Ofakim: return to normality after the death of 53 residents at the hands of Hamas | International

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“Fuck you, Palestine.” The graffiti appears on several walls in the Mishor Hagefen neighborhood of Ofakim 22 days after Hamas caused the death of 53 residents in this town of about 30,000 inhabitants. Hatred and indignation remain concentrated and activity in the streets is perceived at half speed despite the fact that the Israeli Government, unlike other places attacked, has not ordered their evacuation. “We need more weapons, more security,” complains Nadav Wakni, 22, an employee at a Mexican fast food restaurant who claims he narrowly escaped the shooting. His request is supported with the assent of several of his neighbors. A few meters from where the young man shows the impacts of those bullets from which he escaped, on the wall of a house, a small altar has been raised with candles, a police cap, a stuffed animal and a canvas with a photo . It is that of agent Ronnie Abohern, one of those who gave his life in defense of the city.

In the sky, the planes that incessantly bomb neighboring Gaza fly over and are constantly visible, whose detonations at times become Ofakim's soundtrack. The town, in southern Israel, stands 25 kilometers in a straight line from the Palestinian enclave, where more than 8,000 people have already died in retaliation for the Hamas attack. Ofakim is the furthest point in the Strip from the thirty places where fundamentalists managed to hit on October 7, with a death toll of 1,400, according to Israeli authorities.

These days, the city is slowly waking up from the nightmare, because for many what happened that day continues to seem like “a movie,” as Patricia Caro, a 66-year-old Argentine who arrived in Israel 33 years ago, says, who returned to her home a few days ago. job in an electronic components factory. “At first we didn't know if they were kids playing in the street, until we realized they were terrorists,” Caro recalls.

The young Nadav Wakni refers to the years he lived in Los Angeles. “If this were the United States, we would have all kinds of weapons,” he says. He lives in a three-story block whose walls are spray-painted in favor of Israel and against “terrorists.” The house directly opposite is that of the couple formed by Rachel and David Edry. Dozens of gunshots account for the battle that was fought in the house, where five Hamas members barricaded themselves inside with the couple for 15 hours. The place is a coming and going of neighbors, who observe, stop, talk... Something like a place of pilgrimage.

Ofakim house where five Hamas attackers stayed for 15 hours along with the owner couple, Rachel and David Edry. Luis de Vega

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Considered a national hero, Rachel managed to entertain the militiamen with cookies, conversation and songs and stay alive until several police officers and armed civilians came to rescue them. Miraculously, the five attackers were killed and the couple rescued alive. One of those who died in that operation is the aforementioned agent, Ronnie Abohern. This Sunday, several people take out furniture, all kinds of belongings, the television... they even tear off the window frames in an attempt to erase that unfortunate day from the house.

The streets of that Mishor Hagefen neighborhood, a sanctuary of the horror experienced, are dotted with more canvases with the faces of the fallen. Also obituaries and traces of blood on the door of the shelters where the attackers finished off some of the neighbors who were trying to get to safety. Liran Pérez, a 38-year-old engineer by profession, is one of the more than 300,000 reservists recaptured after October 7. He is deployed in Ofakim along with other soldiers. The son of Moroccan immigrants who “arrived in the 60s to the promised land to make a new life for themselves,” Pérez understands that in the city “there will not be normal life for months.” “These neighbors across the street left us the keys before leaving in case we needed to go into the house to take a shower,” he says, surrounded by some of his colleagues.

Indeed, the rhythm of life is recovering in fits and starts, with businesses, companies and factories of essential products reopening little by little. Public transport is also seen circulating, but the educational system remains frozen, although activities are organized for children, explains a municipal spokesperson. This is not the case in Sderot, the city that stands just a kilometer from Gaza and that has been evacuated, or in the kibbutzim (agricultural cooperatives) that surround the Strip, which were severely hit and are today a closed military zone from where the army has undertaken the land invasion. These agricultural communities, where destruction reigns and the trail of death is still present, cannot even bury their dead neighbors. At the moment, for security reasons, they do so provisionally in cemeteries far from the Palestinian enclave.

Anti-Palestinian graffiti in a neighborhood of Ofakim, where 53 residents died in the Hamas attack on October 7.
Anti-Palestinian graffiti in a neighborhood of Ofakim, where 53 residents died in the Hamas attack on October 7. Luis de Vega

As a curative therapy, the Ofakim City Council offers residents the possibility of staying a week in a hotel far from their homes. Some 10,000 people have already taken advantage of this program, according to municipal sources. Rachel Marciano, 85 years old and mother of 10 children born between her native Morocco and Israel, is one of those who is clear that she is not going anywhere, although she lives alone. This woman, who arrived in Israel in 1963 from Tetouan with her husband “when there was nothing in Ofakim,” moves slowly down the street leaning on her walker as the planes pass by. The shocks that come from the attacks in Gaza no longer overwhelm her after three weeks. “I'm not scared, although sometimes they get to your heart,” she says, letting her hand slide down her chest.

His eyes fill with tears as he remembers October 7, when he did not leave his house, located about 300 meters from where the militiamen killed dozens of neighbors. “They killed a lot of people. Some children were cut into pieces. Oh, what a shame,” he laments in perfect Spanish and bringing out his Andalusian accent inherited from the years of the protectorate in the north of the Alawite kingdom. "The Moors are in "bad guys," he concludes to refer to the Hamas attackers.

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