

We at the NLI felt we needed to help people around the world realize that the hostages held in Gaza are human beings, not just numbers and faces on a poster. We wanted to illustrate how there is an entire life behind each of these faces, each of these men, women and children. To do this, we decided to make use of the books that fill our library...

Photo: Liron Halbriech

*Some of the hostages mentioned and seen in this article have by now returned to their families. Far too many remain in Gaza. We await their return.

 

Where’s Spot?

Is he behind the door?

Is he under the stairs?

Is he under the bed?

Thousands of parents in Israel and around the world read the words of this classic children’s book night after night as they hold their sons and daughters close in a warm, safe bed.

Today, two Hebrew copies of “Where’s Spot” (Eifo Pinuki?) by Eric Hill wait on two tiny chairs which have been set aside for Yuli and Emma Kunio, twin sisters who are only 3 years old. The questions that appear throughout the book are now given heartbreaking significance.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

Since October 7, we have all been overwhelmed with sadness and perhaps a sense of helplessness in the face of the unimaginable tragedy that has befallen so many families.

Yuli and Emma are among the 239 people being held in Gaza.

Like everyone else, we felt the need to do something. Something that could help people realize that these are human beings, not just numbers and faces on a poster. These are real people, with their own loves, hobbies and hopes for the future.

We wanted to illustrate how there is an entire life behind each of these faces, each of these men, women and children. To do this, we decided to make use of the books that fill our library.

This exhibit is called “Each Hostage Has a Story”. Many dozens of black chairs, far too many, have been placed in the middle of our new reading hall. Each chair has a picture of one of the hostages placed on it. Beside these black chairs are a number of smaller, colorful chairs for kindergarteners and young schoolchildren. There is also one baby chair, as difficult as this is to imagine.

Photo: Shai Nitzan

 

Each chair also has a book placed on it that we have chosen specifically for each hostage. The books await their return.

Each book contains a personal library card that we’ve prepared, each one marked with a return date – NOW.

We wanted to illustrate the unimaginable number of people who have been abducted from their homes, while at the same time allowing for a personal look at each and every one of them, to remind us that they all have an unfinished story.

Thanks to relatives who have shared stories of their loved ones, we were able to learn a little bit about each of the hostages. Based on this we chose a book for each person that we thought would help others get to know them better and understand who they are. Secretly, we found ourselves wondering: Will they like the books we chose? Do our choices do them kindness and justice? Do they truly present them as they are and as they would like?

Photo: Shai Nitzan

 

Elyakim Livman, 24 years old, can’t bear to see people picking on those weaker than themselves. His family nicknamed him “Robin Hood”. We’ve placed a copy of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” on his chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Liat Beinin Atzili, 49 years old, recently completed a course for tour guides at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial. We’ve placed the book “Our Holocaust” by Amir Gutfreund on her chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

We placed a copy of the book “Dad’s Building A Cake” on the chair reserved for 35-year-old Sagui Dekel Chen, who builds toys for his children.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

79-year-old Channah Peri loves to spend time tending to her garden. We’ve placed the book “My Wild Garden: Notes From a Writer’s Eden” by Meir Shalev on her chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

We put a copy of “4X4” on Alex Lobanov’s chair, since he enjoys going on Jeep tours.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

We chose the book “The Kiss That Got Lost” for 3-year-old Avigail Idan, who is likely missing the hugs and kisses of her parents Smadar and Roy, who did not survive the attack by Hamas.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Yuval Brodutch, 8 years old, enjoys playing Xbox games, so we put a copy of “The Rescue”, from the Minecraft series, on his chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Doron Steinbrecher is a veterinarian nurse. We decided to lay the book “Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds” on her chair. The book tells the true story of a captive lioness who was released into the wild.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

We chose the book “The Art of Loving” for 27-year-old Inbar Haiman, after her partner Noam Alon told us they were reading it together. They’re still in the middle of the book and he awaits her return so that they can finish it together.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Ori Danino only recently proposed to his girlfriend, so we’ve placed a book dedicated to Israeli wedding invitations on his chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Moran Yanai was able to realize her dream of opening up her own jewelry stand at the party held in Re’im, and so we placed a catalog of Israeli jewelry on her chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Ohad Mundar recently marked his 9th birthday in captivity. We placed a book belonging to Galia Ron-Feder-Amit’s “Time Tunnel” series, popular with Israeli children his age, on his chair. The book’s title – “Black Sabbath” – has now become imbued with tragic, heartbreaking meaning.

