Visiting Sderot, Nova Festival and the Gaza Envelope
As late December approached, we received several requests to bear witness and visit some of the sites that have been affected on October 7th. Multiple Kibbutzim, Sderot, Netivot, Ofakim and a handful of military bases were attacked on the morning of October 7th. The site of the Nova Festival was initially shelled and as people were fleeing from the festival, Hamas militia w brutally shot and kidnapped festival particpants . 364 Israelis were killed by Hamas and 40 more were abducted at Nova Festival.
In July 2023 I was guiding a 10 – day Geopolitical tour of Israel for Campus Leaders from Florida. As a part of the curriculum, we visited Sderot for a lookout of the Gaza strip. We also included a visit to the “Caterpillar Playground”. You see, in Sderot for the last 22 years of being under rocket threat, all you have once an alarm called “red code” is heard , is 12 to 15 seconds to get into a bomb shelter. The city has supplied hundreds of cubicle cement structures that have been painted in colorful drawings. This is also the reasoning behind the unique playground. If Kids are playing outside and a siren is heard, this Caterpillar saves lives.
In July we also had a tour of Kfar Aza with Chen Kotler. Chen was born and raised in in the Kibbutz and she used to take guests on a tour of the Kibbutz and tell them about life amidst rocket threat. Chen was on a trip on October 7th and was not in the Kibbutz as it was attacked. She survived.
For the time being Kfar Aza and Be’er are closed military zones. The residents of these Kibbutzim have not returned and it may take more than a year for them to do so.
What can we see on a visit to this area?
As we drive South from TLV we can see and discuss two large cities. Ashdod and Ashkelon. There are north of 350K residents in the two cities combined and both have strategic facilities such as a major port , an electricity plant supplying power to the Gaza Strip and water de salinization plant providing water to Gaza Envelope and the Gaza strip [the fact that Israeli is supplying both is a topic of heated debates among Israelis]
In Sderot we visit a lookout of the Gaza Strip, the site of the police station which had a significant battle in it for the first 36 hours of the war, claiming the lives of over 20 Sderot police officers and 60 civilians.
As we leave Sderot, we will have the opportunity to see two sites to which cars of the Nova Festival attendees have been toed to . Some cars have been burned down , others have been run over by tanks. One lot has the pickup trucks and motorcycles used by Hamas to execute the attack on October 7th.
As one drives toward the site of the Nova Festival, You bear witness to the damage some of the Kibbutzim have sustained. Barns that have been hit with a rocket directly , can be seen from the road. On the sides of the road one sees traces of fires that began as a result of rocket fire from October 7th.
The site there today is very touching. There are thousands of blooming Anemones this time of year [February – March] , in addition, on Tu Bis’hvat JNF has planted a new forrest, steps from the dancing area of the festival , in which a tree has been planted for every victim of the festival. At this point, families have decorated the pillars that initially stood on the dance floor with a single picture of every victim or hostage taken from there. There are hundreds of photos that have been hung, notes to victims written on stone and more. We would explore the site of the festival , talk a bit about some of the first responders and the victims as well.
When we leave the Nova site we would continue the drive South and bear witness to the Shelter outside Kibbutz Re’im. We will recount the heroic acts of Anner Shapira on the morning of October 7th saving lives of others and paying with his own.
As we return toward Netivot , we would have an oppertunity to stop at “Shuva Brothers” a soldier feeding station that was created the morning of October 7th and is still operational on a volunteer basis. An opportunity to speak to the soldiers and witness the “Israeli spirit” of volunteering and helping each other out , which has been seen throughout Israeli society since October 7th.
A good way for us to conclude a visit to this area is on a hopeful note. There has been so many heroic stories that took place on October 7th. The story of Shuva Brothers is certainly an inspirational one. The village of Shuva is located just outside Netivot. On October 7th the IDF decided to conduct medical evacuations from the Shuva interchange [ basically a safe spot to land helicopters if needed and stabilize critical injuries. The Shuva Brothers initially helped with medical efforts outside thier village. This field infirmary turned into a soldier spot where they can take a break, have a meal, get coffee and if they need any supplies, sundries or gear, they can get those completely free of charge. A heart warming effort, feeding thousands of soldiers each day. Shuva Brothers take on 6 -12 volunteers in a day and it is open 24 hours a day for the soldiers. We washed dishes and arranged food for lunch. It was an honor and a pleasure working with Dror!
We are licensed and insured tour guides [ both served over 60 days in reserves since October 7th]. Guiding you in the Gaza envelope allows us to stay in the profession we love so much and support our families. Email us for a quote and any information you may need.