Sad about Sa’ad

A dozen years after a Hamas attack on a school bus, peace-loving Kibbutz Sa’ad sees more evil. 

By Howard Rotberg, INN    Nov 26, 2023, 7:06 PM (GMT+2)

Sa’ad: Celebrating harvest with balloonsSa’ad archives

In this article I wish to go back to 2011 to fill in the back story of the Hamas murders of Jewish children. The barbaric massacre of October 7th, was so horrific and so meticulous in its planning and execution, that we must study all of the facts to help ensure it never happens again. Some new facts have emerged from some recently found documents showing the detailed level of planning that seems to have taken the IDF by surprise.

Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas’ violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Hamas and other terrorist groups have carried out many horrific suicide bombings, shootings, missile attacks, stabbings and ramming attacks against Israeli civilians, including children, throughout Israel and in particular in Judea and Samaria and the South near Gaza.

These did not receive the publicity that the extremely barbaric events of October 7, 2023 received. However, the events of October 7th, when viewed by those without moral clarity, result in the moral equivalency found in words from those of the United Nations to Barack Obama, and increasingly from President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

Regarding giving the Palestinian Authority a state in Judea and Samaria (the so-called ‘West Bank’), or allowing the PA to form part of a postwar Gaza government, there is a legitimate concern that, as in Gaza, a terrorist organization controlled by Iran, would overthrow any government. We are unfortunately seeing an attempt by Israel’s foes to suggest that merely switching Palestinian Arab terrorist organizations from one to the other will somehow create a non-violent two state “solution”, ignoring the extreme and constant incitement used by all Palestinian Arabs, even supported in the American Congress in the case of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

It is necessary to write and read about these matters in a world which seldom remembers facts, but always remembers to blame the Jews.

The mainstream media is little interested in the history of the continuing murder of Israelis – it only makes a big deal when Israel retaliates.

After Operation Cast Lead, where Israel took a 22-day military action, starting on December 27, 2008, against Hamas’ bombings, there were outcries that the Israelis were morally equivalent to the Hamas operatives. These outcries were politically motivated and were not substantiated in fact. The United Nations chose to do a quick investigation headed up by a noted critic of Israel with committee members who had made comments indicating that they had pre-judged the issue under study, and the so-called Goldstone Report (named after the South African Judge, Richard Goldstone who headed it) indicated that Israel might have committed war crimes.

After his report was shown to be erroneous, Judge Goldstone recanted that allegation in a piece in the Washington Post and stated that the Israeli army in fact took steps to prevent civilian casualties. (The Israelis use leaflets and even cell phone calls to warn civilians if they are targeting nearby Hamas rocket installations and the world sees Israeli soldiers protecting Gazans from Hamas as they go south.)

In early April, 2011, Hamas fired a rocket that hit a school bus, near Kibbutz Sa’ad, critically injuring a 16 year old boy, Daniel Viflic, who died of his injuries, and less critically, injuring the school bus driver. Photos showed that the entire bus was destroyed (the rocket was of the type that can take out an armed tank). Fortunately, the boy was the only passenger left and only he and the driver were on the bus when it was hit, or else many students might have died or been seriously injured. In fact a large number of children had only just been dropped off.

This was a yellow school bus, and as such was easily identifiable despite Hamas claims that it might have been a military vehicle.

His mother wrote a very special eulogy for her son, who in fact lived with his family in Ramat Bet Shemesh, and was in the south visiting his grandmother, an otherwise lonely widow in Kibbutz Ruchama during the Pesach break at his Yeshiva.. See

She wrote: “Daniel really grew up into a fine young learned man, during these few years at the Yeshiva. He became one of the top students and was an example for the school. He had many good friends, however, he was particularly close to the kids from the older classes. Daniel really enjoyed the Yeshiva and it was clear that he had a love and thirst for the learning of Talmud. To this day it is very hard for the Yeshiva, as many of the students’ lives have changed and will never be the same. Daniel was simply an example of how a person should behave. With his special, gentle, and well-mannered character and tremendous respect towards others!”

“The neighbor Zion, who had known the children since they were small and was the Kibbutz Ruchama school bus driver, had invited Daniel to go and see how they set up hot air balloons in the fields. Daniel had been very excited and even though he had been very tired, it was totally worth it.

“He said that he was going on a small trip with Zion to take the children home from school and that he would speak to me later. That was the last time I ever spoke to him!”

Moral equivalency, where boys like Daniel are equated with Hamas-supporting youth who desire only to be martyrs and kill Jews is the view of cultural and moral relativists, who hold that one cannot determine right and wrong or Good and Evil and that in fact every culture is as good and right as every other culture. The view often is accompanied by an anti-Westernism that holds that unempowered groups have a right to use violence against empowered groups, and that only the politically correct can decide who is powered and who is unempowered and therefore which side is justified and which side is to be condemned.

