Arab resident of Acre volunteers to help farmers impacted by war

Refusing to succumb to racism and extremists Ferial Bakur rolls up her sleeves to help neighbors in the Galilee unable to tend to their farms, businesses as Hezbollah fire persists

Ofir Hauzman|
On the morning of October 7, Ferial Bakur, an Arab-Muslim woman from Acre, was oblivious to the chaos and terror descending in the south. As was her routine every Saturday morning, she woke up early to prepare for her grandchildren's weekly visit. Weekends are her only "time off" from her longstanding volunteer work and her job with at-risk girls, where she devotes all her time to her family.
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While making coffee and humming a tune, her peaceful morning was disrupted by her daughter's phone call. Sounding unusually anxious, her daughter asked, "Mom, did you hear what happened?" Bakur, who doesn't own a TV and relies solely on the radio for news, asked with concern, "No, what happened?" Her daughter responded, "Turn on the radio, there's a war!"
Bakur recalls, "Immediately, I switched on the radio and sat on the sofa for an entire hour, covering my head with my hands as terrifying thoughts engulfed me. I began to question what would happen to us here in Acre and the country at large, how we would cope, and what would befall all those who were hurt. I was panicking, even though at that moment, I still didn't fully understand how bad the situation was in the south."
After the initial shock subsided, she began calling her friends, both Arabs and Jews, to denounce the horrifying actions of Hamas, check if anyone close to them was hurt during the terror attack, and offer her help while asking if there was any way she could assist. "I primarily called them to try to calm - firstly myself, and then them."
Did anyone refuse to answer your calls? "Unfortunately, one Jewish friend, who has been like family to me for many years, stopped answering my calls since October 7. I tried calling her that Saturday, she didn't answer, and I thought perhaps she didn't hear the phone and that she would likely call me back. I tried again the next day, but she didn't answer. I decided to let it rest for a while and give her time to calm down, but I won't give up. I'll keep trying until she answers. I will speak to her again."
Were you offended? "I was deeply hurt, but the truth is, at some point, I can somewhat understand her. On the other hand, Jews need to realize Hamas has also killed Israeli Arabs. The terrorists don't differentiate between Arabs and Jews, Druze, and Christians. Quite a few Arabs lost their lives in this massacre."

"I always give my all to help people"

60-year-old Bakur, a mother to four - three sons and a daughter - who lost her husband several years ago, has devoted her entire life to serving Israeli society. For the past eight years, she has been working as a primary caretaker in a residential facility for at-risk girls aged 14-18 from the Arab sector in Acre, a program run by the Ministry of Welfare. Before assuming her current role, she spent a decade as a house mother in a hostel for girls at risk who had no family support, from both the Jewish and Arab sectors.
"I was trained in youth guidance and house mothering, and that's what I've been doing all my life," she says. "Even before I worked in the hostels, many people in the city would turn to me for help with their daughters who had gotten into trouble or gone down wrong paths. I would meet these girls, bring them to my home, often they would sleep over at my place, and I would listen to them and try to teach them the difference between right and wrong and help them out of the predicaments they had found themselves in. Most of the time, I was successful.
"To this day, there are situations where the police ask me to help a girl who is homeless and has nowhere to go, and I always welcome her with love. Regardless of religion or nationality, a human being is a human being and I always give my all to help people."
So, are there situations where Jewish girls end up sleeping at your place? "No doubt. It happens quite frequently."
What do you do with the girls in the residential facility? "My goal is to provide them with as much of a home-like environment as possible, to listen to them, to hug them, and to show them that life can also be beautiful. At the residential facility, I'm like their mother, and they feel safe and comfortable sharing their troubles with me."
How did they react to the war? "In the first month, they didn't come to the facility, and I was in daily phone contact with them. There were those who needed food and additional supplies, and we ensured to provide what they asked for. It was not easy for them; most of the girls come from challenging homes, some can't even sleep at their parents' house and end up sleeping in other homes. Also, there was no educational framework, so their entire routine, like everyone else during that time, got completely disrupted."
On regular days, the girls come to the boarding school right after their school day ends. Bakur greets them with a warm meal and a variety of activities that include therapeutic horse riding, self-defense classes, and even excursions around the city and soccer games on the nearby lawn. "I also join them in playing soccer. I may be 60 years old, but my spirit feels much younger," she says with a laugh.
In addition to the games and discussions, Bakur insists on communicating with the girls in Hebrew. "It's important to me that they understand the language of the country they live in," she explains. Furthermore, she has arranged for her daughter, who is a professional Hebrew teacher, to assist them in their studies for the Hebrew matriculation exam. "She visits the boarding school once a week and conducts private Hebrew lessons for two hours at a time, volunteering her own free time, and she does it with immense love."

