When Hamas unleashed its attack on thousands of Jews attending a music festival in southern Israel earlier this month, an Israeli Arab paramedic insisted on staying at the scene to try to save lives.
In the end, he gave his own.
Awad Darawshe was 23, single, handsome — but he wasn’t at the Tribe of Nova festival to dance. He worked for Yossi Ambulances and was among a team of paramedics assigned to work the festival in a tent on the site’s periphery.
He was killed when Hamas militants slipped undetected into Israel from the Gaza Strip and butchered their way through the festival crowd and into nearby villages, settlements and kibbutzim.
Shortly after dawn on Oct. 7, rockets pierced the skies. Grenades went off. Gunfire ricocheted everywhere. Injured, bleeding revelers raced to the paramedics’ station. But the chaos quickly escalated. As the scope of the Hamas attack became clear, the station’s leader ordered the paramedics to evacuate.
Darawshe refused to leave. He was shot to death while bandaging one of the injured.
Days later, after his body was identified, the surviving paramedics told Darawshe’s family why he had chosen to stay. He felt that, as an Arab, he could somehow mediate with the attackers.
“He said, ‘No, I’m not leaving. I speak Arabic, I think I can manage,’” said his cousin, Mohammad Darawshe, who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from his home in northern Israel.
That fateful decision has left the Darawshe family reeling with sorrow, their only comfort the bravery of Awad’s actions.
“He brought us a lot of pain, he brought us a lot of agony, he brought us a lot of sorrow,” his cousin said. “But he also brought us a lot of pride — because he chose to stay with his mission until the last moment.”
A funeral was held Friday in Iksal, a small Arab-majority village about 3 miles (5 kilometers) southeast of Nazareth. Several thousand mourners attended.
The Darawshe family has lived in Iksal for generations. They are part of Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority that makes up about 20% of the population. They are the descendants of Palestinians who stayed in the country after the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Unlike Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, they are full citizens of Israel, but they face widespread discrimination. Tensions between them and Jewish Israelis flare repeatedly, particularly in times of war.
The festival attack left at least 260 Israelis dead and an undetermined number were taken hostage. In Saturday’s brutal attack by Hamas, more than 1,300 Israelis were killed altogether, the worst massacre in the country’s history. Israel declared war on Hamas the following day. As of Sunday, the conflict has also left more than 2,300 Palestinians dead and the Middle East on the precipice of a wider conflagration.
Darawshe’s death was confirmed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry in social media posts, which said Hamas not only killed Darawshe but stole his ambulance and drove it to Gaza.
“A hero,” the Foreign Ministry said of Darawshe. “May his memory be a blessing.”
Mohammad Darawshe is the director of strategy at the Givat Haviva Center for Shared Society, an organization that works to bridge the gap between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens — the ethos of the Darawshe family for which Awad made the ultimate sacrifice.
“We are very proud of his actions,” Mohammad Darawshe said. “This is what we would expect from him and what we expect from everyone in our family — to be human, to stay human and to die human.”
Sampson reported from Atlanta.