So, in order to try to clarify what exactly is behind the headlines – that applied a morally equivalent whitewash to the news from Gaza and the Israeli school bus and land nearby – I wish to provide some context to assist in assessing the most recent events, including some information about the people who live in the south near Gaza.

The bus bombing 12 years ago was just outside of Kibbutz Sa’ad. Here is some information about Sa’ad:

Although Israel is today largely a capitalist high tech nation, part of the country, including Sa’ad, was settled in a communal framework, and there are still a good number of settlements which retain various communal aspects.

As such, these institutions are a form of socialism, and one would think that for American and European Leftists, this communal, socialist element would elicit some admiration; it is sad, of course, to see that the anti-Semitism (composed of the demonization, delegitimization and double standards applied to Israel) has superseded what should be an attraction to socialist ideals at work.

Kibbutz Sa’ad was established on June 30th, 1947 by a group of pioneers from the B’nei Akiva religious Zionist movement, whose dream was to start a kibbutz which would embody values of Torah and work. It was substantially destroyed in 1948 when the Egyptian army invaded to try to wipe out the UN-authorized new state of Israel. It is now a blooming, prosperous community in the Northern Negev region just south of Ashkelon, a few miles from Gaza..

Kibbutz Sa’ad’s multigenerational population generates its income from agriculture and industry. Sa’ad members enjoy a rich religious, social, and cultural life.

The Kibbutz Sa’ad community is made up of 140 families, with a population of about 800. Members and residents are employed according to their occupation and career choice, either within the kibbutz structure or outside it.

Sa’ad’s members live according to many ideals and religious values, with an emphasis on contribution to Israel society as a whole. The kibbutz runs and participates in several unique educational frameworks such as Youth Education, a school and dormitory framework for teenagers from broken homes; Foster Family, for grade school children; Conversion Ulpan, for families and young people; and Nativ, a one year program in Israel for American teens.

In other words, this group of people, working in both agriculture and industry, have made it a priority in their lives to help others – especially children from broken homes. They are religious people who also make time for Torah study and prayer. They are a good example of how adherence to the values of Justice, both individual justice and social justice, can be translated into the actions of a community and the events of daily life, in a setting where everyone contributes to the financial viability of the community and the not-so-fortunate who the community helps.

Sa’ad’s crops include carrots, potatoes, avocados, almonds, citrus fruit, and more. Sa’ad has a large dairy farm and a poultry farm.

Sa’ad’s industries include Syfan, a plant that manufactures plastic shrink film for packaging, and Popli, which supplies popcorn products and pet food. Syfan supplies shrink wrap to the huge Swedish furniture chain, IKEA.

Kibbutz Sa’ad also has a fashion outlet called Kav LeKav, which sells clothes for men, women, and children; Ahinoam Jewelry where handmade jewelry in sterling silver is created; a graphic design studio “Kesem”, and an auto service center.

One of Sa’ad’s newest establishments open to the public is Beit Shikma, a beautiful convalescent and geriatric home where patients receive round-the-clock care.

One of the members of the Kibbutz is artist Joseph Bernhard. He has been a member of Kibbutz Saad since 1950. He graduated from the Bezalel Academy of Art, Jerusalem, in 1976.

Among his works are internal and external wall facades made using various techniques such as mosaic, burnt brick, river stones, as well as murals of many kinds.

In 1995 Joseph Bernhard created the giant (3700 square meter) mural on the power station at the Dead Sea Works in Sodom, Israel. In recent years he has been developing and expressing an interest in environmental art.

Many of the Kibbutz members have advanced university degrees. For example, the accounting manager, Ron Weisel, has a B.A. in Economics from UCLA, and an MBA from University of Chicago.

The school bus bombing is not the first bombing to hit the kibbutz area. On July 7, 2006, Hamas hit the Kibbutz with a Kassam rocket, and there were numerous others up to 2019 and then the recent Hamas plans for Kibbutz Sa’ad which fortunately did not come to fruition on October 7th. .

Colin P. Clarke, a senior research fellow at The Soufan Center, a security nonprofit, who reviewed alleged Hamas documents for CNN, said that the granular information the group had collected on individual kibbutzim raised the possibility that the terrorist group had human sources inside Israel.It was later shown that the humanitarian gesture allowing 17, 000 Gazan workers over the border to work in Israel every day were the sources of the information.

“The level of detail is extraordinary,” Clarke said. The extent of planning “just shows a thinking about the long-game in a way that most terrorist groups don’t have the organization for,” he said.

Clarke said that the fact that the group was able to gather this level of information shows not only that “Hamas vastly improved in its operational capabilities, but Israel was asleep at the wheel.”

One document, which a senior Israeli official provided to CNN, details plans to attack Sa’ad,

The document, which was first reported by NBC News, says that Hamas fighters’ mission was “controlling the kibbutz and inflicting the maximum possible human casualties on it, and holding hostages.”

