Said El Afinish is one of dozens of Israeli Bedouins who work and volunteer for Magen David Adom, and now treat people wounded in rocket attacks in Israel’s south.
The grim news in America shows two sides of the Middle East conflict now raging in Gaza and Israel: the Jewish Israelis from the Israel Defense Force (IDF) fighting the Muslim Hamas in Gaza. At first glance, it appears like a war over religion. And perhaps it is for some.
But few people realize how multicultural Israelis truly are. Israelis are also Muslims, Christians, and Baha’i. These citizens of Israel are fighting for the same basic values that Americans enjoy every day.
And as Israelis, a number of Arabs also join in the fight to protect Israeli values and its citizens from harm’s way. A shining example of this can be found in the Bedouin community of the Negev Desert, near Sderot, where dozens of Israeli Bedouin people are working for the Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross.
One of those Bedouins is Said El Afinish. The 38-year-old father of seven lives in Rahat, a Bedouin village not far from the biblical and modern-day city of Beersheva. Since the conflict erupted a couple of weeks ago, El Afinish has been working round-the-clock on long shifts in the cities of Sderot, Ashkelon and the surrounding kibbutzes and villages, now on high alert.
His job is to make sure that Israelis who are struck by Hamas-fired Qassem rockets — or who are in shock because of the situation — can be rushed to emergency services at the hospital. As a medic, he’s even sleeping some nights in the MDA station in Sderot to be nearby if he’s needed while on call. In regular times, he’s a medic like one you’d find in New York City or Atlanta.
In Rahat, as head of a local school committee, El Afinish also counsels youngsters and their teachers on how to use the school’s shelters when the sirens start wailing, announcing a Qassem rocket will land nearby.
The work is in his blood
For El Afinish, now an employed medic at MDA, the work, he says, is “in his blood.” He was awarded a full-time position working for the prestigious crew, after volunteering for eight years, helping them when needed. While there are many doctors who come from Israel’s Bedouin community, there are very few medical volunteers among the community. He didn’t think this was just and enlisted himself for service in the MDA, where they trained him to give life-saving support to people.
“Among the Bedouin, there aren’t a lot of people who understand why it’s important to volunteer to help people who are sick. Today there are many Bedouin doctors. You can find them in clinics and hospitals, but you won’t find them among the community,” El Afinish tells ISRAEL21c.
The inspiration to volunteer for the MDA came during the period when El Afinish was working as a bus driver, transporting children and the elderly around Israel’s busy highways. “I was a bus driver and saw so many accidents, and I saw that it is something I must do to help people,” he says.
After seeing one too many car accidents, and just watching the injured suffer while his hands were in the air, El Afinish decided to join the MDA so he could put his hands to work.
You can be black, white, yellow, Jewish, Muslim, Christian or Pagan. It really doesn’t matter to him. If you are hurt, he’ll be there to help: “Everyone is a human being for me. I have to help everyone,” he says.
As for his own family and community in Rahat, El Afinish is making sure that people are using their shelters and running to them as soon as they hear the alarm, warning that rockets are being fired from Gaza. By law all buildings built after 1990, he says, are equipped with shelters so the majority of Bedouin people in Rahat are protected. Those Bedouins living in unrecognized villages, unfortunately, remain vulnerable to Hamas rockets.
No distinction when it comes to saving lives
Roy Rosenfeld, the MDA spokesperson for the Negev region, estimates there are about 12 Bedouins employed by the MDA in the Negev, and that an additional few dozen serve as volunteers. This is among a crew of about several hundred Israelis that serve the region. Most Bedouin medics live in the Arab settlements he says, or in Rahat.
“Because they are Israeli citizens they are like everyone else. In the MDA service we are all medics, all medical professionals. We don’t distinguish between race, and colour, and everything else,” notes Rosenfeld who has personally trained about 15 Bedouin men for service.
As for El Afinish who’s been working full time with the MDA for a year and a half — despite the danger working when missiles are landing left, right and center, he wouldn’t trade the job for anything in the world. “It’s what I’m meant to be,” he says with a full heart.