This Israeli Father and Daughter Didn't Stand a Chance When a Gaza Rocket Had Hit

It's been a year since a rocket killed Nadin and Khalil Awad in Dahmash, a village that has no bomb shelters because it is unrecognized. The government still isn't recognizing it , and the only road that's been paved is meant to ease congestion for Lod residents

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The village of Dahmash, near Lod.
The village of Dahmash, near Lod. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

It was the last night of Ramadan. Traditional cookies had just been put on a table at the entrance to the house, when the rising and falling sound of a siren shattered the festive atmosphere and upended the life of the Awad family.

Fragments from a rocket exploding in their front yard struck 16-year-old Nadin and her father, Khalil, 52. Trees collapsed and the front of the house was riddled with steel shrapnel, with a sharp smell of gunpowder filling the air. Sixteen sheep died in an adjacent pen, with four others wounded. An ambulance couldn’t get to the location, which was not on any map or app. Residents put out the fire on their own and took Nadin and Khalil to hospital. Doctors determined their deaths on arrival.

It later turned out to have been one of the most intense barrages of rockets fired at Israel during the May 2021 war between Israel and Gaza – in fact, one of the heaviest in the country’s history. Twelve of those rockets were fired at the area that includes the village where the Awad family lived.

The village of Dahmash, just outside Lod, has no bomb shelters. Around 1,000 people live there. Their presence is a fact, but the village is unrecognized. It is trapped as an enclave between roads and rail lines, bordering on three regional councils, none of which wants to annex it, not even as a neighborhood.

The Awad family's sheep pen after the rocket strike, last May.

Two weeks before the rocket hit the Awad home, the High Court of Justice instructed the state to make a decision on the village’s status. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has still not done so, however, despite having received professional recommendations on the matter six months ago. The only road that has been paved in the village was a result of the need to alleviate traffic congestion for residents of Lod.

Nadin Awad

Members of the family are still reeling from the deaths of Nadin and Khalil, who are buried side by side at the Muslim cemetery in Ramle. Nadin’s mother, Suzan, is getting professional help. The room belonging to Nadin, who was a star student with a signature smile, remains as it was. Her dolls, guitar and keyboard are all in place, as are the drawings she made. “I sit outside my house and see only them. I don’t see anything else,” says Suzan. “I’m talking to you now but all I see is them, here on the floor.”

Members of the immediately family generally refrain from discussing either their personal grief or the government’s behavior. The conversation with Suzan was conducted with difficulty, with a family member supporting her, laying his arm on her.

A query by Haaretz sent a week after the deaths revealed that the family would be compensated for the damage caused to contents of the house and to the car. But the damage to the house itself would not be compensated for, since it was built without a permit. The land in Dahmash is agricultural, and the state does not grant residence permits there easily. Property tax officials who visited after the deaths said that stones were thrown at them, making them turn back.

Outside the Awad family home on the day of the rocket strike, last May.

Ultimately, the family and the tax authorities reached a compromise, giving the family some of the money needed to rebuild the house, in addition to the other compensation. According to Arafat Ismail, Nadin’s uncle and the head of the village council, the family did not wish to embark on another legal battle with the state, preferring to settle with what they got.

The restoration of the front of the house was funded partly by donations. No compensation was given for the dead sheep, since they were not registered as animals used for a business. “Whatever the state gives, it won’t make a difference,” says Suzan. “The state won’t give me their souls or allow me to see them again.”

No-man’s-land

According to a map of boundaries at the Interior Ministry, between the 1930s and 1990s there were only a few structures in the area of the village. Building then began rapidly, with many dozens of structures now standing, including sheds and structures used for industry, all located in a dangerous and neglected complex.

A cyclist in Dahmash.

The area is under the jurisdiction of the Sdot Dan Regional Council, but does not enjoy full municipal services. Children go to school in Ramle, and residents are registered under phony addresses in that city. As far as Haaretz could find, not a single ruling has been made regarding the welfare of residents that was not a result of an appeal to a court. It is a no-man’s-land, with elected officials demonstrating a total lack of interest or knowledge about it.

After the death of Nadin and Khalil, the grieving family received a letter from then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Officials found it hard to get to the family home and left the letter at Nadin’s school. The family only got the letter a month after her death.

Khalil AwadCredit: Prime Minister's Office website

Representatives of then-President Reuven Rivlin did manage to come for a consolation visit carrying a letter, but almost all cabinet members refrained from doing so. A week after the deaths, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, used Nadin’s photo in a speech he gave. The family felt that this was a cynical use of her death and demanded that government representatives come for a visit. They never did. The only one who managed to touch the family was Culture Minister Chili Tropper, who visited the village and placed one of Nadin’s drawings in his office.

