RICHARD PENDLEBURY speaks to families killed or taken hostage by Hamas

‘The killing machines of Hamas must have seen my wife was a Muslim… but they still shot her 20 times’: RICHARD PENDLEBURY speaks to families killed or taken hostage by the terror group in Israel

Taking out his mobile phone, Hamid Abu Ar’ara wants to show us a short video and then a photograph. It will not make for easy viewing, for any of us.

The film is taken from a traffic camera at a rural T-junction, not far from the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip. It is 7.05am on the morning of October 7 – or ‘Black Saturday’ as Hamid and so many other Israelis describes the day.

As the footage begins, a black Hyundai appears from the side road. It stops, dutifully, because four motorcycles are approaching from the left. A fatal mistake.

Each bike carries two men and, as they turn into the road from which the Hyundai has emerged, each pillion passenger rakes the stationary car with automatic gunfire.

We can see the windows dissolve into a haze of glass, bullets bounce off the road. The car has stopped, for ever.

Hamid Abu Ar’ara (left), a Bedouin farmer, pictured with his son Elias, aged eight 

Fatima’s (pictured) murder was only the start of an epic, seven-hour ordeal, as Hamid strove to save himself, their wounded eight-month-old son Elias and another Bedouin

Hamid scrolls further into his phone’s picture library and finds another image. It is a photograph of a middle-aged woman. She is wearing a hijab and is covered in blood, slumped lifeless across the steering wheel of the same Hyundai.

Hamid, a tough Bedouin farmer, begins to weep quietly. This is his ‘beloved’ wife, Fatima, who had been driving him to work, as she did every day, until they met with Hamas.

Fatima’s murder was only the start of an epic, seven-hour ordeal, as Hamid strove to save himself, their wounded eight-month-old son Elias and another Bedouin, after they were caught at the very epicentre of the blood-letting.

Theirs is surely one of most extraordinary survival stories to have emerged from the October 7 massacres. But it also serves to throw light on an under-reported aspect of the atrocities; how Hamas gunmen did not hesitate to execute or kidnap fellow Muslims whom they came across during their two-day rampage.

Yesterday, Mail photographer Jamie Wiseman and I travelled to the Negev desert in southern Israel where some 200,000 members of Israel’s Bedouin Arab community live in tumbledown towns or villages and more traditional nomadic encampments.

We spoke to Bedouin families whose members were either killed or taken hostage by Hamas. As their tribal culture largely transcends national borders, their people mostly inhabit the physical, economic and social margins of Israeli society. But not marginal enough for Hamas’s terrorists.

They hold Israeli citizenship and, while not drafted into the army, like Israeli Jews or Druze, around 1,500 Bedouin volunteers serve with their own light infantry regiment, or as specialist trackers to other IDF units.

Hamid lost his ‘beloved’ wife, Fatima, who had been driving him to work, as she did every day, until they met with Hamas

Hamid and Fatima had seven sons and two daughters. The youngest is Elias and, at 6.40am on Black Saturday, Fatima drove them – her husband has no licence – from their home in Rahat towards the hothouse tomato business that Hamid ran in Mivtahim, less than five miles from the Gaza boundary.

Two Bedouin farm labourers, a father and a son, were sitting either side of Elias who was in a baby chair on the back seat.

‘After the motorcycles passed us, I tried to raise Fatima from where she had fallen. And that is when I saw she had been hit 20 times,’ Hamid, 47, recalls. He says the gunmen must have known she was of their own faith.

‘We’re a religious Muslim family and she wore traditional headdress of a devout woman. It is inconceivable they could not see who was inside. They were five metres away from her as they passed and the window was rolled down.

READ MORE: Hamas vows to repeat October 7 attacks and bring about the ‘annihilation’ of Israel while cynically saying it ‘did not want to hurt civilians’ as it slaughtered 1,400 people ‘but there were complications on the ground’

‘She said she could not feel her legs. Her head was open and I could see her brain. I knew she was close to death. Being a devout Muslim, I asked her to say the shahada prayer, which you say before you die. She said it four times and before the fifth time she was dead.

‘That was not the end,’ says Hamid. ‘I got out of the car and opened Fatima’s door and closed her eyes. Then I called the police, who answered but said they were being overwhelmed. They said they would get to me as soon as they could.’

The survivors were on their own.

Hamid heard the young labourer who had been sitting behind Fatima calling for help. He had also taken the brunt of the attack.

‘We pulled him out of the car and laid him under a tree. He said the final prayer and, a few minutes later, he too passed away.’

Baby Elias had also been hit, by a bullet fragment between his shoulder blades. ‘My son was in shock, unnaturally still. I shook him and he started crying. Then we had to look for a place to hide.’

