¹ Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her. ² The Gazites were told, “Samson has come here.” And they surrounded the place and set an ambush for him all night at the gate of the city. … ³ But…at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron. Judges 16
The term “gates of Gaza” has a more contemporary application. The Nahal program was set up in 1948 by Ben-Gurion as a way of combining military service with the founding of settlements and the associated farming. All told, 108 kibbutzim and other agricultural settlements were established. Many of these militarised settlements were set up on Israel’s borders, and served as the first line of defence. Nahal Oz was the first Nahal settlement. I’ll let Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, take up the story.
Nahal Oz became a kibbutz in 1953, and was frequently in conflict with Arabs who crossed the nearby armistice line from Gaza… The previous few months had been relatively quiet…but escalated with several cross-border shootings… On April 4, three Israeli soldiers were killed by Egyptian forces on the Gaza border. Israel responded the next day by shelling the center of Gaza City, killing 58 Egyptian and Palestinian civilians, as well as 4 Egyptian soldiers. Egypt responded by resuming fedayeen attacks across the border, killing 14 Israelis during the period between 11–17 April.
On 29 April 1956 [Roi Rothberg] was caught in a prepared ambush; Arab harvest workers began to reap wheat in the kibbutz’s fields. Rothberg saw them and rode toward them to chase them off. As he approached, others emerged from hiding to attack.
Rothberg was killed, and his death struck a chord in Israel. The Chief of Staff of the IDF came to Nahal Oz for his funeral. This was none other than Moshe Dayan, who was Defence Minister during both the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The eulogy that Dayan read became famous.
Early yesterday morning Roi was murdered. The quiet of the spring morning dazzled him and he did not see those waiting in ambush for him, at the edge of the furrow.
Let us not cast the blame on the murderers today. Why should we declare their burning hatred for us? For eight years they have been sitting in the refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we have been transforming the lands and the villages, where they and their fathers dwelt, into our estate.
It is not among the Arabs in Gaza, but in our own midst that we must seek Roi’s blood. How did we shut our eyes and refuse to look squarely at our fate, and see, in all its brutality, the destiny of our generation? Have we forgotten that this group of young people dwelling at Nahal Oz is bearing the heavy gates of Gaza on its shoulders?
Beyond the furrow of the border, a sea of hatred and desire for revenge is swelling, awaiting the day when serenity will dull our path, for the day when we will heed the ambassadors of malevolent hypocrisy who call upon us to lay down our arms.
Roi’s blood is crying out to us and only to us from his torn body. Although we have sworn a thousandfold that our blood shall not flow in vain, yesterday again we were tempted, we listened, we believed.
We will make our reckoning with ourselves today; we are a generation that settles the land and without the steel helmet and the canon’s maw, we will not be able to plant a tree and build a home. Let us not be deterred from seeing the loathing that is inflaming and filling the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who live around us. Let us not avert our eyes lest our arms weaken.
This is the fate of our generation. This is our life’s choice – to be prepared and armed, strong and determined, lest the sword be stricken from our fist and our lives cut down.
The young Roi who left Tel Aviv to build his home at the gates of Gaza to be a wall for us was blinded by the light in his heart and he did not see the flash of the sword. The yearning for peace deafened his ears and he did not hear the voice of murder waiting in ambush. The gates of Gaza weighed too heavily on his shoulders and overcame him.
Nahal Oz was, literally, one of the gates of Gaza. It was a link in the chain of kibbutzim and military bases that locked the Palestinians inside the Gaza Strip, as Dayan’s eulogy makes clear. Dayan is also quite clear about both the genesis of the hatred, and the need never to forget that genesis. It was a message taken to heart by many Israelis at the time and subsequently. It would not be surprising if it assumed renewed importance in the aftermath of October 7th.
Nahal Oz is no longer a militarised settlement. Privatisation (presumably away from the communal ownership that characterised the original kibbutz movement) began in 1997. It is approached by a more or less east-west road that runs from Sa’ad to the east, north of the town to the Gaza border, which is little more than 1km by road away. Abutting the northern edge of that road, opposite the town, is the Nahal Oz IDF base. During the attack of October 7, 12 residents of the township were killed, and a number taken hostage into Gaza.
The adjoining IDF base is the headquarters of the 13th battalion of the legendary Golani Brigade, which has participated in all Israel’s wars and most major operations. On October 7, 41 members of the Brigade were killed, many at the base; more fatalities than the battalion suffered in the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur combined. According to one report, 15 female soldiers of the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps were also killed at the base, and six were abducted, one of whom was later rescued. Other reports say 20 of the CICC were killed; perhaps five men died as well.
Let us not cast the blame on the murderers today. Why should we declare their burning hatred for us? For eight years they have been sitting in the refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we have been transforming the lands and the villages, where they and their fathers dwelt, into our estate. It is not among the Arabs in Gaza, but in our own midst that we must seek Roi’s blood. How did we shut our eyes and refuse to look squarely at our fate, and see, in all its brutality, the destiny of our generation?
Dayan was clear-eyed about the cause of the hatred; just as he was unapologetic about it. His generation has passed in the nearly 70 years since this eulogy, and you will not hear such admissions today. What is still the ideology of “hard-line” parties within Israel is his declaration of perpetual war, though without acknowledgement of the cause. This doctrine precedes the creation of Hamas; it precedes the creation of the PLO. Though the Muslim Brotherhood had long been established, its founder was dead, and Sayyid Qutb was in prison in Egypt. But neither the Israeli government nor the IDF is accepting any part in what lay “beyond the furrow,” or as now, beyond the border surveillance fence.
October 7 was comprehensive failure of the Israeli security state, and the IDF, the most powerful military in the Middle East by its own reckoning and design, was humiliated by soldiers in Toyota utes, on motorbikes, on paragliders and on foot, armed with rifles, RPGs, explosive charges and drones. This concern has been addressed not by looking “in our own midst,” but by misdirection. “Don’t talk about the war.” Focus on atrocities, both the horrifyingly real and the completely invented (40 beheaded babies, for example), and mobilise Israeli society to finally solve the problem alluded to by Dayan, by obliterating Gaza, and “voluntarily emigrating” the remaining people of Gaza.