A few weeks after being chosen as president, Isaac Herzog started touring Israel as part of what was described as “a journey into society’s fissures.” His first destination was Lod, and it was decided that the visit would include meetings with all different communities living in Lod. An attempt was made to set up a meeting with the Awad family, but this failed.

The graves of Khalil and Nadine, side by side.

The family says the president’s team refused to come to the village, suggesting instead a meeting at Nadin’s school. The family refused, and the meeting did not take place. Nadin’s aunt, a math teacher at the school, met Herzog, but not as an official representative of the family. According to the president’s staff, there was no plan to visit the village, which is why the family was invited to Lod. “We told Herzog’s advisers that we wouldn’t come to the school. If he wants to honor us, let him come to the house,” says Ismail.

Like a refuge camp

Last December, the director-general of the Interior Ministry, Yair Hirsh, received a document with recommendations from the boundaries committee at the Interior Ministry’s Development Authority. The main recommendation was to leave the municipal connection between Dahmash and the Sdot Dan council in place.

Committee members said this was the preferred option since Sdot Dan, in contrast to Lod and Ramle, was considered a rural area, allowing residents to continue making a living from agriculture. This was the preference of the residents, too, said the document. Overall, the three adjacent regional councils were in agreement: none of them waned Dahmash to be under their responsibility.

Lod’s municipality said that it wouldn’t be able to meet Dahmash’s needs because it had already “contributed enough towards the absorption of special groups within its boundaries. Since the riots last May, Lod has not returned to normal, and is in a very delicate situation.” In Ramle, officials said said that even though residents interacted with the city on a daily basis, there were natural boundaries separating the two communities, and the state would have to devote too many resources to join the village to the city.

The rail line at the edge of Dahmash.

The Sdot Dan Regional Council expressed concerns regarding its economic capability to absorb the villagers. Council representatives appeared before the boundaries committee, saying that the council had a heterogeneous population, including the ultra-Orthodox, religious Zionist Jews and secular Jews, arguing that it could not meet the demands of Arab residents.

However, the committee decided last December to add the village to the regional council. Committee members said the decision was difficult due to determined objections by authorities adjacent to the village. In order to avoid “an extreme change,” the committee recommended that the interior minister leave the village as part of the regional council. David Yifrah, the head of the council, is waiting for the minister’s decision.

“If she makes that decision, the state has to come and sit with me, telling me how I can do this,” says Yifrah. “It involves hundreds of millions of shekels and years of work. Someone has to finance it. Everyone should be approached, fixing the infrastructure and building a community. Right now, it looks like a refugee camp.”

Until a decision is made, the council is, as required, providing Dahmash with welfare, education and garbage removal services. The last of these was obtained after a court order was given. “I give everything and receive not even a cent, not from the state and not from residents,” says Yifrah.

Arafat Ismail, Nadine's uncle.

He says he was told that the minister has not had the time to make a decision. In the meantime, there is no use discussing bomb shelters. Yifrah objects to building public structures under the current circumstances, in which the village is not officially under the council’s jurisdiction. Residents remain exposed to potential rocket fire.

At the end of April, a year after the High Court ruling, attorney Kais Nasser, who represents the village residents, sent a letter to the State Prosecutor’s Office. He asked why, despite the ruling, the interior minister decided over the last year to establish communities across the country, while neglecting to attach Dahmash to a regional council. No answer has been received to date.

In response to a question by Haaretz, the ministry said that the matter is under review and that a decision will soon be made. “The comparison to new communities is irrelevant since in this case, it is a matter of regulating existing structures, not the building of new ones,” the ministry stated.

A few weeks ago, residents awoke to unfamiliar noise. Trucks deposited tar in the middle of the village, and a road was paved. They were surprised. A year after the High Court said the state had to decide on their fate, infrastructure work was being done. Streetlights were also put up. But they were soon disabused of their hopes. A road was being built for the first time, but it wasn’t for their benefit; it was to ease traffic congestion in nearby areas.

The new road that has been paved in the village.

No one told village residents about the impending work and no one asked for their permission, but they’re pleased with the road. “Everyone is satisfied,” Lod city officials said. “Drivers from nearby communities and the village, which will become part of the Sdot Dan council, are enjoying the solution found by the city for traffic congestion.”

Ismail doesn’t care if the road was built because of traffic problems. “Some people’s troubles are a consolation for others,” he says. “The road may not be intended for us, but we benefit from it in the meantime.” Lod has dubbed the road, at least the part that belongs to it, “Emirates Road.” Ismail has a different plan. He wants to name it after Nadin, who, along with her father, died because of the village not being recognized.

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