Steinmeier in Kibbutz Beri: "I was speechless too"

German President Steinmeier in Israel/ Photo: EPA-EFE/RONEN ZVULUN / POOL

During the second day of his visit to Israel, German President Steinmeier was in the destroyed Kibbutz Beri near the Gaza Strip. That kibbutz was founded by German Jews after World War II.

The convoy of the German president stops in front of the entrance to the kibbutz in the south of Israel. Get out and put on bulletproof vests, the instructions of the Israeli soldiers read. And seven weeks after the brutal attack by terrorist Hamas on several places in Israel, including Kibbutz Beri, there is a state of alert and the army is present everywhere. Recently, journalists were there to report on an abandoned kibbutz that has existed since 1946. Now two presidents are coming.

A visit to the place of horror

Frank-Walter Steinmeier is the first foreign head of state to be at the site of the October 7 massacre. Before that, more than 1.000 people lived there. Today the kibbutz is empty. That Saturday (October 7), Hamas terrorists stormed the compound, killing one in ten residents and kidnapping around 50 people. There is no house that is not marked by destruction, murder, torture and fire. The scale of the carnage is felt at every front door, in every room.

"We had an idea of ​​the brutality with which Hamas acted, but being here is something completely different," says Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "Here, where women were raped, people burned in shelters, children beheaded, some kidnapped - I have to admit that, after everything we heard, I was speechless too."

The German guest tours some of the houses and listens to the stories of the murdered residents. About a retired couple who were massacred in their house with a small garden, where today charred fruit trees bear witness to the horror of that Saturday. The same applies to 74-year-old Vivienne Silver, who moved to the kibbutz from Canada many years ago and whom an Israeli soldier told the German delegation on the spot that she was a "real peacemaker." Several times a week she drove to the border to pick up Palestinian children with cancer, who she then took to Israel for treatment. By October 7, thousands of children were being treated at the Augusta-Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Let's not forget the people of Gaza

That's where the German president goes after visiting Kibbutz Berry - the children's oncology department of the hospital with a long tradition of providing medical aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Since October 7, the reception of patients from Gaza has been stopped here. Steinmeier pledges a million euros from Germany to support patient care at the hospital. Germany is ready to help evacuate sick people and children, he says.

During his trip to Israel, Steinmeier repeatedly emphasized that in order to find a lasting solution, two principles should not be forgotten: "More security for Israel and, at the same time, a greater perspective for the future for the Palestinians." In other words: Germany is in favor of a two-state solution. Germany does not show solidarity "only with Israel, which is a victim of terror, but also with that Israel which defends itself", explains Steinmeier.

The German president in the Berry kibbutz also promises Germany's help for reconstruction. The Bundestag will provide seven million euros in initial funding for the destroyed cultural center in Berry. The presidents of Germany and Israel take over the reconstruction project.

"One day we will come home"

When after the tour Steinmeier, with his Israeli colleague Yitzhak Herzog and their two wives, stops to give a short statement to the journalists, everyone notices that the pictures and the statements of the eyewitnesses left a strong impression. Silently and with frozen faces, they arrive at a place that until recently was the cultural center of the kibbutz. Today there are only ruins and ashes here. Except for the metal structure, everything is destroyed.

Sophie Berzon Mackey, director of the burnt gallery, is standing next to the president. The place, with its works on openness and diversity of cultures, was known throughout Israel, a kind of cultural center that reflected the spirit of the kibbutz. Sophie Barzon McKee, with her three children and husband, survived the massacre at the shelter. Pure luck, she says:

"Many here were prepared for rocket attacks." Most of the houses had bunkers. "But no one was prepared for the fact that on a peaceful day, Palestinian terrorists would come here and brutally kill people in their homes," she says.

Like most residents of Kibbutz Beri, Sophie Berzon McKee and her family have been living elsewhere since the massacre. For the first few months they have accommodation in a place by the Dead Sea. Then, they should temporarily move to another kibbutz. "Until we feel safe here, we will stay somewhere else." But most want to return, they want their lives and our country again," says the 37-year-old director of the destroyed gallery. Most members of the kibbutz community say they hope to be able to call Beri home again in three years.

Source: Deutsche Welle/ Author: Rosalia Romaniec

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