What is a kibbutz? Israel's farming communes were among hardest hit in Hamas attack

More than 100 bodies were recovered in Be’eri Kibbutz alone.

An Israeli soldier next to a destroyed home.
An Israeli soldier walks by a house destroyed by Hamas militants in Kibbutz Be'eri on Wednesday. (Baz Ratner/AP)

During their surprise attack on Israel that left more than 1,200 people dead, Hamas militants targeted several communal settlements known as kibbutzim near the border with Gaza.

What is a kibbutz?

Named for the Hebrew word for “gathering,” a kibbutz is typically an agrarian settlement in Israel. The first kibbutz, a farming commune known as Degania just south of the sea of Galilee, was founded in 1910. It’s now a museum. Today, there are roughly 270 kibbutzim — the plural form of kibbutz — in Israel. Most are now private but rooted in the socialist philosophy of communal and cooperative living.

What was the idea behind them?

“Jewish settlers behind the movement envisioned the kibbutzim as a place where Zionism met Marxism,” the Washington Post explains. “Kibbutzim and kibbutz culture were originally dominated by Ashkenazi Jews, or Jews of Eastern European descent, and were seen as less inclusive of those of Middle Eastern descent. These communities ranged from 50 residents to 2,000 and cropped up in places such as the border with Lebanon, the Jordan River and around the Gaza Strip, and many were originally built on what was then Palestinian land.”

Which kibbutzim were targeted?

Four Israeli soldiers in white coveralls, bulletproof vests and orange helmets hold a body bag in a clearing between houses.
Israeli soldiers remove a body in Kibbutz Be'eri on Wednesday. (Baz Ratner/AP)

Be’eri and Kfar Aza were among the hardest hit.

Reuters reporters who visited Kfar Aza, an Israeli commune just three miles east of Gaza, witnessed a horrific scene:

A baby's crushed crib lying outside a burnt-out home. Corpses strewn on streets. Body bags lined up on an outdoor basketball court. The stench of death everywhere.

Just a few days ago this was the sleepy, scenic kibbutz of Kfar Aza, an Israeli farming community of about 750 people, many of them families with young children. Now it's become a charnel house after Hamas gunmen burst out of the Gaza Strip on Saturday and laid waste to the village.

"Mothers, fathers, babies, young families killed in their beds, in the protection room, in the dining room, in their garden," Israeli Major General Itai Veruv said on Tuesday, the seasoned soldier visibly shaken as troops went door-to-door to collect the bodies of residents killed in their homes.

"It's not a war, it's not a battlefield. It's a massacre," Veruv said. Some victims were decapitated, he added. "I've never seen anything like this, and I've served for 40 years."

An Israeli soldier holds a dog in kibbutz Kfar Azza on Tuesday. (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)
An Israeli soldier holds a dog in kibbutz Kfar Azza on Tuesday. (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

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Similar horrors were seen in Be’eri, a kibbutz of about 1,000 residents located in the northwestern Negev desert along the Gaza strip.

CNN reported that at least 107 bodies were found there Monday.

“Heavily armed militants arrived in Be’eri on motorbikes around 7 a.m., just half an hour after they breached the typically high-tech, tightly guarded border fence between Gaza and Israel,” CNN said, citing surveillance video showing armed militants taking civilians, including women and children, hostage before killing them.

The attack on Be’eri came around the same time as Hamas militants descended upon the nearby Nova music festival, where more than 260 bodies were later found.

Burned out cars in front of a cluster of trees.
Burned out cars are seen at the site of the rave where at least 260 were killed in a surprise attack on Saturday. (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)