 

For little Kfir Bibas, only 9 months old, we chose the Israeli children’s classic “Where is Pluto?” by Leah Goldberg. Towards the end of the book, there is a line that many Israeli parents know by heart: “You’ve returned home, what joy!”

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

These are just a handful of examples. Hundreds of other chairs and pictures of hostages fill the hall, each of them representing an entire life. Many of them carry books that we chose because their titles suddenly received even greater meaning: “Run, Boy, Run”, “The Life Before Us”,  “Great Expectations”, “Who Will Comfort Toffle?”

 

On a personal note, I have to admit that the issue of the hostages is a very difficult one for me. I couldn’t bear to think about the people who were kidnapped and the terrible suffering of the families. I had trouble reading the stories about them and looking at their photographs. The pain was unbearable. And then I found myself reading about them day and night, about what happened to them on that day and mostly – who they are, what they like to do and the people they love and who love them. Now each name and picture is a name and picture that I have come to know and love. As a consequence, the pain of their absence has also grown and so has the great hope to see them here again.

This story must have a happy ending.

 

***

 

The exhibit “Every Hostage Has a Story” is now on display in the reading hall (floors -1 and -2) of the National Library of Israel

 

Dori Gani , a reference librarian at the NLI, is the curator of the exhibit

To the Last Furrow: The Blood, Sweat and Tears of Nahal Oz

The morning of Simchat Torah 2023 was supposed to be a day of celebration - marking 70 years of Kibbutz Nahal Oz. But with chilling similarity to another event that took place just three years after Nahal Oz was founded, this day ended entirely differently – in unimaginable tragedy. Is this what life is like for those whose homes are the border itself?

A child in Nahal Oz, 1957. The photo is from the Kibbut Nahal Oz Archive and is accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the archive, the Ministry of Heritage and the NLI

At first, there was no fence – just fields. And young men and women whose hearts were full of faith, courage, and love of the land they worked.

Kibbutz Nahal Oz began life as the first agricultural settlement of the IDF’s Nahal program. This program combined military service with community-building and agriculture. Members of the founding core group arrived with the declared intention of settling the border area. They were young soldiers (some very young) who had been given agricultural training in order to fulfill the role of settling and protecting the country. The furrows of their fields were the border, and they – its guards.

Members of the first settlement group. Photo: Nahal Oz Archive, IL-NAOZ-001-p01-03-10-19-007]

They ploughed and sowed and planted and built and established a home on the lands of the old Kibbutz of Be’erot Yizthak, whose members had decided to move north after a heroic battle during the 1948 War of Independence. “Nahlai’m Aleph – Opposite Gaza” is how they were called in the first two years, a kind of declaration of awareness of what they faced, what they could see from their windows.

Working the land, 1954. Photo: the Nahal Oz Archive, IL-NAOZ-001-p01-02-09-02-031

In the heavy shadow of the terrible massacre of Simchat Torah 2023, we spoke with Yankel’e Cohen, one of the two members of the original settlement group who are still members of the kibbutz. He lived there for 70 years, among the greening fields and opposite the Gazan neighborhood of Shejaiya in the distance. He told of an idealistic group which succeeded – despite and perhaps even thanks to the security tensions – in founding a family community. “The togetherness,” he said, “was always stronger than elsewhere. The gathering of welcoming people who were much less individualistic.”

They paid in blood almost from the first for this effort. Shortly after celebrating the founding of the settlement in 1953, Yaakov “Tommy” Tuchman was murdered. After the murder, kibbutz members continued to suffer from infiltrations by the fedayeen, mines laid in the area, and thefts from the fields. The peak came in 1956, with the tragic murder of Ro’i Rothberg.

Ro’i Rothberg on his horse near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, early 1950s. Photo: the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Ro’i Rothberg was the model Nahal soldier – a good-looking Israeli, an educated man who didn’t neglect his physical health, a military officer and farmer who didn’t let the hard work coarsen his gentle conduct, and above all – a beloved friend who refused to let the hard life on the border affect his natural happiness and sharp wit.

