Exclusive Interview with the wife of Omar, who saved two little girls and was murdered in the Hamas attack

We arrive at the village of Abu Telul (أبو تلول) at sunset, after a perilous journey through steep hills of sand. In a few minutes, the mountains, camels, houses, will all vanish into absolute darkness. The village was recognized by the Israeli government 13 years ago, but the resources, development, playgrounds, municipal services, even street lights, haven’t yet arrived.

We come here to meet Rada Abu Sebila, the wife of Omar, who was murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7th while trying to help a family from Sderot flee the carnage. Ali, a village resident and Omar’s cousin, comes to greet us. He tells us that there is one clinic in the village built by donors and residents, and not even a single playground. Children who are born and raised here begin school only in first grade, at the age of six. Until then, they stay at home with their mothers. During the war, with no bomb shelters in the village, this routine becomes dangerous.

"I hope the government will take action after all the losses we've endured and stop seeing us as second-class citizens," Ali says as he accompanies us to a nearby building. We enter a structure that branches out into several rooms. Everything around us is falling apart: broken tiles, pipes that aren’t connected to anything, children playing between laundry hanging on the line and the foundations of a house that was never completed. We go from room to room until we reach a relatively spacious hall. Pillows and armrests are laid on the floor like comfortable low sofas.

We sit down across from Rada, a young, very pregnant woman of 24. She sits on her knees on the bare floor. Behind her, a cute toddler sneaks up and asks to be picked up and taken outside, away from the strange crowd that’s taken over the house. A young woman emerges from one of the inner rooms and takes him away; an older woman comes by us with a tray holding cups of sweet, soothing tea. Another toddler enters the room, aged three or four, smiling. He’s holding a bag of sweets. He sits at his mother's feet and is turns his attention to the candies he’s received.

Are you from Israel?

On October 7th, along with the rest of the country, the Abu Sebila family members woke up to the sound of sirens. Omar, Rada's husband, was already in Sderot – he was working as a guard in place of his brother. "I sent him a message early in the morning, he didn't reply," Rada recounts. After a while, Omar's father managed to reach him on the phone and demanded that he immediately return to the village. "I can't," Omar replied, "I'm helping a woman with two daughters, taking them to the police station."

Moments before that, Omar had recognized the car of the Suissa family.

Odaya and Dolev Suissa, battle-scarred Sderot veterans who were prepared for any scenario of missile fire, decided to leave Sderot with their two daughters upon hearing the first siren. As they left the city, they encountered a white van full of Hamas terrorists. They tried to make a run for it, but Dolev was shot dead by the terrorists. Odaya and the girls managed to hide in the car – and that's where Omar found them.

He parked his car on the side of the road when he heard Odaya crying for help and got into the driver's seat. He decided to drive them to the police station hoping that someone there could help them. At that point, the full extent of the event wasn’t clear to anyone. The encounter with the terrorists seemed like a single occurrence. They didn’t know they were headed straight into a death trap.

The police station in Sderot had turned into a murderous battlefield, and that’s where the terrorists shot Odaya and Omar to death. The little girls, aged six and three, hid in the back seat, covered with a white sheet that either their mother, father or Omar had draped over them. Several days later, a widely-circulated video featured the voice of Romi, the six-year-old, who had seen so much death, pleading for help amidst incessant gunfire. "Are you from Israel?" she asked the chief of police and a member of Sderot's Home Front Command, "Come get us, I'm here with a baby."

Alive or Dead?

Rada hadn't heard from Omar that whole day. She kept calling and sending messages, but there was no response. The following day, an unknown voice answered Omar's phone and said, "The owner of this phone was murdered, but he saved the lives of two little girls." It was one of the policemen who was recovering bodies from the scene.

Other than that, the family had no idea what had happened to Omar. "For more than two weeks, we didn't know if he was here or if he’d been abducted to Gaza," Rada recounts. Omar was classified as missing. Family representatives repeatedly visited the Shura camp in Ramla in an attempt to identify him. They provided DNA samples and carried out all the procedures necessary for his identification, but to no avail.

