An Arab-Israeli paramedic brutally murdered. A Bedouin doctor tortured and tied to a utility pole for eight hours and forced to watch the killings. Twin 6-month-old Israeli infants hidden in the safe room for 16 hours, crying for their slain parents until their little voices gave out.
These were some of the human stories shared by Eli Beer, the founder and president of the Jerusalem-based emergency services organization United Hatzalah, in an extraordinary and emotional meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Israel on Wednesday.
“I have never in my life seen a president crying,” Beer told JNS on Thursday. “It was like he was paying a shiva call,” he said, referring to the weeklong Jewish period of mourning.
Biden, who lost his first wife and 13-month-old daughter in a car accident half a century ago, as well as his son to cancer a decade ago, said he understood the pain Israelis were going through, according to Beer.
“I was [initially] told I would have three minutes with the president, so I didn’t really expect much,” he said. “I was totally shocked by how pained he was by the stories. He wanted to give comfort.”
With its network of 7,000 Israeli volunteers of all faiths, United Hatzalah medics were among the first responders to the Oct. 7 Hamas onslaught in southern Israel which killed at least 1,400 Israelis and wounded over 4,500 others. It was the worst attack on Israel in the last half century and the deadliest one-day attack on Jews since the Holocaust.
The first responders encountered something they had never seen before, treating thousands of victims, including hundreds with serious injuries, according to Beer.
Two of the organization’s volunteers were themselves murdered by Hamas terrorists, including a 27-year-old Arab-Israeli paramedic from Nazareth, Awad Mosa Darawshy, and 55-year-old Maor Shalom of Kiryat Malachi, said Beer.
“They murdered Jews and Arabs just because they were Israeli,” he told JNS, using the same words he used with the U.S. leader. Rescue workers could not even recognize Darawshy’s body because of how badly the terrorists tortured him, he added.
Beer recounted how he told the president that at his Muslim funeral in Nazareth, a Jewish fellow volunteer felt obligated to recite the kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer, in his memory.
The Bedouin doctor, Tarek Abu-Arar, 53, from the Israeli town of Arara, who spoke to the assailants in Arabic, was among the eight volunteers injured in the attacks. He was tied to a utility pole for eight hours and forced to watch the killings, said Beer. Two other volunteers were kidnapped and taken back to Gaza, he added.
Beer’s wife, Gitty, herself a paramedic, had rushed to the scene with her daughter-in-law and managed to recover the body of a young man that she saw from the ambulance nearly catching fire from a blaze near the city of Sderot, he said.
He also told the president about the 6-month-old twins a paramedic found hidden in a safe room in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, who had been alone for 16 hours following the murder of their parents. The paramedic, who entered the residence accompanied by police counterterror forces, felt like he was rescuing the children from the Holocaust, said Beer.
Beer, a 50-year-old Israeli-American whose family immigrated to Israel from New York and who splits his time between Israel and the United States, said that he left the meeting with the president proud as an American, as an Israeli and as a Jew.
“The fact that we have America behind us uplifts our spirit,” he concluded.