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"The brutality was so evil": Israeli first responder recovers bodies after Hamas attack

Israeli first responder recovers bodies after Hamas attack
Israeli first responder recovers bodies after Hamas attack 02:53

(CBS DETROIT) - In Israel, there is a rescue and recovery organization that's at the frontlines when people are killed in terror attacks. 

It's called ZAKA, which references the Hebrew acronym for "Disaster Victim Identification." 

Founded in 1995, its volunteers arrive at the scene with one mission: to recover the bodies of those who die in an unnatural way.  

In Judaism, a person must be buried whole. ZAKA's crews work tirelessly to recover as many body parts as they can from the scenes they are called to. 

It's considered the greatest "mitzvah," or good deed, a Jew can perform for another person. 

Yossi Landau has been with the organization for 33 years and has been all over the world.

"I'm a survivor of the Sept.11 attacks," he said. "I was there. I helped out with the bodies, I helped out with the people. So, nothing is new for me." 

What was new to him was the horror he has witnessed since Saturday in the aftermath of Israel's deadliest terror attack. 

"Our team, we picked up about 162 bodies," said Landau. "Most, I would say, 95% [were] youngsters. It was very bad. Some of them, you could tell they would try to hide, fight for their life … the brutality was so evil." 

He described passing hundreds of cars that crashed and had been burned on the side of the road as he and his team headed south and the tragic scenes they saw there. 

But nothing could prepare him for what they found in Kibbutz Be'eri, one of the communities near the Gaza Strip that was infiltrated by Hamas. Its residents were brutalized. 

After discovering the bodies of parents, children, and a pregnant woman, he said for the first time ever, he reached a breaking point. 

"I thought for the first few seconds that I can't do it anymore," said Landau. "I'm not going further. But then I thought, 'This is a mission right now, and we have to make sure that nobody is left behind. We have to take everybody, and we have to do it.'" 

He took his team outside, and they sang a song together before going house to house and finishing the job they came to do.  

In total, Israeli officials said 112 people were murdered there. 

During his interview with CBS News Detroit, he arrived at a scene to recover more bodies but could not share his location.  

He said he knows it is work that he has to continue, even if it will take a long time before any end is in sight.  

"We'll pass it," he said. "And always, we'll get stronger. I promise we'll get stronger." 

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