Israel’s Hidden Victims, Arab Bedouins, Were Attacked by Hamas Too

During their murderous Oct. 7 rampage, Hamas militants attacked Zikkim Beach near the Gaza Strip where Abd Alrahman Aatef Ziadna and his family had been camping along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Mr. Ziadna, 26, was slain inside his tent, and four members of his Bedouin family vanished.

Since the slaughter of 1,400 Israelis and foreigners by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, the world’s sympathies have focused on the Jewish communities closest to Gaza, where many of the victims lived. Atrocities were also committed against one of Israel’s more hidden minorities, Bedouin Arabs.

At least 17 people killed in the Hamas attacks were Bedouins in and around Rahat, the biggest city in an impoverished, predominantly Bedouin area of southern Israel. Another victim there was an Arab paramedic from northern Israel who had come to work at the all night music and dance festival where 260 people were slain.

Ayesha Ziadna, 29, a relative of the Ziadnas who were attacked on the beach, said that the four members of the family who disappeared are still missing, as are a number of other residents of the area, though the exact number was not immediately clear.

Dr. Yasmeen Abu Fraiha, who grew up in the Bedouin town of Tel Sheva, said she rushed to her hospital in Beer Sheva as the staff scrambled to treat hundreds of patients that day, including victims who had lost limbs and others who had been shot, including Bedouins. They treated children, seniors and foreigners too.

Hamas did not directly target Bedouins, but “rockets and bullets don’t discriminate,” Dr. Fraiha said.

In the wake of the attacks many Bedouins have lost their livelihoods at Israeli farms that were ransacked, creating extreme hardships for an already struggling community. “There are a lot of people who are suffering,” Ms. Ziadna said. “Many people are out of jobs. People are scared.”

Even before the recent attacks, Bedouins had long suffered at the hands of Hamas. Because many live in villages not recognized by Israel, they mostly lack the bomb shelters and health clinics that the government has made widely available in southern Israel. Even in Rahat, with a population of about 80,000, there were only about 10 bomb shelters, the city’s mayor, Ata Abu Mediam, told the Israeli news media.

When Hamas fires rockets, the people have nowhere to go, Ms. Ziadna said. The largely aluminum roofs of the Bedouin homes turn into deadly shrapnel, which she called “knives.” Hamas rockets killed several members of one Bedouin community.

Members of a Bedouin community inside a shelter that they built in Albat Kayla, southern Israel.Credit…Yuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Ziadna is at the center of the effort to distribute basic necessities such as sugar, flour and diapers to struggling families, Jews and Arabs alike, she said. Two friends, Shir Nosatzki, the Israeli director of a group that promotes Jewish-Arab relations, and Hanan Alsanah, a lawyer and Bedouin from Beer Sheva, began mobilizing help for people in the area almost immediately after the attacks.

Ms. Nosatzki said Hamas did not differentiate between “Jewish blood and Arab blood,” and neither have their rockets.

“We are sharing the tragedy and the healing,” said Ms. Nosatzki, adding that the hardships and death of Bedouins “is under the radar, unfortunately.”

At a large gym in Rahat, where shop signs are in Arabic and Hebrew, volunteers sort the supplies, packing them into cardboard boxes. Then the boxes are distributed to Bedouin villages and Jewish enclaves such as Ofakim, where about 50 people were killed by the Hamas marauders.

Volunteers have streamed into Rahat to join the effort. One of them, Anat Saragusti, who is Jewish, said she had driven down from Tel Aviv with her son. Like Ms. Nosatzki, she had previously been devoting her efforts to opposing a drive by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to restrict the influence of the Supreme Court. She said that resistance had been “repurposed” to help those affected by the Oct. 7 terrorism attacks. She ended up in Rahat through the “demonstration pipeline,” she said.

At first, Ms. Nosatzki said, it was difficult to find drivers to ferry aid to the stricken communities because Arabs were worried about driving to Jewish areas and Jews were concerned about entering Arab communities. But eventually, she said, they worked out a solution: Jewish and Bedouin women would together take the care packages to Arab communities; Jewish and Arab men would do the same in Jewish areas.

The Arab-Israeli town of Rahat last year.Credit…Hazem Bader/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

So far, they said, they have delivered about 2,000 packages to Jewish and Arab families, with the help of The New Israel Fund, which works to promote liberal democracy in Israel.

“There is hope if we work together, “ said Ms. Alsanah, the Bedouin lawyer, who works with the group Women Lawyers for Social Justice.

Dr. Fraiha recalled the story of one 25-year-old Bedouin man who was killed while saving the lives of two Jewish girls from Sderot. The man, Amer Odeh Abu Sabila, had several children, Ms. Fraiha said.

And there was Yousef Ziadna, a Bedouin bus driver from Rahat, who saved more than two dozen people from the massacre at the music festival. Reached for comment, he declined to discuss what happened that day.

But he had previously told the news media that the government needed to look after Bedouins “because we’re also part of this nation.”

He added: “We are one people — we are Israelis. We live here together and we need to go hand in hand.”

Back to top button