The document lists information about the kibbutz and its security, including detailed information about the number of guards protecting the community.

The New York Post reports that there were two plans; in one plan, two highly trained Hamas units were to infiltrate the kibbutz of Kfar Sa’ad and act in tandem to corral as many unsuspecting Israelis as possible, according to the documents written in Arabic.

One unit would work to “contain the new Da’at school” while the second group would “collect hostages,” “search the Bnei Akiva youth center” and “search the old Da’at school.”kibbutz fence and destroy the guard room before “gathering hostages in the dining room and preparing to transfer a number of them to the strip.” A second group was directed to “collect hostages and hand them over to the first group.”

The document also says that the groups were supposed to “control” and “inspect” two schools, and search a “youth movement area.” And it includes in-depth satellite image maps of the Kibbutz and the surrounding area.

“The level of specificity would cause anyone in the intelligence field’s jaw to drop.”

The New York Post concluded that the plans negate claims by Hamas that they were not targeting and killing children in their attacks against Israel.

“The dental office, the supermarket, the dining hall,” an IDF soldier said, adding that he had “never seen this kind of detailed planning” for a mass terrorist attack.

But Hamas did not successfully attack Sa’ad – no one died, according to the first responders group. It’s unclear why: several other nearby communities – some of which were identified on a map in the plan – were attacked by Hamas fighters who did succeed and killed civilians, according to Israeli officials. Some posit that the gates were locked for the Sabbath so the terrorists went on to easier prey.

Sarah Pollack, a resident of Sa’ad who spent Saturday holed up in her family’s bomb shelter, said the kibbutz was hit by a rocket from Gaza, and some residents who were outside the community during the attack were killed. But no militants entered the kibbutz, and no one was killed inside the gates, she said.

“We don’t know how to explain that … It’s a miracle.”

Pollack said seeing the extensive details that Hamas had about Sa’ad in the planning documents was chilling. “Shockingly, the details are very accurate… horribly accurate,” she said.

Middle East Eye reported that when Sa’ad came under attack, social worker and Sa’ad resident Naama Rotenberg and her family hid in their safe room for many hours. Then, survivors of massacres in next door Kfar Aza and the Reim rave began flooding in and Rotenberg as a social worker found herself counselling those survivors.

It is clear to me that Israeli attempts to strike back at the rocket launching sites will result in deaths of Palestinian Arabs and the world media will report all of this as just the latest in what they term (as part of their moral relativism) a cycle of violence. So, hopefully, this short account gives a little knowledge about the Israeli community – that suffers from attacks on its civilians as part of an Arab and Islamist attempt to destroy the country of Israel and replace it with an Islamic state. Let the reader determine whether the state of Israel and its people, both young and old, are in any sense morally equivalent to Hamas and its ilk.

As much as the all too clever antisemites in media and the universities see young Hamas supporters who live in the hope that they shall be martyrs and kill Jews as equivalent to yeshiva students like Daniel, and as much as these clever analysts equate the killers of Gaza with the wonderful residents of Kibbutz Sa’ad, I reject all this delusional moral equivalence. Whoever stands for Good in this world should do so as well. We must be unafraid to judge Good versus Evil.

When I see students and recent Islamic immigrants in America, Canada and Europe demonstrating for genocidal Palestinian Arabs, I think sometimes of Kibbutz Sa’ad and sweet Daniel Viflic. You should, too.

Howard Rotberg is the author of The Second Catastrophe: A Novel About a Book and its Author, (about Israel during the Second Intifada), TOLERism: The Ideology Revealed, and The Ideological Path to Submission… and what we can do about it.

November 27, 2023 | 2 Comments »

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  1. Adam, I am glad you had the patience to get to the end. My intent was to present the FACTS, and only then show that these facts explain why we are on the side of Good and the pro-Hamas crowd is on the side of Evil. It is all about Good vs. Evil and how so many supposedly educated and secular inviduals are no longer equipped to understand that. I felt it necessary in this immoral age to present the factual background, so that readers would be with me on the conclusion. Of course, a writer must be careful not to lose too many readers in the interim.. Best wishes from the formerly good country of Canada.

  2. THe facts Harold reports towards the end of the column are important for helping to explain what the Hamas invasion was all about, But he doesn’t get to the point until rear the end of the column, leaving us baffled about what this was all about, A suggestion: he should have described Hamas plans to destroy the kibbutz , and what actually happened to the kibbutz and its people during the invasion, first. Only then provided the background information about thee settlement. For most of this column, I couldn’t figure out ehy he was writing about this settlement. or about the murdered boy, who I gathered wasnot even a resident of this settlement. I couldn’t figure ut what the point of the colummn was really.until towards end. This is a writing and editing error