The war effort through the eyes of Arab-Israeli first responders

Volunteers from the Rahat chapter in the Gaza Periphery have been responding nonstop to medical emergencies and communal efforts.

Arab volunteers in the United Hatzalah ambulance shift from the Bedouin city of Rahat covers first-responder needs in the Gaza Periphery, October 2023. Credit: United Hatzalah.
Arab volunteers in the United Hatzalah ambulance shift from the Bedouin city of Rahat covers first-responder needs in the Gaza Periphery, October 2023. Credit: United Hatzalah.

It’s been six years since Gaber Abo Gafer joined United Hazalah and founded the Rahat chapter in Israel.

Their continuous contribution has made them an integral part of United Hatzalah’s lifesaving efforts during the war as well as during peacetime.

On Saturday, Oct. 7, at the onset of the attack by Hamas against Israel, members of the Rahat chapter responded to five missile attacks within the city. Rahat is a predominately Arab Bedouin city in the south of Israel with a population of almost 80,000. It includes volunteers from the Arab towns and communities in the area and provides service to those towns, as well as to anyone on the roadways in the region.

Today, that chapter has grown and consists of 70 first responders—11 of them women. Their continuous contribution has made them an integral part of United Hatzalah’s lifesaving efforts during the war as well as during peacetime.

Since the onset of the war, volunteers from the chapter have been responding nonstop to medical emergencies, and communal efforts in the area, including providing humanitarian aid to residents of, and first responders in the Gaza Periphery.

Volunteers from th Bedouins city of Rahat in southern Israel prepare kosher food for soldiers and first responders in the Gaza Periphery, October 2023. Credit: United Hatzalah.

Some of these communal efforts also expand beyond medical assistance and focus on a deep sense of brotherhood and solidarity. Within the city of Rahat lies a kosher-food manufacturing plant, but due to the recent security developments, it was abandoned. The Rahat volunteers, together with other local community members, saw this as an opportunity and used its facilities to make hot kosher meals for the soldiers and first responders on the frontlines.

Another example took place on Shabbat when Muslim members of the Rahat chapter, from the city and the surrounding area, took over many of the ambulance shifts in the Gaza Periphery, enabling their Jewish peers to have a day of rest.

“Medical response in times of war has a unique added challenge, since the volunteers don’t only need to respond to the medical emergency, but also need to protect themselves while doing so,” Gaffer explained.

On Monday, Oct. 9 just after 11 p.m., a terrorist was headed towards Rahat. The police were dispatched to the scene, as well as United Hatzalah volunteers. However, Abu Gafer was forced to respond to this emergency alone since there were not enough bullet-proof vests and helmets for the rest of his team.

“There are 70 volunteers in the city and only one set of protective equipment,” said Samara Ala, head of the Muslim and Christian divisions of United Hatzalah. “These are critical supplies right now, as during wartime our volunteers are not allowed to respond to medical emergencies outside of their own town without this protective equipment. It is simply too dangerous in many parts of the country. This is why we need more donations so that we can purchase more bulletproof vests and helmets for all of our volunteers.”

With the recent purchase of medical supplies and protective equipment, a number of vests have been allocated to volunteers in Rahat but not enough to supply the majority of the team.

“We have more than 700 Muslim and Christian volunteers in United Hatzalah who are spread out from the Galilee to the southern Negev,” Samara explained. “These volunteers treat every injured or ill person who needs help, regardless of religion or nationality. At United Hatzalah, we give our time to save lives, and we do that from a strong belief that we should help any person in need of medical attention.”

He continued: “We are very proud to be a part of the United Hatzalah family. During this time of conflict, we have been very active—whether it has been with renewing and updating equipment; conducting training exercises; or coordinating efforts with the local and regional municipalities. Whether it is in Arab villages, major cities or on the roads, we continue to respond to medical emergencies and save lives every day. Together, we pray for better days.”

Samara concluded by saying that “the Arab chapters of United Hatzalah have come out in force to help save lives during this difficult period. At the beginning of this past Shabbat, more than two dozen Muslim volunteers took over ambulance shifts in the Gaza Periphery in order to respond to any and all medical emergencies in the region. This is in addition to the numerous Muslim and Christian volunteers who joined the relief efforts in the days immediately following the Hamas attack. Some of our members have been killed, including Awad Darusha, and others injured like Dr. Tarek Abu Arar, who was held hostage, used as a human shield and shot by Hamas. Yet we are proud that we are able to do our part and save lives.”

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United Hatzalah of Israel is the largest independent, nonprofit, fully volunteer Emergency Medical Service organization that provides the fastest emergency medical first response throughout Israel for free. Its service is available to all people regardless of race, religion or national origin. United Hatzalah has more than 5,000 volunteers across the country, available around the clock—24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. With the help of GPS technology and iconic ambucycles, its network of volunteers has an average response time of less than three minutes. In some metropolitan areas, the average response time is 90 seconds. Its mission is to arrive at the scene of medical emergencies as soon as possible and provide the patient with professional and appropriate medical aid until an ambulance arrives, resulting in more lives saved. See more at: https://israelrescue.org/.
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