Survivors of kibbutz attack turn their ire on Netanyahu – POLITICO

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Tomer Eliaz, a 17-year-old boy in the kibbutz of Nahal Oz, was forced to go door-to-door by Hamas and tell neighbors to come out, saying he would be killed if they didn’t.

Several opened up and were murdered, while others were hauled off as hostages to Gaza — with several children cooped up in chicken pens. After using the teenage boy as bait, the Islamist militants shot him dead too.

Just 800 meters from the Gaza border, Nahal Oz was one of the first Hamas targets on October 7, and the events of that morning are now painfully seared into the minds of residents Elad Poterman and Addi Cherry.

Now both in Belgium, they vented their frustration over what they saw as abandonment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s divisive right-wing government, whose hostile policy toward Palestinians is accused of undermining Israel’s security.

“He [Netanyahu] needs to say: ‘I’m sorry, I failed you. It’s because of me and my pride, you were almost murdered,’” said Cherry, a 45-year-old Belgian-Israeli health economist.

Poterman and Cherry described how they shut themselves in safe rooms on the morning of the attack, and hunkered down for 12 hours, waiting for the Israel Defense Force to come to their rescue. Over those excruciating hours, rockets flew overhead and Hamas raided homes across the kibbutz shouting “Allahu Akbar” [God is greatest] and “Massacre the Jews.”

Poterman, who until last week worked as an after-school teacher, sent what he believed would be his last Facebook post from the safe room: “Half an hour, we are locked up with terrorists at home, no one comes.”

The 40-year-old said he sent the message as he stood next to the safe room door holding an ax, while his wife Maria held their seven-month-old baby girl in one hand and a knife in the other. Neither of them expected to survive, but a latch installed on the inside of the door by a previous tenant prevented the terrorists from bursting in.

In a separate safe room, Cherry, her husband Oren and their three children barricaded the door as best they could with a cupboard and chair.

The reasons for such a spectacular security lapse in a nation that prides itself on its intelligence apparatus is still unclear and a huge embarrassment for Netanyahu’s administration.

The surviving residents were put onto a bus and taken to an army base in the south of the country, from where they would be relocated. But Cherry had already decided she would leave the country. Four days later she and her family were on board an El Al flight for Paris, from where they were picked up by her brother and driven to Belgium. Poterman’s family arrived the next day.

That’s Netanyahu’s work

The two families want to rebuild their lives but returning to Nahal Oz — which Poterman described as a “big garden” — is now impossible, they argued. Many of the buildings and fields around the village were burned and both Poterman and Cherry said that they had lost faith in the current government’s ability to protect them.

Some Israelis living abroad want to hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say “I’m sorry, I failed you” | Jacquelyn Martin/AFP via Getty Images

On Wednesday, Poterman and Cherry along with other survivors spoke at the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with Israel on the atrocities they experienced.

“I have a personal account with this [Israeli] government,” Poterman said. “They abandoned my daughter to die. That doesn’t go away. I’ll never forget.”

“With the Netanyahu government, I will take them out of the Knesset [parliament] myself, with my own hands, I will do that. I already started organizing a whole lot of people from the area that have been abandoned and want to do just that very thing,” he added.

Similarly, Cherry said she isn’t able to sleep, worrying about what could have happened to her family.

She still hasn’t told her son that half of his classmates won’t be coming back to school since they were killed. “A week ago I started my PhD in economics, I was picturing myself standing on a podium receiving a PhD, now I cannot imagine a week ahead,” she said. “We had everything and now we have nothing.”

“I think it will take some time to heal because I don’t trust the government. I don’t trust them,” she said.

Poterman highlighted the antagonism of Netanyahu toward Palestinians — the prime minister is allied with far-right parties and his national security minister has convictions for anti-Arab racism. Two days before the attack, Poterman complained a man from the Religious Zionist Party, HaTzionut HaDatit, constructed a hut in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The move was a PR stunt to “fool the people of Israel” that “we are the landlords and we can do whatever we want,” he said.

As the conflict escalates and threatens to involve other countries in the Middle East, Poterman called for a “national sobering” and for both Israelis and Palestinians to rise above lies told to them by their politicians. “We’re on the brink of civil war and that’s Netanyahu’s work. The problem is that big parts of the population have been willing to repeat lies, told by politicians for years.”

“What holds these kinds of regimes is the willingness of the people to lie,” he said. “The moment they are unwilling to lie and the word comes out that the king is actually nude, it topples very quickly.” 

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