THE house-proud mother scrubbed at a stubborn stain on the floor of her home as the clean-up began.
A dark patch had appeared which she could not explain — until she saw that the cloth she was using had turned red.
This was the moment 45-year-old mum-of-three Ruti Barsinai realised she was cleaning up her murdered father’s blood.
Because this was no ordinary household chore — it was one of many harrowing ordeals facing massacre survivors who are now returning to the smashed Israeli kibbutz village of Be’eri.
A Sun team returned to kibbutz communities along the Gaza border, four months after the October 7 horror, and found that scores of traumatised victims are back.
A major clean-up is under way amid the constant boom of the Gaza war raging as little as two miles away and the deafening blasts from outgoing Israeli artillery.
READ MORE ON HAMAS MASSACRE
And against all odds, life is slowly returning to villages abandoned hours after the Hamas rampage in which 1,200 died and 250 were kidnapped.
Ruti remains too traumatised to be pictured and is afraid to let her children stay in the shattered kibbutz.
But she is now spending nights in the two-storey property in the once idyllic community where her father died defending her with his pistol.
And she is not alone in her defiance.
Her elderly mother Nili, 73, poured out herand sorrow yesterday as she paid tribute to her husband Yoram, 75, who died trying to protect their daughter.
The gran of 11, who has also returned to Be’eri, is among around 50 survivors attempting to pick up theof their lives.
She said: “So what if they come back and kill me? This is my home and I belong here — where else do I go at my age?
“On October 7 when the shooting started, my husband went out on his bike to try to protect our daughter and her family. He was ex-military but he only had a pistol against hundreds of armed men running all over the kibbutz.
“He took up position on a balcony with his gun and tried to fight them off but seven of them ran up the stairs and shot him dead.
“My daughter survived with her three children by holding the door of their safe room shut for 20 hours before being evacuated.
“It was all she could do to protect three kids sittingbehind her, watching the door and expecting them to come in at any moment.
“Sitting in complete silence, complete darkness, hearing horrible sounds outside — shooting, women crying for help and joyful shouting of ‘Allahu akbar!’
“Messages from friends andthen appeared on her phone, saying, ‘They are here . . . they started a fire . . . no air . . . they are killing us . . . I love you . . . goodbye’.
“When a rocket-propelled grenade exploded on the safe room wall she realised her father was already dead and that she was the only person protecting her children.
“I was the last person to get out of Be’eri after two days in my safe room nearby after our kibbutz turned into a.
“Our soldiers had to blast one of my neighbours’ houses with a tank to kill around 50 terrorists inside and I lost many friends, as well as my husband — it was hell.”
Incredibly, survivors of the massacre — in which killings and kidnappings wiped out more than a tenth of the 1,100-strong community — began returning within two days.
They were followed by volunteers from across Israel armed with mops, buckets and vacuum cleaners battling to clear away the bloodstains, bullet casings and debris.
Nili described Ruti’s traumatic homecoming: “My daughter was cleaning when she found a stain in the lounge below the balcony.
I still hope that one day we will be able to live in peace and that our lives will be as good, if not better than before.
“It was only when she started scrubbing that she realised it was her father’s blood. He’d been shot above that spot and his blood had seeped down while she had been away.
“You can imagine how distressing that was for her — it was awful — but she carried on cleaning.
“She has since stayed several nights in the house because it’s her home. She won’t be driven out.”
Prepared to tolerate Hamas rockets
Be’eri and Israeli kibbutz villages along the Gaza border were once idyllic rural havens populated by idealists who campaigned for peace with their Palestinian neighbours.
Locals were prepared to tolerate the constant threat of Hamas rocket barrages in recent years as they created a string of pristinecommunities in the once barren Negev desert.
But days after the massacres, we found ghost towns strewn with blood, bullets and burned-out cars, with bodies of slain Hamas fighters being stacked on to trucks.
Many smashed buildings have yet to be repaired — but the bloodstains and other physical signs of battle had gone when we returned yesterday.
And we were surprised to be greeted by groups of diehard locals — such as Nili — whose courage is inspiring more and more to return.
She said: “I still hope that one day we will be able to live in peace and that our lives will be as good, if not better than before.
“But that won’t happen as long as we have Hamas among our neighbours in Gaza.”
Builder Eran Betito, a 46-year-old father of three, was the first Be’eri resident to come back to the kibbutz — armed with an assault rifle just two days after the mayhem.
With his gun still strung across his shoulder, he said: “I love this place and now I’m staying.
“It’s still not safe enough to bring my family back but that’s what I’m aiming for, once Hamas are gone.
“I lost a lot of friends on October 7 and will never forget spending 16 hours in a safe room hearing the bombs, the shooting and the screams.
“But we must not give up. We must rebuild, and we will.”
A 77-year-old Be’eri pensioner — who gave his name only as Giora — has also returned with his elderly wife and cheerfully joined in the clean-up work yesterday.
He spoke of his undying dream of living in peace — as his words were cut short by the blast of outgoing Israeli artillery fire into Gaza. He said: “I’ve spent my whole life here but ended up locked in a safe room with my terrified grandchildren on October 7.
“But that won’t be how the story ends — I won’t let that happen. This was a wonderful place and I want it to be wonderful again. So see our children back at school and life come back. That’s our dream.”
One home which remained locked and empty in Be’eri yesterday was the house where a British mum and her two daughters were killed.
Bristol-born Lianne Sharabi, 48 and daughters Noiya, 16, and 13-year-old Yahel died in the bloodbath, and their 53- year-old uncle Yossi was killed after being taken hostage.
‘Smell of death is still too strong’
Family members steeled themselves to step inside the smart semi, now emblazoned with a poster of the girls’ dad Eli, 51 — the family’s onlywho is still a hostage in Gaza.
But the sisters’ uncle Sharon, 48, told The Sun: “I couldn’t stay there — the smell of death is still too strong.
“I know other people are returning but our family is still struggling after suffering such a terrible loss. Our lives will never be the same.”
In the nearby kibbutz of Kfar Aza, just two miles from the Gaza border fence where 80 locals died and 18 were kidnapped, only a tiny band of brave survivors have come back.
Shahar Shnorman, 62, and his wife Ayelet, 55, were the first to return. But they spent 45 days as the sole residents of the ghost town, and have since been joined by just one other couple in a village which remains an official no-go area.
On October 7 the terrified Shnormans spent 30 hours locked in their safe room while dozens all around were killed, including next-door neighbour Nira Ronen.
Shahar told The Sun: “The first night back was dark and scary with no one else around but I don’t feel fear now like I did at first and there is less noise from the fighting.
“And now we are staying put — this will always be our home. I want to show it’s possible to come back, and won’t be chased out of my house.
“I try to clean up a little and think of a time when things will be better. But I want our old lives back — I want to hear children playing here again.
“We used to live in peace and co-operation with Arab people in those days and believed in helping our neighbours — the people of Gaza.
“We never dreamed they would come and kill us.
“Now I hope for peace. It sounds crazy today to say this but I hope we’ll get there.”