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Terror disrupts Be’er Sheva’s peace and quiet

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South African oleh Gideon Kaufmann was at work on the afternoon of 22 March 2022 when sirens broke the peace of his hometown, Be’er Sheva. “When we heard all the ambulances, we definitely realised something crazy had happened,” he says.

It was the most deadly terrorist attack in Israel in at least half a decade. Four innocent people were killed, two of them mothers each with three children. One was a Chabad rabbi and father of four who ran a soup kitchen. Another was a gentle 67-year-old man. Many others were injured.

The terrorist ran over a man riding a bicycle before driving to a petrol station and stabbing a woman. He then drove to a nearby shopping centre and stabbed another man and a woman. He drove away, crashed into another vehicle, and stabbed another person before being shot and killed by a civilian passerby.

“I work less than a kilometre away from the petrol station which was attacked,” says Kaufmann. “It’s probably at the biggest mall complex in ‘B7’ as we fondly refer to Be’er Sheva. I’m a chemical engineer, originally from Cape Town. I work with a company which sells laboratory and specialised engineering equipment. Incidentally, the company has a customer-facing shop at the centre where the attack happened. In some of the videos you can actually see the shop sign.”

He, his wife Nicky, and his son, Tuvya, made aliya in 2019. They moved into their house in Be’er Sheva on 1 March 2020, and the first lockdown started 10 days later.

Another South African oleh who asked to remain anonymous, says, “Be’er Sheva isn’t big – the attack happened a few minutes’ drive from where we live. We were affected in the sense that these events erode our sense of safety and security and spread hate and distrust among people.”

According to various media outlets, the terrorist was identified as Muhammad Alab Ahmed abu Alkiyan, a Bedouin-Israeli from the town of Hura who had served time in an Israeli prison. He was arrested in 2015 along with other suspects for supporting and promoting ISIS (Islamic State) to students at the school where he was a teacher.

He appeared to have acted in line with instructions found in ISIS attack manuals which call for “lone-wolf” attackers to use vehicles for ramming attacks, and when these can’t drive any further, to stop and use sharp knives for stabbings. According to ISIS manuals, “this creates maximum carnage”.

But Kaufmann says the city won’t let such an event detract from its peaceful and multicultural essence, and that it’s a great place to live. “Life is great in B7 – it’s growing in leaps and bounds. Construction is booming, there are top malls, top schools, a great Anglo [English speaking] community, and no matter where you live in B7, you’re always a bus trip away from the centre.

“You have Soroka Hospital, which has some of the best doctors and professors. When I had an operation a few weeks back, my surgical team consisted of two professors – one was Arab and the other Jewish. The nurses were Arab, Jewish [two Russian, one Ethiopian], and my anaesthetist was Russian. I knew I was in good hands.

“B7 is the epitome of multiculturism and how well it works,” he says. “We attended a wedding last night where we met a whole bunch of South Africans – some converted and some not – and it was so great to hear people speaking Afrikaans in the middle of B7! One thing that always amazes us is that in December, all the Russian stores have Christmas trees and decorations for sale next to the Chanukah stuff. Olim are from Russia, Ukraine, Ethiopia, South America, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, South Africa, Holland, India, and many other places. We know we made one of the best choices in our life to come here.”

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