Photo by Majdi Fathi/TPS-IL on 10 June, 2024

‘No Innocent Civilians’: A Former Gaza Man’s Dire Warning to the World

Public By Sveta Listratov • 10 June, 2024

Jerusalem, 10 June, 2024 (TPS) -- In a deeply personal interview, former Khan Yunis resident Dor Shachar, who escaped from his home and converted to Judaism over two decades ago, sheds light on the deeply ingrained culture of hatred and violence in Gaza.

“There are no innocent civilians in Gaza,” he argued in a conversation with The Press Service of Israel.

Born as Ayman Abu Sobah, the third child in a family of seven, he told TPS-IL he was exposed to extreme views and violence from a young age.

“My grandfather would point at the Israeli soldiers and say, ‘You see those dogs? They took my land in Jaffa. All the land in Israel is ours. Kill them when you grow up.’ My father, upon hearing of Jews being killed, would say, ‘Thank God, let them all die.’ He worked in Israel for 27 years, alongside Jews,” Shachar recalled.

“Those were the days before the First Intifada. The borders were open to both directions, Jews from Israel would come freely to Khan Yunis to shop because it was cheaper. Soldiers would play soccer with us and give us candy. My father wouldn’t let me accept candy from them. Yet, every Jewish holiday, my father’s Jewish boss would send my father home with a basket of goodies.”

His earliest memories are marked by the shocking violence he witnessed in public places.

“I remember walking in the market with my mother and suddenly seeing what I thought was a soccer ball, but it was the head of someone who was allegedly collaborating with the Israelis. I saw many such scenes in public places, people hanging from poles, limbs severed. It was part of the atmosphere.”

As a seven-year-old, eager to learn, dreaming to become a doctor to be able to help people, he was quickly disillusioned by the education he received in the schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees.

“At first, I was very excited to go to school. However, in school they taught us math by saying, ‘Here are five Jews, we killed three of them, how many are left? Two. We will kill them too.’ This was taught to seven-year-olds.”

‘I Couldn’t Handle It’

One day, an impressively well-dressed teacher delivered a “special lesson” that became a turning point for Shachar.

“He said to us, ‘Jewish soldiers kill Palestinian children, women, and men. Jews have one eye on their forehead and three legs.’ This stuck with me. He taught us that Jews and Christians were once Muslims who sinned and became infidels, and the greatest commandment was to kill them. This broke me. From a happy, smiling child, my face fell off. I couldn’t handle it.”

Refusing to participate in chants of “Death to the Jews” during a lesson, Dor was taken to the principal’s office and beaten. His father then promised further retribution at home, threatening him with hanging, burning, stabbing, and throwing him off the roof. Fortunately, an aunt intervened, saving him from his father’s wrath. Shachar was transferred to another UNRWA school, but conditions were no better. Students would throw stones at a nearby Border Police base, only to pretend to be studying when soldiers arrived.

Unable to adjust, Shachar dropped out of school and his father forced him to guard the family’s sheep. Shachar was made to sleep outside with the flock in cold, dark fields near a cemetery. This continued until he was 12, when he was deemed old enough to work with his father at a construction site in Israel. It was there that he planned his escape. One night, he fled to a construction site in Rishon LeZion.

Despite the challenges, Shachar was fortunate to meet a religious Jewish man who spoke Arabic and took him under his wing. After a few years, he decided to convert to Judaism.

However, with the wave of stabbing attacks by terrorists from Gaza and the West Bank, Dor’s presence in Israel became illegal. He was eventually caught by the police and handed over to Gaza authorities, where he spent six months in prison, enduring daily physical abuse that left scars on his body. After denying to interrogators that he was in Israel to convert, Shachar was released to house arrest at his family’s home. His parents, upon his return, scolded him for not killing a Jew while he was in Israel.

Determined to return to Israel and complete his conversion, he worked hard to achieve his goal. Eventually, he succeeded, returning to his adoptive family and completing his conversion after several years.

‘It’s the People Themselves’

“Our problem is not Hamas or Fatah, it’s the people themselves. Those who supported the violence received money and support from those groups. It’s the same people, generation after generation, escalating from throwing stones to using firearms and rockets,” Shachar told TPS-IL.

“Finding weapons in a school in Gaza, a place with small children, is not surprising, but it’s still painful to see,” he said gloomily.

Talking about the October 7 attack, Shachar struggled to hold back tears, feeling helpless. For years, he insisted in his inquiries and messages to politicians and army officers that Hamas was undeterred, warning that current policies towards Gaza would result in a catastrophe for innocent Israeli civilians.

At best, he was waved off on the grounds that “he doesn’t have enough experience in the field.”

Said Shachar, “If I had stayed with my family and continued with that education, I would have become a murderer. Those pupils who studied there with me, I am positive that their children have killed and raped innocent civilians. There’s no way around it.”

Maintaining a deep wound and feeling he failed in his mission to warn his people about the looming threat from his former community, Shachar now strives to ensure that the world understands that the same danger is coming for them as well.

“It’s not too late. Wake up. This is a religious war. Everyone in the world following what’s happening needs to understand, you’re next to get hit by it,” Shachar insisted.