In one of the most dramatic terrorist attacks of the year, a gunman went on a rampage on Tel Aviv’s trendy Dizengoff Street, killing Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruimi. An hour later, while trying to escape, the terrorist killed a third person – Bedouin taxi driver Ayman Shaaban. Shaaban had refused to cooperate with the killer, and sources believe the terrorist was concerned that Shaaban would inform the police about him.
Because police were slow to declare Shaaban a victim of terror, news outlets initially referred to him simply as a “murder victim.” But as OneFamily learned more about the murder, it became clear that the terrorist was responsible for Shaaban’s murder and that Shaaban’s large family had fallen into great distress by the loss of its primary breadwinner.
At the time of his death, Shaaban was supporting three wives, as is customary in Bedouin culture, and 15 children, including four step-children. His third wife, Heba, was three months pregnant when he was murdered. She is now nine months pregnant and expecting to give birth in two weeks.
OneFamily Chairman Marc Belzberg said he was moved to act as soon as he heard about the plight of the 15 orphans, who lost not only a father but also any possibility of a normal livelihood. OneFamily’s representative made contact with the family shortly after the mourning period ended and offered the organization’s assistance.
This week, Marc, along with Pini Rabinovich, OneFamily’s coordinator for the southern region, paid a visit to Shaaban’s wives and children to present gifts from OneFamily to help ease the burden on the families. Each child 16 years old or younger received a new bicycle, each child 17 or older received a check for $500, and each of the three wives, along with Shaaban’s mother, received a check for $750.
“When I learned about what was happening with the family and that there were now 15 more orphans, I saw it as OneFamily’s duty to step in and try to help,” Marc said. “Just as any Jewish, Christian, or Muslim family in Israel, Ayman Shaaban’s wives and children suffer from the sudden financial crisis created by terror and the immense emotional pain that goes with losing a loved one under such circumstance.”
Meeting the Clan in Lod
As OneFamily’s van and trolley carrying nine new bicycles rolled into the driveway in Lod next to the homes of two of Shaaban’s widows and their children, Shaaban’s brothers were already outside, waiting to give their visitors a warm greeting.
“Welcome, welcome,” one of the brothers said to the group, receiving Marc and the OneFamily staff with warm hugs and a smile.
The experience turned out to be a fascinating glimpse into the Bedouin world, where the family asked not to be identified. Here, Shaaban’s large family was far from unusual. He himself had come from a family of 18 children from two mothers. His biological mother had given birth to 14 of those children, and she occupied a place of deep reverence in the household. His father comes from an earlier era, having earned his living as a camel trader in the south.
As the children eagerly lined up behind the trailer to receive their new bicycles, the spectacle began to draw attention from neighbors, many of whom were not pleased to see the family receiving gifts from a Jewish organization. One neighbor was pushing the oldest children to refuse to accept the gifts as a protest against the Israeli authorities.
Undaunted, though visibly nervous about drawing too much attention, the older children received their checks and Shaaban’s brothers accepted on behalf of two of Shaaban’s wives. The third wife, who had been divorced before she married Shaaban – a status viewed unfavorably by the Bedouin clan – did not live with the others and was not considered part of the family.
After all of the gifts were distributed, Marc and OneFamily staff joined the brothers in Shaaban’s old living room to reminisce about their late brother. They spoke about how he was well known in the city, and much loved, within the family and in the larger community.
They also expressed deep gratitude to OneFamily. When Marc asked how OneFamily could help even more, one of the brothers asked Marc to intervene with Israeli authorities over a legal matter that remains unresolved. Marc told him he would do his best to help.
The members of the household remain true to traditional Bedouin customs, such as keeping men and women separate, particularly in public, and with women covering their heads completely, according to the traditional custom. They also continue the tight-knit family structure. The large extended family takes up three adjacent homes in the area. Members of one family walk freely through the homes of the others, and all of them band together when needed, as they have following the loss of Shaaban.
The Third Wife on the Other Side of Town
After coffee with the Bedouin family, four bicycles remained in the trailer. Those were reserved for the four children Shaaban was raising with his third wife, Heba. The couple also had a toddler-age daughter, and Heba was in her ninth month of pregnancy. She said she planned to name the baby after Shaaban.
Heba, who is not Bedouin, moved to Israel from Jordan in 2000 when she married her first husband, an immigrant from Ethiopia. The couple divorced 10 years later. She and Shaaban met in 2012 and married in 2013. Shaaban then moved in with her full-time and lived there until he was killed.
With Shaaban’s death, she explained, she had no family in Israel, and no one to help her financially. She said that any inheritance there might be would rightfully go to Shaaban’s first wife, not to her.
She doesn’t fit with Shaaban’s Bedouin family because they are very traditional and she considers herself more modern, a quality she said that appealed to Shaaban. “He looked for qualities that he did not find in his family,” she said. “And he found them in me.”
She said he had hoped to stay in the home she shared with Shaaban but the rent was too high and she would have to leave by the end of the year. She works at an ICU unit at a hospital and earns NIS 6,000 per month but her rent costs her NIS 5,000, making it very hard to make ends meet.
At the same time, she said, she was finding it difficult to find a new home because landlords were reluctant to rent to a single mother with six children. She also lives with the constant fear that the children will be all alone if anything should ever happen to her because they have no other family in the country.
Heba currently receives no assistance from the government. She has also had to prove the paternity of her children through DNA testing, and managed to preserve a sample of Shaaban’s DNA before he was killed.
Her children said they looked at Shaaban as their real father, even though he was their step-father. “My second dad was like my real father to me,” Heba’s oldest son said. “We loved him. His death was really hard for us, too.”
Heba also said she was moved by OneFamily’s gifts and efforts on behalf of herself and her children and noted that no other Jewish organization had come to visit to offer help, and that she had too much pride to ask for help from her Arab friends. “Your coming to visit me, thinking about me, it means so much to me,” she said.
Read the news coverage about the visit at the following links: