At a rest stop near Hamas attack sites, Israelis rush to help families and soldiers


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A family of survivors is taken by volunteer drivers from their home.

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A family of survivors is taken by volunteer drivers from their home.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

BEIT KAMA JUNCTION, Israel — The kosher McDonald’s is closed. So is every other restaurant at this gas station watering hole.

But this dusty highway rest stop is where Israelis are rushing to help.

The disaster zone is not far away — where hundreds of Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip killed hundreds of Israeli civilians and soldiers and took hostages this past weekend. There are still Hamas gunmen loose.


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Israeli soldiers and civilians at the gas station and kosher McDonald’s in Beit Kama Junction, near Sderot, Israel.

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Israeli soldiers and civilians at the gas station and kosher McDonald’s in Beit Kama Junction, near Sderot, Israel.

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But there’s a rickety tabletop where volunteer drivers are coordinating rescue missions, speeding into towns and communities and spiriting out families amid a mass evacuation of Israelis along the Gaza border.

One volunteer driver is Ronit Sela, a longtime advocate of Palestinian rights.

“When Israeli Jews know that I help Palestinians, they often view me as somebody who chose a side,” she says. “As a human rights activist, I can say that I chose humanity. And right now there are families with kids, and disabled people, who are just in panic and they need to be evacuated to a safe place.”

Dairy farmer and army reservist Dudik Laniado, 64, went to an evacuated Israeli community to feed and milk the cows, and rescue his nephew’s dog, Pluto.


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Israeli soldiers and vehicles at a gas station.

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Israeli soldiers and vehicles at a gas station.

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“There’s one organization that is not really being helpful right now. It’s the government. We don’t understand what’s going on. Where are they?” says Amir Tibon, the dog’s owner, and a journalist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “What happened here is the biggest failure in the history of the state of Israel.”

The highway rest stop is also for Israeli soldiers on their way to the front lines for a potential ground invasion, not knowing if they’ll come back alive.

A religious Jewish man offers them blessings. He puts his hands on their heads and recites a biblical blessing: May God bless you and protect you. May God lift up His face and grant you peace.

One by one, he gives the soldiers a long hug.


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A religious Jewish man offers soldiers blessings and prayers.

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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

A religious Jewish man offers soldiers blessings and prayers.

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One by one, a religious Jewish man gives soldiers a long hug.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

One by one, a religious Jewish man gives soldiers a long hug.

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An Israeli military helicopter flies above the highway rest stop at Beit Kama Junction.

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An Israeli military helicopter flies above the highway rest stop at Beit Kama Junction.

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Ronit Sela, a longtime advocate of Palestinian rights, volunteers as a driver. “As a human rights activist, I can say that I chose humanity. And right now there are families with kids, and disabled people, who are just in panic and they need to be evacuated to a safe place,” she says.

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Ronit Sela, a longtime advocate of Palestinian rights, volunteers as a driver. “As a human rights activist, I can say that I chose humanity. And right now there are families with kids, and disabled people, who are just in panic and they need to be evacuated to a safe place,” she says.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR


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Tamara Abramov, 72 years old, was rescued from her home as Gaza fighters were beaten back.

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Tamara Abramov, 72 years old, was rescued from her home as Gaza fighters were beaten back.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR


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Young activists outside a gas station near Sderot, Israel, play music and pass out food to soldiers.

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Young activists outside a gas station near Sderot, Israel, play music and pass out food to soldiers.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR


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Israeli soldiers and vehicles at gas station.

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Israeli soldiers and vehicles at gas station.

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Fire burns after an apparent rocket attack on an open field, following a convoy that was entering its last run to rescue a family from Sderot.

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Fire burns after an apparent rocket attack on an open field, following a convoy that was entering its last run to rescue a family from Sderot.

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