He volunteered to serve in the army despite being younger than the official draft age, and registered into the officer’s course as soon as he could. At age 21 he was in charge of regional security, married to beautiful Amira, and father of a baby boy – Boaz.

Ro’i and Amira Rothberg. Photo: the Nahal Oz Archive, IL-NAOZ-001-p01-02-03-01-060

That spring morning when his life was taken, kibbutz members were excitedly preparing for a major event: a “quadruple wedding” for four young couples from the community. A stage was strewn with flowers and twigs, some of the food was already being prepared, and guests had even started to arrive – including Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan and reporters from the IDF magazine BaMahaneh, who meant to document the celebration.

Earlier that morning, there were reports of fedayeen infiltrators raiding the fields for the umpteenth time. Ro’i set out on his beloved horse to scare them off. It was something he did every day. But this time ended differently. He ran into an ambush and was cruelly murdered. His body was mutilated and dragged beyond the last furrow – and into the Gaza Strip.

It was only after threats were issued by the security establishment and the UN intervened that his body was returned through the fields he defended.

Instead of dancing at the weddings (which still took place, though they tearfully moved to another location), the kibbutz members dug the first grave on their land.

Moshe Dayan stayed for the funeral of the young regional security coordinator, who deeply impressed him in their short meeting a day before. The IDF Chief of Staff gave a famous eulogy which over the years has been interpreted politically in complex ways.

“Have we forgotten that this group of young people dwelling at Nahal Oz is bearing the heavy gates of Gaza on its shoulders?” he asked clearly above the fresh grave, as though he knew how heavy those gates would be. How similar they could be to the gates of Hell itself.

Guarding the fields, 1956. The Nahal Oz Archive, IL-NAOZ-001-p01-03-10-18-088

“How do you continue to live in such a place, for so many years?” we asked Yankel’e. “A great deal of Zionism. And faith,” he answered without hesitating. Matters of the spirit.

When Gaza was occupied in the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the Egyptians withdrew from that last furrow. But there was no real quiet.

Less than a year after Ro’i’s murder, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion himself arrived along with Dayan to visit Nahal Oz. They sat with the kibbutz members in the local social club and explained their approach – why and how Gaza was being returned to Egyptian hands. Don’t worry, they tried to tell the kibbutz members – it will be quiet now. The UN will keep the peace.

Days of quiet? Nahal Oz youth working the fields in the kibbutz. Photo: Nahal Oz Archive, IL-NAOZ-001-p01-03-08-09-049

Ben-Gurion (whose view of the UN was well-known even then) respected the members of the “security settlements”, as they were sometimes called, often mentioning his belief that without them “security will not be established in the country.” He came to promise them that he truly believed quiet would come, but when he left that meeting in the clubhouse, he left men and women behind who were frustrated and fearful.

Thus far, a well-known story.

Yankel’e told us what happened afterwards: Ben-Gurion left, but Moshe Dayan stayed as the members spoke more freely of their fears. The army chief wasn’t impressed. To the contrary, he railed against the “complaints”, reminded them of the compensation they’d receive if something happened and contemptuously added – those who don’t like it, can go back to Ramat Hasharon [a safer town in central Israel].

The offended members wrote to Ben-Gurion, and he – who always respected deeds more than words – forced Dayan to return to Nahal Oz and apologize to the members he considered to be the shield of the state.

A community that is also a family. Children in Nahal Oz. Photo: Nahal Oz Archive, IL-NAOZ-001-p01-03-10-14-056

Years passed. Gaza was conquered in 1967, before Israel again withdrew decades later, in 2005. The “Um Shmum”, as Ben-Gurion called the UN, was very limited in its ability to keep the peace. The fields flowered, and burned from time-to-time following terrorist actions or shelling. Each time they were sown anew. New graves filled the small cemetery. The furrows continued to be carefully cultivated but were far from sufficing as a barrier to the repeated attacks out of Gaza. A fence was built, and then another one, and then another one deep underground.

