Nir Oz Survivors Recall Palestinian Civilians Joining the Looting in Terror Attack

Eyal Barad describes watching his neighbor being kidnapped at Kibbutz Nir Oz in the Octobe
Joel Pollak / Breitbart News

EILAT, Israel — On the shores of the Red Sea, the survivors of the Hamas massacre at Kibbutz Nir Oz have lived in a local hotel for the last several weeks as they try to process what happened to them, to find out about kidnapped friends and relatives, and to rebuild their lives.

No one is sure that they can.

Of the small community of about 400 people, about 40 were murdered and 79 were kidnapped, including foreign workers. Nir Oz alone accounts for one-third of all the hostages in Gaza, including one half of the children. The Hamas terror attack of October 7 turned Nir Oz, renowned for its botanical garden, from a rural paradise into a nightmare. The kibbutz was almost entirely destroyed.

The stories are harrowing.

Eyal Barad, a husband and father of three, took his family into the “safe room” — built for rocket attacks — and held his hands over his autistic six-year-old daughter’s mouth to prevent her from making a noise as terrorists passed by the house.

He watched the entire attack — for twelve hours — on his phone, through an app that monitored a camera mounted on the house. He saw gunmen drive through the community; he saw Palestinian civilians, including a woman and several children, join the looting.

A still photo from Eyal Barad’s home camera shows a female Palestinian civilian joining the looters during the October 7 terror attack on Kibbutz Nir Oz, Israel. (Joel Pollak / Breitbart New)

Barad also watched a female neighbor across the street being dragged through a window at gunpoint. covered with a sheet, and kidnapped — taken away to Gaza on the back of a motorcycle.

Natalie Yohanan, an English teacher, spoke about the harrowing experience of hiding in her family’s safe room with her husband and children while looters — including a woman — not only stole everything in their home, but made food and watched Netflix.

These were Palestinian civilians, people that the residents of Nir Oz once believed were, in some basic sense, the same as them.

Irit Lahav, who grew up on the kibbutz and returned four years ago after living and working abroad, told reporters that 80 to 100 Hamas terrorists attacked the community, and were followed shortly thereafter by Palestinian civilians, who joined the carnage.

She survived for twelve hours in her home’s safe room with her 22-year-old daughter and her dog, who remained — somehow — quiet as terrorists tried five times to pry the door open. Only a makeshift device, using a rowing oar and a vaccum cleaner, held it shut.

Asked whether it was Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad who had carried out the attack, Lahav replied that she no longer made any distinctions: “For me, it was the whole Palestinian community doing this — looting, killing, torturing, deliberately.”

That was once an unlikely sentiment for Lahav, who used to volunteer to drive Palestinian dialysis patients from Gaza to Israeli hospitals. She used to believe that most Palestinians were good, and Hamas was a small minority. Now she feels victimized by all of them.

“My mother used to tell me: I’m more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves.” She believed that when Israel pulled all of its soldiers and civilians out of Gaza, there might be peace. She was shocked when Palestinians responded with constant rocket fire.

These and other recollections were shared with a small group of international reporters brought on the first airborne mission to the survivors of Nir Oz by Israel-Is, a non-governmental organization that connects young Israelis to young people worldwide.

Eran Smilansky, a member of the Kibbutz Nir Oz security team, recalls desperate gun battles against terrorists who invaded the community in the October 7 attack. Eilat, Israel, November 13, 2023. (Joel Pollak / Breitbart News)

Eilat, normally a quiet seaside resort town, has doubled in size since the October 7 attack, adding 60,000 evacuees from border towns.

IsraAID, an Israeli humanitarian organization that has organized relief efforts in other countries for more than 20 years, was deployed in Israel itself for the first time.

CEO Yotam Politser, who has worked in Afghanistan and Iraq, told reporters that the kind of trauma experienced by the survivors of October 7 was much like that of survivors of atrocities committed elsewhere by the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS / Daesh), like the Yazidis. The mental health effects, he said, would be the toughest challenge.

