Gaza Envelope Memorial: Places You Must Visit

By Sarah Mann | Published on 4/20/2024
In the last seven months, international news has been dominated by one topic - the Israel-Gaza War. Whilst this region is no stranger to conflict, this particular war has much greater significance for the Middle East than usual because of the sheer scale of the events that led up to it.
Today we’re taking a look at the area in which the conflict began, the Gaza Envelope, and what places in this area are still possible to visit.

What is the Gaza Envelope?

The Gaza Envelope (in Hebrew ‘Otef Aza’) is a region that incorporates all of the communities in the South of Israel which lie within 7 km of the Gaza Strip. Together, there are about 50 communities in the Envelope, with a population of around 70,000 people.

These include a number of kibbutzim, moshavim and the town of Sderot. All are in such easy reach of the Gaza Strip border that they have been subject to barrages of Qassam rockets and mortar shells fired by Hamas over the border on a regular basis since 2008.

Gaza Envelope, from the 805th Battalion Memorial Observatory (Image source: Blue-green69 CC BY 3.0)

What happened in the Gaza Envelope on October 7th, 2023?

In the early hours of 7th October 2023, which was both the Jewish sabbath and a religious holiday, Hamas (who ruled the Gaza Strip) launched an enormous attack on Israel. As well as barrages of rockets being launched toward the major cities in Israel, several thousand terrorists infiltrated the border by land, sea and air.

Fanning out around the Strip, they went from community to community, murdering those they encountered (the vast majority civilians) and burning homes to the ground.
By the end of the day, approximately 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were dead, including 350 young people who had been attending a nearby Peace Festival. As well as this, 240 individuals had been kidnapped and taken back to the Gaza Strip to be held as hostages.

It was the worst terror attack on Israeli soil since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the scale of it was quite unprecedented.

What are some of the places I should visit whilst in the Gaza Envelope?

Within hours of the attack, residents of the Gaza Envelope were evacuated and the majority of them remain displaced around Israel. Whilst it is unclear when they can return, it is now possible to visit some of the sites in the area that were most heavily impacted. (Of course, this is very much dependent on the current political situation, since the Envelope is currently under the control of Israel’s military).

Places that are recommended to visit include:

1. Netiv Ha’asara

This moshav (a semi-collective agricultural community) sits just 100 meters from the border and from this point, you can see the Israel-Gaza fence (named the ‘Iron Wall’). It is also home to the ‘Path of Peace’ which is a mosaic on the wall itself, created before the massacre, symbolizing peace, hope and tolerance.

kibbutz Netiv HaAsara

Observation deck overlooking the Gaza Strip from the side of kibbutz Netiv HaAsara

2. Erez Crossing

This is the most northern of the crossing points between Israel and Gaza and the only border through which both people and goods can pass into Israel. Managed by the IDF, on October 7th many terrorists breached this crossing and then made their way into Israel.

Erez Crossing

Erez Crossing

3. Sderot

Sderot is the largest community in the Envelope, with a population of 33,000. It came under heavy attack on October 7th, with terrorists driving through the streets in pick-up trucks, firing weapons indiscriminately and gunning down a group of senior citizens en route to the Dead Sea on a day trip. Around 15 people were murdered whilst trying to hide in a shelter and others in their homes.

The police station at Sderot also came under attack, with terrorists overpowering officers and barricading themselves inside. Thirty civilians and officers were killed and the subsequent battle there lasted almost 24 hours, with the situation culminating in the Israeli army bullzoning the building and shooting dead around the terrorists inside.

Sderot Resilience Center (Image source: Nizzan Cohen CC BY 4.0)

4. Kibbutz Nahal Oz and nearby Nahal Oz Military Base

Founded in 1951, and with a population of 471, Kibbutz Nahal Oz is situated just 4.4 km from the border with Gaza. Early on October 7th, gunmen carrying out surprise attacks all over the Envelope infiltrated the kibbutz, breaking into residents’ homes, kidnapping some and murdering others.

At the same time, the nearby Nahal Oz military base came under sustained attack, killing many soldiers both guarding the entrance and inside the base itself. The gunmen used not just Kalashnikovs but toxic flammable substances which led soldiers to suffocate to death. Furthermore, all of the surveillance buildings and the computer equipment at the base were destroyed early on in the attack.

The Dining room of Kibbutz Nahal Oz

5. Kibbutz Be’eri

Kibbutz Be’eri sits 5 km east of the Gaza border and was one of the hardest-hit communities on October 7th. Founded in 1946, and home to around 1,300 people, militants stormed it early on the Saturday morning and left a trail of devastation behind them that was simply unimaginable.

More than 120 residents were murdered, including children, and a number of hostages were also taken. Homes were set on fire and some residents, who were not shot, choked to death in the smoke. Today, around 120 out of 350 homes are due to be demolished and rebuilt, with many more structures needing enormous renovation due to the damage done that day.

6. Kibbutz Kfar Aza

Kibbutz Kfar Aza sits 1.3 km from the Israel-Gaza border, between Netivot and Sderot. It was one of the first communities Hamas reached on 7th October. Many kibbutz members were shot dead and their bodies subsequently mutilated.

Others suffered the ordeal of being burned alive, Molotov cocktails thrown into their homes. Others, it now seems, were tortured and raped. Of around 750 kibbutz members of Kfar Aza, 62 were murdered and 18 were kidnapped and taken hostage in the Gaza Strip.

United States Senator Lindsey Graham visits Kibbutz Kfar Aza (Image source: U.S. Embassy Jerusalem CC BY 2.0)

7. Re’im Forest - Site of the Nova Festival Massacre

Re’im Forest was the site of the Nova Festival - an outdoor music festival, which began on the night of 6th October and was due to last into the late morning of next day. About five kms east of the border with Gaza, about 3,500 people (mainly young) were there to celebrate peace and love.

Hamas gunmen began attacking the site just after 7 am and in the course of a few hours 364 people were murdered in this normally serene and tranquil spot. Today, there is a memorial you can visit, established by families of the dead, where you can see pictures of those killed and lay flowers. In January 2024 the Jewish National Fund planted a forest of 364 pine trees close by. 

Nova memorial site

8. Ofakim

Ofakim is the community in the Envelope furthest from the Gaza border - approximately 26 km from the fence. With a population of around 30,000, it was the bravery of a number of residents - who went into the streets with their weapons to fight Hamas - that saved many others from a horrible fate.

In January 2024, the “Path of Heroines' was inaugurated, commemorating the bravery of these locals, many women, who - with no thought for their own lives - defended Ofakim so tenaciously.

How Can I Visit the Gaza Envelope?

Whilst it might be possible to travel to this area independently, it’s not recommended, particularly if you don’t have a good command of Hebrew and are not familiar with the political situation in Israel.

The best way to visit the Gaza Envelope is with a private tour. Not only will your transport be organized, with a licensed Ministry of Tourism guide leading the group, but, in all likelihood you’ll have the opportunity to meet residents of the area who have returned, so you can hear their stories firsthand.

For more information about the Gaza Strip Envelope Private Tour that we offer, feel free to contact us at Bein Harim by phone or email - we’re here to help!