Life during tense times. Nahal Oz children on a “missile” in a children’s playground. Photo: Nahal Oz Archive, IL-NAOZ-001-p01-01-18-01-007

But like that furrow in 1956, the fence was also crossed by the successors of the fedayeen on the cursed Shabbat of October 7, 2023.

In a chilling repeat of that day in 1956, the Saturday morning in October of 2023, the day of Simchat Torah, was supposed to be one of excited preparations for a major event – the celebration of 70 years since Nahal Oz’s founding.

In congratulations recorded in advance for the celebrations, some of those visiting wished “that we should hear from you and about you not just when there’s sad and scary news, but precisely when there’s good, of which you have so much.”

But there were no celebrations. On the Saturday morning of October 7, 2023, bloodthirsty terrorists broke into Kibbutz Nahal Oz and massacred its members, murdering whole families and taking others hostage. There was hardly a home that was unaffected.

“Ro’i,” Moshe Dayan said at that eulogy in 1956, “who left Tel Aviv to build his home at the gates of Gaza to be a wall for us was blinded by the light in his heart and he did not see the flash of the sword. The yearning for peace deafened his ears and he did not hear the voice of murder waiting in ambush. The gates of Gaza weighed too heavily on his shoulders and overcame him.”

“But we will rise,” Yankel’e says with chilling simplicity, 67 years later, as we hear of the kibbutz dairy resuming its work. “We have no other way.”

Even if the gates of Gaza are heavy, Nahal Oz – its spirit and its people – stand defiant and unconquered.

—-

Many thanks to Yankel’e Cohen, a member of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, for helping in the preparation of this article.

Pictures appearing in the article are held at the Nahal Oz Archive and are now digitally available thanks to the collaboration of the archive, the Ministry of Heritage, the Landmarks Program, and the National Library of Israel

 

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

When Israel Comes Together

Israel has been at war since October 7, 2023. The darkness of these days cannot be overstated, but at the same time the most miraculous of things have been occurring all the while: as life collapsed around us, people rose up and came together in the most amazing ways. Israel is a country like no other – a land full of upstanding people who truly exemplify what kindness really means.

2-year-old Uri Lifshitz hugging his friend Giura Raz-Rosenzweig in Kibbutz Givat HaSholosh, 1938, Yakov and Chaya Lipshitz REI-PTA, this item is part of the Israel Archive Network project, and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Oded Yarkoni Historical Archives of Petach Tikva, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

“We need to come together and help” read the Rabbi’s message on the community WhatsApp group. “If anyone can house a Jewish refugee family from the North of Israel, please consider opening up your home.”

Israelis sorting clothes to give to displaced individuals, 1991, Vered Peer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

My friend saw the message and immediately responded to the Rabbi. He had a spare room in his apartment in Jerusalem and was willing to host a displaced family.

Israeli woman cooking food for orphaned children, 1950, World Union OSE Photos, the National Library of Israel

But only a little while later, he received a reply from the Rabbi saying “thank you for your offer, but we’ve already found homes for all of the families now.” My friend was confused – only 45 minutes had passed since the Rabbi had sent out his request.

Thousands of Israelis check to see if their blood is compatible with a little boy suffering from Leukemia in order to save his life, 1993, Vered Peer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

“Okay, let me know if I can help in any other way” he wrote back, before tentatively adding another line “oh, and by the way, how many families did you manage to find places for?” As the Rabbi’s reply came through, my friend’s breath caught in his throat: “five thousand.”

Religious IDF soldier helps his friend put on tefillin, 1973, David Weisfish, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Israel has been at war since October 7, 2023. That dreadful Saturday was one of confusion and horror, and for most Israelis, the days since then have continued to be filled with terror, loss and fear.

Handing out treats to IDF soldiers, 1985, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

The darkness of these days cannot be overstated, but at the same time the most miraculous of things have been occurring all the while.

Israeli woman donating blood, 1978, Dani Gottfried, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

As life collapsed around us, people rose up. Communities pulled together, families started initiatives, the young and the old, people from across all the religious spectrums and political persuasions, put any differences aside and came together in the most amazing of ways.

IDF fundraising campaign, 1980, IPPA Staff Photographer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

The acts of kindness and charity, resistance and aid, from Israelis literally across all walks of life has been astounding.

