Arab ZAKA worker: ‘I had no idea where to start’; Oct. 7 massacre an affront to Islam

Jamal Waraqi describes shock over scenes in southern communities, says he keeps thinking about things he may have missed; urges all religious groups ‘to do our part for the country’

Jamal Waraqi, an Arab Israeli volunteer for the ZAKA rescue service, November 13, 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Jamal Waraqi, an Arab Israeli volunteer for the ZAKA rescue service, November 13, 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An Arab Muslim Israeli volunteer for the ZAKA rescue service on Monday said he thought he had “seen it all” before Hamas terrorists rampaged through southern communities on October 7.

However, when he arrived at the scene of a brutal massacre in the city of Sderot, it was “the first time I got to a scene… and had no idea where to start,” Jamal Waraqi told Channel 12 news in an interview.

Waraqi said he did not fully comprehend the scope of the disaster until he saw a man lying next to a motorbike at the entrance to the southern city.

“I discovered that the man was shot in the head. After that, I raised my head, and started to see bodies strewn across the road from left to right.”

ZAKA, a group that handles human remains after terror attacks and other disasters, has worked round the clock since October 7, when terrorists burst through the Gaza border and brutally murdered some 1,200 people — mostly civilians in their homes and at a music festival — and abducted at least 240 people into the Gaza Strip under a deluge of rockets aimed all over Israel.

In the interview, Waraqi said he worked in the kibbutzim of Sa’ad, Kfar Aza, and Be’eri, the sites of terrible atrocities committed by terrorists. Entire families were shot, burned alive, and mutilated in their homes during the incursion.

File: A soldier walks through Kfar Aza, October 16, 2023. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

“It wasn’t easy — when we enter a home and begin to discover the life that was,” he said, describing seeing photos, toys, and Shabbat candles still laid out, alongside dead bodies.

“Five people in a photo, five corpses on the floor.”

He said that it “eats at him” from the inside when he returns home from work, knowing that there was incomplete work left behind where the atrocities took place.

“I try to go to sleep, but at the same time, my mind races… I might have missed something, so tomorrow, I have to return, to make sure that I did the work and paid respect to those who deserve it,” he said.

“What happened there is not related to Islam or any religion,” he continued. “It’s related to cannibals, cruelty, and unbridled hatred, not religion.”

“In the Quran, it’s written that during war — and I don’t define this as war, because what happened was an attack on innocents, not a war — but also during war, our law says you can’t kill women, children; you’re forbidden from killing the elderly, you can’t even cut down a tree,” he said. “And if a person stands in front of me without a gun I can’t harm him. And that’s not what happened there.”

File: The destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 14, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Waraqi said that he wasn’t afraid to work, even while the area had not yet been cleared of terrorists in the early days of the war: “Someone has to do the work. If it’s not me, someone else has to.”

He said he started to volunteer for ZAKA 13 years ago in Jerusalem. The organization is generally associated with the ultra-Orthodox community, but it has volunteers from all across Israeli society.

“In my eyes, it doesn’t matter, I am a part of this country, like every Arab, Muslim, Druze, and Christian, it doesn’t matter. We have to do our part for the country,” Waraqi said.

He called his coworkers “angels” who sweep in to deal with issues others cannot, adding that “from the moment I joined the ZAKA family, I felt a part of it.”

He said that the organization has offered counselling to its members due to the horrors they witnessed, but said that for the time being, he was focusing on the work.

There’s “no place for [other] considerations. There’s only consideration for work,” Waraqi said.

“We are in a situation together with Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze. It’s impossible to differentiate. The State of Israel is one body, we are the left hand, the Jews are the right, and a body can’t work if one of the hands doesn’t work. We have to be one body, one soul,” he continued.

“It’s possible to live in peace; in the end, we all looking for the same thing.”

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