The Iron Lions
Testimonials from the war in israel, Oct 23'
Sophie Barzon Mckay
"They left us to die." Sophie relives the moments of horror in Kibbutz Be’eri
Sophie Barzon-McKay immigrated from England as a child, and has lived in Kibbutz Be’eri for the past 30 years. She is an artist and curator who worked in the kibbutz's gallery, and over that fateful weekend, she was organizing the curation of a new exhibition. When the rockets were fired on Saturday morning, they first thought it was another routine barrage.
"Then we received a message that there was an intrusion alert. The children asked me, 'How can they get to the kibbutz?' and I told them they can’t, as we’re very far from the fence – almost 5 kilometers,” Sophie recounted. "Within ten minutes of that alert, the terrorists were inside the kibbutz," she said in an interview with News 12.
Sophie's husband ran to lock the doors and windows as reports of intrusions started pinging Sophie’s WhatsApp group "Mothers of Be’eri", a group routinely used among many kibbutz members. "Reports continued to arrive and we understood from the messages that when the terrorists failed to break through the sheltered room, they set fire to the houses. My neighbors were begging to be saved."
As the hours passed, the residents of Be’eri realized they were alone. ""I ran outside and collected all the soaked towels and put them into the laundry basket. I kept that basket in the sheltered room, because I thought that if they set our house on fire, I could delay it a little longer, and block the smoke coming from under the door with the wet towels."
Sitting in her sheltered room, Sophie wrote on Facebook: ""Where is the army?""
She recounts, "I didn't understand, I thought maybe they didn't know what was going on."
An hour later she writes again on Facebook: "We’re surrounded by terrorists, houses are on fire. I wish someone would save us." Her family continued to sit and wait. "I followed in horror the desperate calls for help – for hours and hours. People were slaughtered in their homes and no one came. For hours and hours, the terrorists went from house to house and slaughtered everyone who was there,” she later recounted.
Seven hours after the initial intrusion alert, Sophie was still besieged in her sheltered room and followed the WhatsApp group in terror. Sophie's son hugged her and was afraid. He recounts, "There was a stage when the handle of our sheltered room turned, and my mother stood next to the door, holding a knife.”
At that point, Sophie wrote a farewell post. "If something happens to me, I've had a good life," she wrote. "I loved a lot. I had many blessings. I had a beautiful life.” She realized that she wasn't going to survive – and she didn't want to be afraid in the face of death. “I was just waiting for the terrorists to leave. And then – they went. Moved on. I don't know why – why I'm here and someone else isn't."
After 10 hours of hiding in their sheltered room, they ran out of water and food. Suddenly, they heard voices in Hebrew. Sophie recounts, “At six in the evening the army knocked on our door. Ten soldiers stood in our living room. I fell into their arms. I cried that they would rescue us from here, that they would take my children.”
“But then mortars began to land on the kibbutz,” she continued. “We went to our neighbors' sheltered room, and the soldiers left to fight the terrorists. They said they would come back in a few minutes, but five hours passed.” Sophie waited there with another family – a total of eight people with babies, hiding inside a small sheltered room.
"We were suffocated by the heat. As the sheltered room was sealed, there was no air, no oxygen to breathe. We were afraid that the babies would cry and the terrorists would find us."
It wasn't until 2:00 in the morning, after being surrounded by terrorists for 20 hours, that Sophie and her family were rescued from the house. " We were evacuated by foot, and the fighting continued around us. The soldiers asked the children to close their eyes because there were dead bodies near the house as we left. As I left the house, I couldn’t comprehend where I was: a pile of bodies on the grass, all blood. The kibbutz was on fire, everything was smoke. I held my little girl and the children behind me, so we were surrounded by soldiers."
A few days later, Sophie and her family were hosted in the artists’ village of Ein Hod. Friends have brought food and clothing, but her frustration with the state authorities is evident. "No one talks to us! People need medicine, so we look after one other. Where are the health insurance funds? Not a thing. Where is everyone who called us traitors? Are we traitors? They are traitors. The people I pay their salary to and they left us to die. They are traitors, they betrayed the country. The blood of all the murdered, the kidnapped babies, on their hands. I'm not a traitor because I voted left. Are the children killed there the children of traitors?"
In Be’eri this week, 112 bodies were already exhumed. A massacre took place that nobody can comprehend, while the kibbutz was completely destroyed. "We will rise from this, we will restore our homes and communities" Sophie maintains. Yet her son doesn't want to return to Kibbutz Be’eri. “Where does he think he's going to live?" Sophie asks. “We will hang the Israeli flag there and stay there. Someone can't be there anymore – it’s either us or them. We can't be neighbors anymore.”