Israel Air Force Hercules transport plane transports 14 tons of medicine and food relief supplies, 1992, Oleg Gaspar, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

To write about them all would be impossible, for there really is no end to the acts of support happening across the country, even as you read this article.

Children selling their toys and books and donating the money for a Phantom aircraft for the Israeli Air Force (1 / 2), 1969, IPPA Staff Photographer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

But I can tell you the story of the 22-year-old olah (immigrant) from South Africa. She shares a small apartment with a friend, and when the war broke out their university studies were postponed. She could have spent the next month watching Netflix and seeing her friends, but instead she decided to put a message online asking for supplies to send to IDF soldiers fighting on the front lines.

8 Hercules aircrafts are loaded with medical personnel and aid equipment including a complete field hospital, antibiotics, water, food and chemicals for water purification, 1994, Gideon Markowiz, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Before long, people started showing up at her door, arms laden with goods. And they didn’t stop. Day and night, her small apartment filled up until there was no more room to stand. The boxes she had organized were far from enough and no matter how many hours she spent packing them up, there were always more donations.

Israelis donate money to build a new synagogue, 1923, Francois Scholten, this item is part of the Israel Archive Network project, and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

She reached out to all of her friends and asked for help packing the boxes, and designated people to visit each local supermarket and collect their spare cardboard boxes and as many plastic bags as they would give her.

Israel offers free medical aid to southern Lebanon residents, 1976, IPPA Staff Photographer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

She organized teams of other volunteers in their early 20s to take this aid from army base to army base, even when it meant going into areas which were unsafe.

Orphaned Israeli children plant trees, 1955, World Union OSE Photos, the National Library of Israel

As of now, this young, unassuming girl has delivered over 15,000 aid packages to soldiers across Israel. By the time you read this, the number will have risen yet again.

5,000 Israelis volunteer to clean up trash from their local beach (1 / 2), 1993, Vered Peer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

She is not the only person helping out our brave soldiers. It seems that everyone wants to offer a hand. In their late 60s, my friend’s parents tend to err on the cautious side, so it came as a shock when my friend got a call from them saying that they were heading down to the South of Israel for the day. A woman in their community had spent two weeks at home in her kitchen cooking and freezing literally hundreds of nutritious and hearty homecooked meals for soldiers, and needed help delivering them to bases.

Raising money on the streets of Tel Aviv for IDF soldiers during the Yom Kippur War, 1973, Boris Karmi, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

My friend waited for an update all day, and eventually as dusk fell, she got a call from her mother. “Sorry it took me so long to call you darling, we had to go to so many army bases! No one wanted us!”

Israeli man donating blood, 1978, Dani Gottfried, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

My friend thought she had misheard – who wouldn’t want platters of spaghetti bolognese and stir-fried vegetables? “The soldiers have been receiving so much food and so many volunteers that they simply don’t have room for any more!”

Israeli volunteers cleaning up debris following an Iraqi missile strike that hit Ramat Gan during the Gulf War, 1991, Danny Lev, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

My friend laughed, and asked what her mother meant. “Well,” her mother replied “at the first base we went to, their commander sent us away because his soldiers had enough donated food to last them into the next decade – he was worried that his troops would all get too fat and not be able to fight… and as we went from base to base each commander told us the same thing.”

Israel sends over 20 tons of humanitarian supplies, including medical equipment, drugs and clothes to the Bosnian people, 1995, Beni Birk, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

“Volunteers have been arriving all day and night to lend a hand and distribute food, and they simply can’t take any more. Don’t worry, we got rid of our food eventually, but by the end of the day we were nearly forcing the schnitzels into the soldiers’ hands!”

Hundreds of volunteers take a break to eat after helping to build the new settlement of Sebastiya, 1975, IPPA Staff Photographer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

These stories may sound phenomenal but they are not unique. Not at all.

Soldiers enjoying free refreshments provided by the residents of Netanya (1 / 2), 1974, IPPA Staff Photographer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Right now, there are over 200 American girls in a seminary who chose not to flee and return to the USA when war broke out in Israel, instead deciding to stick around and run a free daily children’s camp for displaced Jewish children from Gaza border communities.