For 16 long and agonizing days, Rada continued to believe that Omar would be found safe and sound. "You need to start coming to terms with the possibility that Omar might not be coming back," her sister told her on one of the days, but Rada kept her faith. She couldn't sleep, and at one point, started taking sleeping pills.

On the 17th day, at around nine in the morning, the family received a call from the Home Front Command. Rada was asleep; her father took the call. When she woke up, her sister informed her that Omar had been found. "Is he alive or dead?" Rada asked. Her sister couldn't bring herself to deliver the dreadful news. When Rada's third sister entered the house, without the children, dressed in black, Rada understood.

Rada and Omar met five years ago when Omar worked for her father. She was 19, and he was twenty. When she talks about him, her eyes sparkle. This is the story of a woman who became a widow because her beloved husband saved the lives of two girls he didn't even know.

Family Portrait

Rada's child is having a hard time opening the bag of candy, and we help him, sharing his excitement when he sees the colorful tattoos inside. He’s busy throughout the conversation and then suddenly murmurs quietly, "Daddy died at the police station." Rada translates his words for us, amazed by his understanding, since they never explicitly discussed what happened.

"We went to identify Omar. Even after 17 days, Omar looked like Omar," she says. "When they washed the body with warm water in preparation for burial, the wound still bled. Everyone was shocked. Omar smelled like musk."

Rada doesn't know why it took so long to inform the family. Was it the chaos prevailing at the time in the identification department? Was his body mistakenly classified as a Hamas terrorist and put aside? There are many unanswered questions following his death, but one thing is certain: moments before he was murdered, Omar was busy saving lives. "The aunt of the little girls came to visit us," Omar's mother tells us, the same woman who served us tea at the beginning of the conversation. "It was very emotional."

At the end of the meeting, we ask Rada to show us a picture of Omar. There’s only one picture on the internet, and we wanted to see more of Omar, a man who was and is no more. Rada becomes emotional, a bashful half-smile creeping onto her face. She takes her phone out of her pocket and scrolls backwards. She shows us a lovely and touching photo but refuses to let us publish it. It's as if she's keeping the intimate moment to herself: Omar lying on his stomach with his two children sitting on his back. They’re both happy, smiling from ear to ear. There will be no similar picture with the third child.

A Shared Fate

In complete darkness and with tears in our eyes, we bid farewell to Rada, Ali, and Abu Telul village. The little children wave goodbye to us. They have lost their father; all they have left of him is a tale of heroism. Not far from them, some seventy kilometers to the west, live two little girls, aged six and three, who share their tragedy. They were spared from the massacre thanks to Omar, but they remain orphans with no father or mother.

"You can't only see us as thieves and burglars," Ali concludes. "We share a future, we share a fate."

And we are left with the question, will Israeli society be able to see its minorities as equal citizens in normal times? Omar's heroic and heartbreaking story shines the spotlight on the heroes in the desert, living among goats, camels and makeshift structures. Heroes who don't differentiate when helping the people around them. Heroes whom the murderers who attacked us on October 7th saw as inseparable from us – and slaughtered them as well. Heroes who left orphaned children, who like us, grapple with trauma, loss, incessant sirens and fear. Have they sacrificed enough to be worthy of equal citizenship in Israeli society?

The meeting with Rada took place as part of a tour organized by the New Israel Fund in unrecognized villages in the Negev, where we encountered many injustices and governmental negligence that culminated in the heavy disasters of Saturday, October 7th.

אין משילות כשאין חשמל, מים ותשתיות

המפגש עם ראדה התקיים במהלך סיור שארגנה הקרן החדשה לישראל, בכפרים הלא מוכרים בנגב, בו פגשנו בהרבה עוולות ואוזלת יד ממשלתית שהתנקזו לאסונות כבדים שהתרחשו באותה שבת, בשבעה באוקטובר.

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