newsOctober 7

Bedouin policeman who saved partygoers from Hamas to run Jerusalem Marathon

Sgt. First Class Remo Salman El-Hozayel saved hundreds of innocents at the Supernova music festival on Oct. 7.

Sgt. First Class Remo Salman El-Hozayel. Credit: Israel Police.
Sgt. First Class Remo Salman El-Hozayel. Credit: Israel Police.

He was not supposed to be there.

But when a colleague offered Israel Police Sgt. First Class Remo Salman El-Hozayel 1,000 shekels ($275) to replace her at the desert music festival for a simple 12-hour shift on Oct. 7 he agreed, even though his wife did not really like the idea.

The police investigator, who is a member of the Bedouin community in southern Israel, later realized that his Jewish colleague did not want to take the shift because it was a holiday (Simchat Torah)/Shabbat weekend.

“It was all the hand of God,” El-Hozayel recounted Thursday in an interview with JNS.

Sgt. First Class Remo Salman El-Hozayel, the car he used to save partygoers, and the car’s owner Nir Hadad, who escaped on foot. Credit: Israel Police.

A premonition

He got up at 4 in the morning, and when he took his gun, he had a “strange feeling,” and grabbed three cartridges instead of the normal two. Later he was sorry he did not take more.

The road was deserted as he made the 45-minute drive from his hometown of Rahat to the Supernova dance party near Kibbutz Re’im. He arrived at 6:22 a.m., eight minutes before his shift was set to begin.

El-Hozayel barely had time to say good morning to his colleagues from the night shift and hadn’t signed in yet at the police command center when the sirens began to sound, with salvo upon salvo of rockets coming from Gaza.

“Like everybody else, I took out my phone and started videoing, thinking it was just a rocket attack,” he said.

He entered the site of the music festival to notify revelers that the party was over. “We still didn’t understand what was about to happen,” he said. Minutes later, the thousands of partygoers came under heavy gunfire, but even then, he thought that the nearby IDF base would be able to handle things.

 At 6:56 a.m., he made a video for safekeeping. “If we die, at least there will be documentation,” the 37-year-old father of three said in Arabic.

El-Hozayel joined the police force four and a half years ago after working in IT for a private company. “I saw the rising crime in the area,” he said. “I said to myself I am not going to be Superman but I will do something in the little place that God has allotted me.”

Sgt. First Class Remo Salman El-Hozayel’s own car after a terrorist’s grenade destroyed it. Credit: Israel Police.

Death all around

At 7 a.m., the massacre was on. A hail of automatic gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades sent partygoers fleeing, half-dazed and screaming they were being shot at by terrorists.

El-Hozayel, who was not trained for combat or as a rescue commando, loaded his gun and ran towards the action. The road was jammed with cars, caught up in the Hamas ambush. Bullets and grenades flew over his head. His parked car was demolished by a grenade as gunfire raked the entire area.

He yelled “sniper” in English—which he had learned from a childhood video game—only to revert to Hebrew when he saw that people didn’t understand him. He gave his third cartridge to a colleague as he led civilians fleeing. “It was hell on earth,” he said.

A mission

In the first minutes of the attack, El-Hozayel spoke to his father on the phone as well as with his younger brother, who had served in the IDF’s Golani Infantry Brigade. El-Hozayel’s brother wanted to come from Rahat to help out but was held back by their father, who said that if he lost one son at least he would have another alive.

El-Hozayel’s wife soon begged him to come home at once, reminding him of their three children. He calmly told her not to worry, that he would be back but had a mission to carry out.

As the group fled on foot, under massive fire, El-Hozayel decided to lie on the ground in the open field, for cover. For reasons he cannot understand—“maybe it was the ray of the sun and the hand of God”—the terrorists took the uniformed police officer for dead. “Apparently I had not completed my time on this Earth,” he said.

No time to think

Looking for an escape—“there was no time to think only to act”—El-Hozayel had to make a fast, heart-wrenching choice: Stay behind and help his fellow officers, some of whom were wounded, or try to evacuate the civilians desperately trying to flee.

With fewer than 15 bullets left in his remaining cartridge, he chose the latter and looked for a car—any car—to get people out.

“From the heavens,” he noticed an abandoned black Nissan with a full tank of gas, where he just needed to switch on the ignition. Eight to ten people piled into the small vehicle—some in the trunk with others begging him to let them in.

One girl pleaded: “Please, I’m young, I don’t want to die.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be back,” he said, heartbroken and driving the group off to the unknown. He radioed the police to tell the IDF not to shoot at the vehicle as they exited the compound. Soon, he reached a safe place and dropped the group off.

Rescue

For the next three hours, El-Hozayel kept returning to the scene of the massacre. Aided by another officer and a civilian, he drove hundreds to safety, as many as he could stuff into the car. 

Although he was in his police uniform, he stopped speaking Arabic with a fellow officer because the traumatized evacuees had seen Hamas terrorists dressed as IDF soldiers and hearing the language sent them into a panic. “I didn’t want to frighten them even more,” he said.

Each time he drove in, El-Hozayel was not sure if he would get out alive.

“I thought to myself this could be your last time,” he said. “I can’t say that I wasn’t afraid.

“I saw horrors from another world,” El-Hozayel said. “Even as a police investigator who has seen some things, these scenes will stay with me forever.”

Nearly 400 people were murdered at the dance festival, out of about 3,000 who attended.

Days later, El-Hozayel returned the rescue vehicle he had used to its owner, who had attended the party but escaped on foot.

Some of the people he saved posted queries on Facebook and other social media in an effort to thank him for his efforts, with one describing him as thin and of Ashkenazi origin. After hesitating, he later reunited with some of them, which he called a form of closure.

Last month, El-Hozayel decided to take part in Friday’s Jerusalem Marathon, to honor the memory of the police officers slain at the attack.

“What helps me is my work,” he said of his ordeal. “I am still the same police officer.”

El-Hozayel told the officer he replaced on her shift, who was filled with guilt and tears when she saw him, that he was glad he was there on that fateful day, believing he was meant to be there.

“At the party, there was a total mix of people—Jews, Muslims, Christians, foreigners who banded together as one against a brutal terrorist group,” he said. “We are one unit, one group, and the most important thing, one family.”

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war.

JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you.

The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support?

Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Topics
Comments
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates