NETIV HAASARA, Israel — The nights are the hardest part, says Hila Fenlon. That’s when the horror of October 7 returns.
The 46-year-old farmer, mother, and stepmother guided reporters on the first media visit to this community, where Hamas murdered 20 people in the attack.
The town, whose official population on October 6 was 892 people, sits empty, like the other evacuated communities of the “Gaza envelope.” It is on the northern edge of the Gaza Strip — the closest town in Israel to Gaza — and in the direct line of rocket fire.
Indeed, halfway through our visit, a siren blares “Red Alert,” warning of incoming Hamas rockets and sending dozens of reporters clattering to the ground. We cover our heads with our hands and wait for the booms of the Iron Dome missile defense overhead.
“Somebody was live on Facebook,” a member of the local security team admonishes us.
Live-streaming was strictly forbidden on this visit, lest Hamas terrorists use broadcasts to pinpoint our location, but someone evidently did not understand the directions.
Fenlon fills the media in on the history of Netiv HaAsara, which was founded in 1982 by families who gave up their homes in the Sinai peninsula when Israel traded it back to Egypt for peace. The town’s name, which translates as “The Path of the Ten,” honors ten Israeli soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in 1982.
It is a moshav, an agricultural community, and is ringed with fields and orchards, including citrus groves with fruit heavy on the vine — fruit that may not be harvested due to the outbreak of the war.
On October 7, Fenlon had been preparing to go to work in the fields, where she develops hybrid vegetable varieties. But the sirens started blaring, and a rocket destroyed her car. She and her family took shelter in their home’s “safe room” during the barrage.
Meanwhile, Hamas terrorists on paragliders landed on a hillside near the town’s southern edge and began moving through the streets, killing anything that moved. One elderly couple’s home was incinerated by an RPG with a hyperbaric warhead.
The cars next to the home were also completely burned through — though the neighbor’s house, across the driveway, was intact.
Another home saw one of the most horrific crimes of October 7 — one documented in the notorious 43-minute film that the Israeli military compiled of Hamas atrocities. There, a father was murdered in front of two of his sons, one of whom lost an eye.
Fenlon tells reporters that in the 22 years since rocket attacks became a fact of life for border communities, she still believed that Palestinians were being oppressed by Hamas. No longer: the participation of Palestinian civilians in the terror attack destroyed her faith in her neighbors on the other side of the border.
She still intends to come back to the town she loves, and believes others will, too, when security improves. But first the war — whose explosions are audible in nearby northern Gaza — must be won.
Signs of that war are everywhere around the town, and within it. Soldiers guard reporters’ movements through the streets; there are some roads that we cannot take because they are exposed to Hamas sniper fire. As we leave, we hear machine guns behind us.
When the war is over, Fenlon says, she would like to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government resigned: they are not responsible for the terror attack, but it happened on their watch. Hamas alone is responsible; she wants it defeated first.
In the meantime, she and her family are living in accommodations near Tel Aviv, in the suburb of Ramat Gan. “I hate every minute of it,” she says.
She notes that giving up homes in the Sinai, where she was born, was worth doing, because it was for the cause of peace.
But giving up homes because of a war is a sign of defeat — something Israel can never accept. She is determined not to allow the terrorists to win, and she has vowed to return and rebuild.
“That’s my condition for victory,” she says.
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.