Monday, January 08, 2024

"97% Heaven:" A visit to Nir Oz (Forest Rain, photo-essay)

By Forest Rain

97% heaven

Beautiful rolling plains, clear blue sky, and low unobtrusive houses. Spots of greenery, a step away from the desert. Just enough civilization to not feel lonely with open spaces that give the feeling of air. Freedom.

Who wouldn’t imagine they had reached heaven?

Residents of “Otef” Gaza, the Israeli communities near the border with Gaza will tell you they have defined the region they call home as “97% heaven, 3% hell.” 

The hell they were referring to was that of missiles suddenly raining down on them, with 15 seconds (if any) warning to get to a shelter. The hell of periodic rounds of military engagement with Gaza, the demonstrations on the borders where Gazans burned tires polluting their air and making it hard to breathe. The hell of fire balloons from Gaza, setting their fields on fire, burning the crops, and ruining their livelihood for the season. And after every session of hell, the residents of these communities pulled themselves together, rebuilt, and replanted, recreating their heaven.

Never in their wildest dreams did they picture the hell of October 7th.

Nir Oz is one of these communities. (see more about the location and what happened in the kibbutz at:

Of all the communities, we wanted to see Nir Oz because, at the beginning of the war, our son, an elite combat soldier was there with his unit. In the Kibbutz, among other things, they were tasked with finding survivors and protecting them from terrorists remaining in the area.

They were there after the massacre after the hostages had already been taken to Gaza (among them, the Bibas family). It was days before the IDF was certain they had cleared the Otef of Hamas terrorists.

Having seen via the media, images of devastation and the stream of bodies being carried out of nearby Be’eri, I was worried about what he would experience at Nir Oz. Later he told us that although the same things were happening in Nir Oz, he was focused on the living people. Others were left to deal with the dead and the devastation. He was focused on the survivors. People who had just had their world shattered – family members murdered in front of them, others taken hostage, their homes burned.

What would we see in Nir Oz?

We’ve seen the images from various kibbutzim of burned homes, holes in the walls from bullets and grenades, homes turned upside down. What would it be like to walk through one of these communities, emptied of its residents? The only people there are soldiers, other rescue and rehabilitation professionals planning next steps, and those coming with groups to bear witness and teach about the crimes against humanity committed by Hamas. 

The first thing that struck me was the beauty of Nir Oz. 97% heaven. This was the place where kids played outside unattended, and no one locked their doors.


Sleek, healthy cats came rubbing on my ankles to say hello, used to friendly people. Perhaps they miss their people?

As we walked closer to the homes, I was hit by the horrific contrast between the beauty and the destruction, life and death, heaven and hell.

The frame of a Sukkah still standing, a seesaw for kids to play with, a professional BBQ grill and oven… signs of happy family life, amid destruction.

 Homes burnt out. Nothing left.

And then, I began to notice the spray-painted instructions on the buildings. The buildings were checked over and over – for bodies that needed to be removed, for remaining terrorists hiding inside, for booby-traps terrorists might have left behind (in some cases they booby-trapped corpses, knowing that rescue workers would come to get them, hoping their explosives would injure more Jews). Structural engineers also checked the buildings to see if they were structurally sound or not. Coded instructions spray painted on the buildings – which unit checked and what they found. I am not familiar with most of the codes but I do understand the words “sound” or “unsound” and the dates written.

The massacre occurred on 7.10 (October 7th). I was shocked to see buildings marked with dates that ranged from the beginning of the month towards the end of the month 22.10 and even 25.10. It took that long to complete all the necessary checks. That’s the extent of the devastation. So much to recover. So much to check.

What we saw told stories of things that happened to people who were not there. What elderly person was taken from this shelter? Were they killed or taken hostage?


Towards the end of our visit, we stood with soldiers in the vantage point towards Gaza. We could see the fence of the Kibbutz and the spot where the terrorists rounded up Jews and selected who to take back to Gaza and who to kill and not take.

Gaza is so close… From our vantage point, we could see the battle taking place in Chan-Younis. It is surreal to be in a quiet, peaceful place and watch the clouds created from explosions and armed cars maneuvering in the Gazan city and hear the gunfire of our soldiers battling Hamas. 


Heaven and hell. The people of Nir Oz lived in their little patch of paradise, with monsters just a short walk away.

I left the Kibbutz with an unexpected image. Among many other artistic things people had in their gardens someone, had a sign taken from the Disengagement, when in 2005 Israel pulled out of Gaza, forcibly removing the Jewish population that lived there, mainly in Gush Katif.   

Is this sign pointing to the past or perhaps a prophecy of what the future holds?

Buy the EoZ book, PROTOCOLS: Exposing Modern Antisemitism  today at Amazon!

Or order from your favorite bookseller, using ISBN 9798985708424. 

Read all about it here!