Jerusalem residents receive aid from the Rabbi Maier Baal Haneis charity, 1955. This item is part of the Israel Archive Network project, and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

Right now, there are teams of haredi men sitting in my husband’s yeshiva dying sheets of material army-green and tying tzitzit at their corners so that the IDF soldiers can wear ritual Jewish clothing even when camouflaged.

Israeli volunteers fundraising for IDF soldiers, 1980, IPPA Staff Photographer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Right now, there are weddings being organized on army bases as soldiers choose to get married amidst the chaos surrounding them. Photographers, dress-makers, rabbis, caterers and more offer their services for free to make these extraordinary celebrations happen, even at a few days’ notice.

Israelis collect clothes for Armenians who were made homeless after an earthquake, 1989, Vered Peer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Right now, there is a growing group of kohanim on call 24/7 to offer a priestly blessing to any soldiers entering Gaza.

Elderly man volunteers in the IDF, 1975, Oskar Tauber, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Right now, therapists across the country are offering free sessions day and night to those traumatized by the war.

IDF soldiers help out with 1,500 Soviet immigrants to Israel, 1990, Danny Lev, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Right now, people are queuing from morning to evening to donate blood at hospitals around Israel, and medical staff are even turning people away as the lines to donate get too long.

Israeli radio station holds fundraiser for the IDF, 1980, IPPA Staff Photographer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Right now, women are on call from different communities across the country to pause their lives at any given moment and accompany laboring women in their births while their husbands are away fighting in the army.

Young volunteers build a new youth center, 1938, the Israel Archive Network Project, and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

Right now, thousands of shekels are being donated to the war effort by anyone who has a penny to spare.

Elderly man receives a hot lunch from charity workers in Jerusalem, 1968, Rolf Kneller, Euvre de Secours aux Enfants, the National Library of Israel

Right now, professionals from every field are offering their skills for free to anyone who needs them.

IDF gives free medical aid to southern Lebanon residents, 1976, IPPA Staff Photographer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Right now, the IDF army draft is at more than 100% due to people volunteering to fight despite having no obligation to.

Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon volunteers to build shelters in Kiryat Shmona, 1969, Yakov Elbaz, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Right now, Israel is the only country to have more of its citizens return rather than leave during a war.

The Ministry of Agriculture sends tons of food aid to Soviet Union Hospitals, 1990, Roni Shitzer, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Right now, despite fighting for our very existence, Israel has never been stronger.

Two IDF soldiers are married (the groom was recovering from an injury, the bride served in the navy) (1 / 2), 1971, IPPA Staff Photographer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

We hope and pray that these good deeds will no longer be needed in the days to come, as Israel returns to a state of peace. But in the meantime, we want to recognize every person who is helping the country stand tall, and we continue to wish for the safety and success of Israel and all of her remarkable citizens.

The Fall and Revival of Netiv Ha’Asarah

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.

The original location of Netiv Ha’Asarah in the Sinai Peninsula, 1973. Photo: Herman Chanania, Government Press Office

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.

Minyan – A New Settlement at the Entrance to Rafah” Report on the founding of Minyan, later Netiv Ha’Asarah. Maariv, July 6, 1973, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

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.”

Road leading to Netiv Ha’Asarah in Sinai, 1973. Photo: Herman Chanania, Government Press Office

The Fall

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.”

 

The Rebuilding

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.

Netiv Ha’Asarah’s new location in the western Negev, May 1982. The Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

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!”

The future will prove whether the price we paid in the evacuation of the Yamit region was justified […] the future of this land is in the hands of those who grasp it.” – Amos Hadar, secretary of the Moshavim movement, is quoted in this report on the reestablishment of Netiv Ha’Asarah. Maariv, October 22, 1982, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

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.”

Border fence with Gaza, near Nativ Ha’Asarah’s new location in the western Negev, May 1982. The Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

The Future

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.”

Locals at the moshav of Netiv Ha’Asarah in the western Negev, May 1982. The Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, National Library of Israel

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,

Almost.

 

The sand is the same sand.

The sea the same sea.

The people are the same people,

And the beginning the same beginning.

Almost.

 

Less young.

Less innocent.

More polite,

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.

(Danny Tzidkoni)

 

 

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”

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