"Acre's coexistence is renowned worldwide"

When asked if she was worried about the delicate fabric of co-existence between Jews and Arabs in Acre, it's clear she's determined to maintain a healthy status-quo.
Did you have the same experience during the 2021 war? I remember that period being particularly challenging in the city. "Believe me, all this turmoil began from nothing, and it's such a shame it escalated to such violent extremes. Those who stirred up all the turmoil were young men who still don't fully understand life and don't consider where this violence leads. Ultimately, it was the adults who were hurt. The entire city suffered due to their riots, especially the market vendors, but not exclusively."
3 View gallery
המסעדה שנשרפה בעכו
המסעדה שנשרפה בעכו
Riots in Acre during Guardian of the Walls
(Photo: Shamir Elbaz)
What actions were taken to restore calm? "We attempted to engage with the young men causing the turmoil, trying to soothe all parties. Eventually, calm was restored, but it was not an easy process. In Acre, we don't categorize as Jews and Arabs, we all coexist together, side by side. The house next to mine is occupied by a Jewish neighbor, and on the other side, Arab neighbors live. This is how it has always been, and this is how it will remain."
Since October 7, has the situation remained calm? Have you observed any mutual fear among the city's inhabitants? "I personally was not afraid at all, quite the opposite. However, I did meet people in my vicinity who were initially wary- Arabs who were scared Jews would retaliate against them for what Hamas had done, and Jews who were fearful Arabs would do to them what Hamas had done. In an attempt to alleviate this fear, we, all the volunteers of the association, went around the entire city from the first days of the war. We even entered people's homes, distributing flyers advocating for coexistence, and tried to build bridges between Arabs and Jews in the city.
"Acre's coexistence is renowned worldwide. I have friends abroad who are always astounded anew by the relations between Arabs and Jews in the city. At all the events I organized for my children, half of the guests were consistently Jews. I also have Jewish friends who are like family to me - they stay at my place and assist me with everything I need, and naturally, I do the same for them."
For many people, a demanding full-time job coupled with daily volunteering would undoubtedly be sufficient, but not for Bakur. These days, she assists farmers at Moshav Margaliot, a stone throw away from the Lebanese border. Accompanied by other volunteers, she travels there every week, during the early morning hours, to gather eggs from the Moshav's chicken coops that were abandoned when the war broke out. "There's nobody there. The Moshav is completely deserted, and we're not allowed to enter until we receive military clearance," she explains.
Don't you feel afraid when you're there? The Moshav is under constant fire and there have been quite a few casualties. "Undeniably, it's risky there now. This place is so close to Lebanon that you can see their houses. But I'm not frightened, for me, this is the little contribution I can make to help the residents of this country that I hold so dear. And it's not just me, there are many volunteers from all over the area, both Arabs and Jews. I always ask my friends if they'd be willing to join me - some agree while others are bit more wary, and I don't judge anyone for their choice."
Egg collection begins at 6:30 and ends in the early afternoon, typically between 12:00 to 13:00 at the latest. "In the afternoon, the area becomes more dangerous, and shooting escalates, so during those hours, we wrap up and head home."
What do you do when sirens start? "There's a shelter not too far from the coops, but there's simply not enough time to run to it. Therefore, I personally choose to stay inside the coop and hope for the best. After all, whatever fate awaits the chickens awaits us too, right?"
3 View gallery
תיעוד מההרס בלול במושב מרגליות
תיעוד מההרס בלול במושב מרגליות
Destruction after Hezbollah fire at Moshav Margaliot
How do your children handle the fact that their mother is in such a dangerous place once a week? "They are incredibly proud of me and have a lot of trust in me. At every opportunity, they share that their mother does a multitude of good deeds for society. Even when they were younger, I volunteered a lot in various places across the country, so they are accustomed to their mother being this way."
Do you volunteer at other places apart from the ones you've mentioned? "Indeed, I've been volunteering in the diabetes department at the Galilee Medical Center for many years, and I also spend time with a disabled IDF veteran whom I accompany two to three times a week, and I simply couldn't imagine leaving her."
Wait, you also accompany a disabled IDF veteran? "Yes, she's an extraordinary 70-year-old woman, a leg amputee from Nahariya. Her children live quite a distance away and struggle to visit her frequently. Once a month, I accompany her to central Israel to visit them. Unfortunately, since the war started, we haven't managed to make it there yet. We share a wonderful relationship, and I also have an excellent rapport with her children. I know they deeply appreciate me.
"Some people humorously say that I'm 'Jewish in all respects', but for me, it doesn't matter whether someone is Arab or Jewish - the primary thing is that they are human. The feedback I receive is predominantly very positive - the deputy mayor of Acre expressed his great pride in me, as did the Sheikh in the city who specifically reached out to commend me on my contribution to the community during the war, and in general.
"I also support soldiers and have visited bereaved mothers whose sons were killed in the war. I pay no mind to what others might say," she states, adding: "When I engage in a good deed that I am comfortable with, nothing and no one can sway me or prevent me from doing it."
Are you optimistic about our shared future here? "I remain perpetually optimistic and will never cease striving to foster genuine coexistence here. Not a day goes by without me praying for peace and tranquility between the two peoples. As long as my actions can contribute toward this goal, I will persist, even if they potentially put my life at risk.
"During the war, I added a special prayer for the safe return of the kidnapped and missing, and also for the soldiers who protect us. As a mother myself, I can only imagine the immense and unbearable pain of losing a child."
When do you find the time for all these activities? "I don't permit myself idle time to sit in a café and chat with friends. Every spare minute I have, I dedicate to societal aid, to improve our shared environment. Then, at the end of the day, before I retire to bed, I take a deep breath and reflect on all the things I accomplished that day - the sense of satisfaction is profound."
Despite everything, isn't there something you do just for yourself? "In the evenings, while treating myself to a facial, I settle on the sofa and read the a ladies magazine. Call it my daily indulgence."
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