The only sanctuary was a derelict hut by the roadside. ‘We closed the door and waited for rescue.’

It would be a long and terrifying vigil. Hamas was all around and the temperature soared.

‘The baby was still breastfeeding,’ says Hamid. ‘We had one bottle of formula that Fatima had prepared for the journey. That soon ran out and my son grew very unhappy. He was crying and that became very dangerous for us.’

At around noon, as he hid in a hut, Hamid looked through a crack in the metal door and saw that Hamas terrorists had returned to the junction. Their location seemed to have become a rendezvous for groups of gunmen who went off on bikes, pick-ups and stolen cars to attack nearby communities.

As the footage begins, a black Hyundai appears from the side road. It stops, dutifully, because four motorcycles are approaching from the left. A fatal mistake

‘For five hours, I secretly observed them coming and going, shooting and killing somewhere and coming back. Then one group left and almost immediately returned and I grew even more concerned.

‘It seemed they wanted to set up an ambush at the junction. And so four of them hid behind our hut. I could hear them discussing the situation. They were only centimetres away from us.’

It was then that Elias began crying again.

‘I heard them speak and say that they had heard baby. I heard them [cocking] their guns. They were coming to finish me off. But then I heard Hebrew from the other side. I heard the army had come.

‘It was then the firefight started, with us caught in the middle.

‘At first the soldiers were confused. I think the first Hamas shot hit one of them. Then, everyone was firing. I lay down and covered my son. The soldiers were firing into the hut.’

I asked him what would have happened if he had stepped out and tried to reason with the Hamas gunman, pleading that he was a Muslim civilian.

‘Are you insane?’ Hamid responds, with incredulity. ‘Have you got heat stroke? First of all, do not be impressed by any humanitarian gestures from Hamas. They are only calculated for the foreign press. They are killing machines.

‘The reason I could not appeal to them as a Muslim is that they already killed my wife. While in the hut I also heard and saw them stop two other Bedouin guys in a car at the junction. The guys said we are Arabs, Bedouin. Hamas put their guns into their car and killed them at point blank range.’

He says: ‘I had to make a quick decision. I was blessed by Allah with a strong heart. At that moment, I had to choose how we were going to die. There was a lull in the gun battle and I thought soldiers would now prepare to throw grenades at the hut. I would rather die by bullets.’

He took off his shirt to show that he was not wearing a suicide vest, hugged Elias to his chest and opened the door of the hut that faced the IDF.

‘At once, they fired at me. They missed but hit the metal doors and I got shrapnel from them in my back.

‘Then I heard a commander shouting ‘ceasefire’ and ‘this must be the guy who sent us the reports from the junction’. There were lots of hugs. The officers were grateful’.

What Hamid says next is unexpected amid the polarised and poisonous narrative of the current war.

‘The soldiers said I was a hero,’ says Hamid. ‘I told them: ‘I am a citizen of this country [Israel] and I was only doing my duty’.’

But what of the Hamas gunmen that were behind the hut? ‘The right job was done,’ he nods, implying they died in the firefight.

As we talk, an unexpected figure walks through the door. It is a huge, heavily bearded, Jewish volunteer medic, wearing a yarmulke and carrying a basket of fruit as a gift. ‘At last, I’ve found you, again,’ he says to Hamid. This is Arial, who was the first paramedic responder on the scene when Hamid and his son were rescued.

‘Hamid was screaming all the way to hospital: ‘They murdered my wife!’ Arial recalls. ‘The baby was in total shock. I bandaged his wound.’

The Bedouin and the Jew hug.

Night has fallen over the Negev. In a nearby street we call at the home of Dr Tarek Abu Arara, who on October 7 had stopped his car on the road near Sderot to help what appeared to be the victim of an accident.

The ‘casualty’ was in fact a Hamas gunman who motioned the Bedouin to approach, then shot him in the chest from ten metres.

Dr Tarek is asleep, recovering from his ordeal. But he has recalled that after being shot, Hamas interrogated him on his knowledge of Islam and, for two hours, used him as human shield against Israeli airstrikes as they massacred the passengers of passing cars.

During this time, one of the gunmen shot the doctor in a leg to prevent him from escaping and signalled with his hand that the next bullet would be in his head.

‘I started bleeding quite massively,’ recalled Dr Tarek. ‘I prayed for a miracle. I was convinced I was going to die.’

He was eventually rescued by Israeli security forces after another deadly shoot-out.

Dr Tarek says: ‘I have dedicated my whole life to helping others and I had to involuntarily witness this terrible massacre that was carried out before my eyes and I could not do anything.

‘It was horrifying.’

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