April 3, 2024: Jeremy Pearl

I’m trying to process the unfathomable horrors we heard about today. This time was different though, seeing some of it with our own eyes. Nothing could prepare me for this day. But along the way, our two very different interactions with the Bedouin community provided some community, wisdom, and hope.
We started the day with Lishay Miran, 39, on her kibbutz in southern Israel. Lishay is the wife of Omri Miran, who was kidnapped from Nahal Oz on October 7th. Lishay’s husband and two young daughters, 6 months and 4 years old, were held hostage by Hamas for nearly 8 hours. Hamas terrorists held guns to their heads, streamed them on Facebook Live, and tortured them physically and mentally during that day. Lishay and her daughters made it out alive. Her husband, Omri, was taken as a hostage onside Gaza and is still in captivity. Lishay helps the children cope by reading them the classic Goodnight Moon at bedtime, telling them: “Daddy will be home soon”.
Our next stop was the Bedouin Community Center in Rahat. Rahat is the largest Bedouin city in Israel, pop. 80,000. It is a young city – 62% of the population are under the age of 18. In a beautiful new building, our host and CEO, Aisha, described some challenges. 60% of women are unemployed. But women are increasingly running small businesses out of their homes – catering, sewing, etc. The trend is for women to become better educated but that is less true for men. Their community is still dominated by a traditional Arab patriarchy.
Engaged at 15, Aisha later refused to marry. Many girls wouldn’t speak with her afterwards, as their parents labeled her “rebellious”. Now she is CEO of an organization helping to empower and educate Bedouin women and she is sought out by women – in person and on Facebook.
Her cousin was killed on October 7th. Members of her family were kidnapped. Since then, she is feeling “hardcore Israeli”. But she feels her emotions stretched. She has family in Gaza. Her family joined the IDF. Her boyfriend is an officer in the IDF. All of this makes her appreciate the peacemakers of the world more than ever. Her work gives her hope and strength. She impressed upon us that “we need to figure this out”. She wonders how Arabs will treat her community after this is all over. Will they be treated as enemies or credited for saving lives by bringing people together?
Aisha sees Rahat as a beacon and haven to make all Arab and Jewish people feel welcome since October 7. She showed us a video featuring four Bedouin men who used their own car on October 7 to drive a Jewish woman to safety, along with 30 or 40 Nova festival goers. They created a Relief Center, with Arab and Jewish volunteers working together to distribute food from Arab and Jewish businesses. Daily classes are offered for Jews to learn Arabic and Arabs to learn Hebrew – together. It has been a great experience for all – so much so that Benny Gantz, President Herzog, and the American ambassador all came to see this success story.
On the way to our next stop in the city of Sderot, we passed a small shelter next to a bus stop, where 16 elderly people in a minivan were murdered as they prepared to take a day trip to the Dead Sea.
In Sderot, we visited the paramedic station (MDA), where Hillel described how they faced impossible conditions with only one armored ambulance on October 7th, while terrorists roamed the streets freely. Unable to get to the hospital, they set up a makeshift triage site at their station.
A short distance away, we visited the National Digital Center, where the coordinator, a 41-year-old mother with a 4-year-old daughter described how she sheltered for 10 hours in her home, which was hit by a rocket. The neighbor’s 5-year-old boy was killed. Then she played us CCTV clips from the October 7th attack in the police station, which killed 25 officers and many civilians. I have intentionally not viewed raw video from that day and I don’t think any of us were not prepared for what she wanted to share.
Our host described what we saw through the CCTV cameras mounted on the police station. Terrorists in pickup trucks and cars pulled up. Then, a civilian car approached slowly, followed by a police car. In the leading vehicle was a couple with their children lying in the back seats, covered as instructed by blankets. They had sought help from the police car after the attacks started all over the city. The officers they found told them to go the police station and they would follow to keep them safe. The terrorists walked calmly up to the lead car and executed the parents first, and then the children. Then, they murdered the officers.
As we left Sderot, we stopped at one of three sites where vehicles destroyed in the attack were taken. This site holds 1,200 vehicles, belonging to victims and terrorists.
We then headed to the site of the massacre of over 350 young people at the Nova music festival site. I apologize for running out of words to describe what I felt there. I took some photos and a short video to try to convey the enormity of what happened – in a place of such natural beauty and peace.
Next stop was the newly established JDC Resilience Center (with funding from San Diego) in Ofakim, a city of 30,000 people of mostly North African origin, but also home to immigrants from all over the world. On October 7th, two trucks of terrorists entered at 6:20 am and began to indiscriminately kill anybody in their path. 51 people died. A local resident took us on a walking tour and described the day. She stopped at a house where her younger brother, a policeman was killed.
Our last stop was an IDF base close to the Egyptian border and 1.2 miles from the Gaza border, where we hosted an iftar meal to break the Ramadan fast for a unit of Bedouin soldiers. Their base was virtually destroyed in the surprise attack but was saved by IDF special forces. Now rebuilt, we spent time talking to them and hearing their stories. Unlike the Jewish population, the Bedouins are volunteers – they are not required to serve. Their combat medic is a Jewish soldier raised in New Jersey. He described the comradery, the natural respect and friendships and sharing of cultures. The Bedouin commander was asked why they choose to serve. He looked around at his unit and shrugged, replying “because it’s our country”. As our guide pointed out earlier, multiculturalism is all around – 25% of the population of Israel is Arab.
And that’s a good place to finish for today. In the face of brutal terror that took innocent lives indiscriminately from multiple religions and nationalities, we heard and saw stories about community – building, restoring, strengthening.
Jeremy is sharing an ongoing account of his experiences throughout the trip via the JCF blog. Read more here.


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