Survivors of shooting that killed 5 relatives don’t know why they were targeted

Town of Basmat Tab’un reels after Wednesday’s massacre, with residents afraid to leave homes, speak out or console Daleeka family, which blasts authorities for not protecting them

People react at the scene where five family members were shot to death in the northern Israeli Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un, September 27, 2023 (Shir Torem/Flash90)
People react at the scene where five family members were shot to death in the northern Israeli Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un, September 27, 2023 (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Two of the survivors of a shooting that killed five members of the same family in the northern Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un on Thursday expressed their shock at having been targeted, described the gruesome nature of the attack and blamed Israeli authorities for failing to act against the record-breaking violence plaguing the Arab community.

“They thought I died because of all the blood, so they didn’t shoot me again,” Hassan Daleeka told Channel 12 a day after the shooting, speaking from the emergency room of Haifa’s Rambam Hospital where he was being treated for bullet wounds. Hassan was the only member of the Daleeka family who was shot and managed to survive.

“I don’t know who my enemy is,” he said, expressing his confusion regarding who the perpetrators might have been or why his family was targeted.

Hassan lost his wife, son and three of his nephews in Wednesday’s shooting.

He said masked men entered his yard where he and his family were sitting and began shooting from just six meters away.

“I asked them not to shoot, but it did not help,” Hassan said. “I am a truck driver with a clean conscience. I have not harmed anyone, I am not involved in any conflicts. I don’t know why they had to shoot at women and children too.”

He called for the Shin Bet’s involvement in combating the Arab crime wave, a controversial opinion among members of the community and one generally opposed by the security service, whose leaders have maintained that its advanced tools should not be used against Israeli citizens.

Hassan lamented authorities’ failure to act, suggesting that the approach would be different if the victims were Jewish.

“Jews live near us. If Jews were injured, wouldn’t the killers be located?” he asked.

Ahmad, 18, was in the yard when the assailants arrived but managed to flee when the shooting started without being hit. His two younger brothers Walid, 17, and Adam, 14, were killed.

Speaking to the Haaretz daily, Ahmad recalled how one perpetrator first shot his aunt, Zeinab, who was standing by the door of their home, before spraying his brother and cousins with bullets. Two more masked men then appeared and fired more bullets at his already wounded relatives with long-barreled firearms, he said.

He ran in the opposite direction but was chased by the shooters who followed him up the stairs before he hid behind a wall. “I don’t know how I managed to escape. I was lucky,” he said.

Police at the scene of a mass shooting in the northern Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un on September 27, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

On Thursday, a shocked Basmat Tab’un reeled from the shooting.

The handful of residents who spoke with Haaretz said the town had never endured such an attack and had barely made national headlines before Wednesday. Many more residents were afraid to speak to the media, fearing they could be targeted next.

“We are still in shock. Look at how empty the streets are. There is a terrible fear. We are still digesting what happened. We are a small village, and we are all close to each other. We’re now talking about how we can continue life as usual,” said one resident, who declined to be identified.

Only a small number of neighbors visited the Daleeka family’s mourning tent, ostensibly due to fears that they could be implicated in the shooting.

“We are afraid to open the windows of the house or even go out in the street,” said a relative of the targeted family identified as Issam.

He and other relatives insisted on the family’s peaceful nature and lack of connection to crime.

People at the scene where five family members were shot to death in the Northern Israeli Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un, September 27, 2023 (Shir Torem/Flash90)

“We didn’t receive any threat and we weren’t in conflict. Those who are in conflict fear for their lives and don’t sit in an open yard,” said Ahmad’s uncle, Rafi.

The family also fumed at police for claiming that Wednesday’s massacre was carried out in revenge over another shooting in Haifa hours earlier. “This is a complete lie,” Rafi said.

“The police do nothing. They are in the village all day, but all they do is hand out tickets. Catching murderers or deterring criminals is apparently not their job,” he said.

“We don’t know what to tell our children after this massacre… It’s a trauma that will stay with them for the rest of their lives,” Rafi said. “We are all afraid and worry about our loved ones. We are being murdered inside our homes. You have to check your car before you leave, look in your mirrors and be very careful. This is the reality.”

Basmat Tab’un’s mayor, Raid Zebidat, blamed the government, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir for the ongoing violence ravaging the Arab community.

“Netanyahu is trying to make peace with the whole world while society in Israel is crumbling. He is destroying our country,” Zebidat said, referring to Netanyahu’s efforts to broker a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.

Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai (4th from right), and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (3rd from right) at the Israel Police Independence Day ceremony at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem, April 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

“In addition to all the injustice that the Arab society faces, there are ministers like [Finance Minister Bezalel] Smotrich who fight against us,” he said, referring to Smotrich’s efforts to withhold funding for Arab communities due to claims it was being transferred to crime families.

“We are being murdered in the streets, inside our homes, in the kindergartens and in the schools, and the government is dealing with nonsense. If the members of this government cannot protect their citizens, they should resign,” the mayor said.

In the Haifa murder on Wednesday, a man was gunned down in broad daylight after apparently being mistaken for a relative involved in a criminal feud.

Police arrested nine suspects in the nearby town of Umm al-Fahm, and the Haifa Magistrate’s Court extended their remands by eight days.

Earlier Thursday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara gave permission to police to use the controversial Pegasus phone spyware tool as they investigate the Basmat Tab’un shooting.

Her approval came as the government was set to form a committee to examine law enforcement’s use of spyware technology in the wake of a scandal that broke out in 2022 over police usage of sophisticated cellphone hacking technology to obtain access to citizens’ devices.

Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai, second right, arrives at the scene where five family members were shot to death in the northern Israeli Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un, September 27, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai arrived at the scene of the mass shooting in Basmat Tab’un on Wednesday, with Ben Gvir joining him.

In a video statement from the scene, Shabtai called the shooting one of the “most abhorrent events we have ever encountered — a targeted elimination of an entire family that was apparently in response to a killing in Haifa this morning.”

Wednesday’s deaths brought the number of victims of homicides in the Arab community to 188 since the start of the year, compared to 80 during the same period in 2022.

The killings are part of a violent crime wave that has engulfed the Arab community in recent years. Many community leaders blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence. They also point to decades of neglect and discrimination by government offices as the root cause of the problem.

Authorities have blamed organized crime and the proliferation of illegal weapons, while some have pointed to a failure by communities to cooperate with law enforcement to root out criminals.

Ben Gvir, who is responsible for the police force, has also faced widespread criticism that he is not doing enough to curb the violence.

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