Roughly 250,000 Israelis have been internally displaced since October 7, a number often forgotten amid worldwide concern for Palestinian civilians. In Eilat, all of them are living in hotels, though they will be transferred within a few months to temporary housing in the agricultural hub of Kiryat Gat, then for two years to temporary caravans near other kibbutz communities. They can only return home — if they want to — in three years, when there has been time to rebuild the kibbutz.

IsraAID showed reporters a new “field school” it is building on a campground for the hundreds of children who have struggled to learn properly in the hotels. They will move to outdoor tents, with air conditioning, to continue their studies.

IsraAID field school, Eilat, Israel, November 13, 2023. (Joel Pollak / Breitbart News)

IsraAID is also providing therapeutic spaces as part of the field school, including art spaces and play spaces.

Art therapist Debra Kalmanowitz works with the child survivors of Nir Oz at the Isrotel Red Sea, Eilat, Israel. November 13, 2023. (Joel Pollak / Breitbart News)

The one consolation for the child survivors is that many of them were already used to studying together in regional schools; they are with their friends — those that survived.

Kindergarten tent at Isrotel Red Sea, Eilat, Israel, November 13, 2023 (Joel Pollak / Breitbart News)

Donations have poured in from around the country. They are essential: many of the survivors of Nir Oz were evacuated with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. A lucky few were given five minutes to salvage what they could from their homes.

Some did not want to take anything with them: after the looting, Yohanan recalled, her whole house felt contaminated to her.

At the Isrotel, a large room has been set aside for clothes — both to collect and sort donations, and as a self-service laundry.

Clothing donations to the displaced residents of Nir Oz, stacked at the Isrotel Red Sea, November 13, 2023. (Joel Pollak / Breitbart News)

Lahav told reporters that the location of the hotel is ideal: it is across the street from a popular snorkeling beach. The proximity of the Red Sea, with its warm waters and spectacular mountains, helps the survivors of Nir Oz escape the war and its memories.

That escape is not complete, however. Just last week, a drone launched from Syria struck a school in Eilat. And Patriot missile defense batteries sit north of the city, waiting to knock out missiles fired at Eilat by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in distant Yemen.

A Patriot missile defense battery north of Eilat, Israel, November 13, 2023 (Joel Pollak / Breitbart News)

Nir Oz tried to fight back when the Hamas terrorists attacked, but the small security force was outnumbered and outgunned.

Eran Smilansky, a member of the kibbutz security force who survived the battle, said that he felt “stabbed in the back” by the army and by the government.

He also felt “stabbed” by the Palestinians. He had worked alongside Palestinian workers in the fields and in the kibbutz itself. “Now we know that all the intelligence came to Gaza from those people,” he said.

He added that he could not say the Palestinians he himself had worked with had been part of the attack, but now he no longer felt like distinguishing between the terror groups and the rest. “I kind of hate them.”

He said that, in retrospect, it had been a “big mistake” to allow sporadic fighting between Israel and the Hamas terrorists for twenty years. “I understand why they hate us, the same way we hate them.”

“You ask me what I think about the Palestinian children,” he said, answering a reporter’s question. “Now it’s too late. We have to be so aggressive to get things to a secure place.” If Israel left Hamas in place, the violence would resume.

Barad says it was a miracle that he survived. Renana Gome Yaakov, too, survived, but every moment since has been torment: both of her sons, Yagel and Or, were kidnapped. Yagel was abused further by being forced to appear in an Islamic Jihad propaganda video.

Lahav returned once to live on the kibbutz. She says she does not know if young families will return again.

How could they, she asks, after children were kidnapped and killed there?

As for children in Gaza, it is too soon to ask: “Don’t talk to me about moral conduct,” she says, after what Palestinians did to her community.

All she will say is that she is proud of the Israeli military for trying not to hurt Palestinian civilians — even though some of those civilians supported, and participated in, her own horror.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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