Eyal Waldman: Israeli tech billionaire hopes for peace despite daughter’s killing

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Danielle Waldman was killed in the Hamas attack on the Supernova music festival
By Orla Guerin
BBC News, Tel Aviv

Danielle Waldman danced the last dance of her young life some time before dawn on 7 October. Soon afterwards she and her friends had to run for their lives, but they never made it home.

There is a record of her final moments – a brief video, recorded on a phone. It gives only a hint of the horrors to come.

The 24-year-old sits in the back seat of a car with two friends – strands of her long curly hair escaping from her grey hoodie. All three are casually dressed. There are fleeting smiles and overlapping voices, and a glimpse of blue wrist bands from the Supernova trance music festival they have just attended.

They are trying to remain calm, but they are being hunted.

Danielle’s boyfriend Noam Shai is in front, behind the wheel.

“Want me to drive very, very fast?” he asks. “I know how to do that.”

“Correct,” replies a female passenger. A bearded young man sitting beside Danielle tries to provide reassurance. “We will be all right,” he says. “Everything is ok, right?”

Next, from the front, an urgent demand – “left, or right?”

Then the video ends.

Minutes later Hamas gunmen riddled the car with bullets. Noam, Danielle, and their friends in the back seat were killed – as were nearly 360 other Israelis who went to dance at the festival in the Negev desert near the Gaza border.

The front seat passenger was taken hostage.

When the sun set on that day, 1,200 Israelis had been slaughtered – either at the festival or in their homes in kibbutzim close to the border. It was the worst loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust. The vast majority were civilians.

Since then, Israel has gone to war in Gaza “to eradicate Hamas”, and Palestinians in turn have been slaughtered.

Almost 18,000 people have been killed at last count – according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza – 7,300 of them children.

In Gaza now, as in Israel after 7 October, parents are burying their children. And for every parent, Palestinian or Israeli, the loss is incomparable.

We meet Danielle’s father Eyal in his art-filled office, high above Tel Aviv. He has long been a tech giant – who founded the Israeli chip maker Mellanox Technologies, and sold it for $6.8bn in 2019.

But now he is simply a father, raw with grief, robbed of his youngest daughter.

“She was an amazing girl,” he says in a voice laden with love and grief. “She loved to dance. She loved animals. She loved people. She had many, many friends. She loved to snowboard, to scuba dive, to go on a motorcycle with Noam.”

Watch: Eyal Waldman still has hopes for peace

When he got word that Danielle was missing, he raced back from a trip to Indonesia – getting permission to land in Israel, even though the airspace was closed. Three hours later he went looking for her, tracking her apple watch. It was a journey into a battlefield.

“We were close to an engagement with seven terrorists, creatures, call them what you want,” he says. “They had killed three or four soldiers. After that we took three officers in a jeep and went down south.”

He found the bullet-riddled car, but there was no sign of Danielle.

“There was a lot of blood inside the car,” he says. “I was hoping she wasn’t in the car, or that she was wounded but was able to escape, or was taken hostage.”

Two days later her body was found.

“Everything she touched was with a smile. She never did anything wrong to anyone,” he says, choking back tears. “She just loved doing good things. And they [Hamas] just murdered her for no reason.”

Despite the brutal killing of his youngest daughter, Eyal Waldman still believes that the Palestinians should have a state – and soon.

“We need to change leadership on both sides. And then I hope in two to four years we’ll be able to do peace and build two states for the two people and be able to live together next to each other,” he says.

But before that, he wants something else.

“Anyone that was responsible, anyone that was associated with what happened on 7 October 2023, will be eliminated. And we will take care of that,” he says firmly.

“We know exactly who came, who raped, who butchered. We have videos, we have their cell phone numbers. We know who they are. We can eliminate them. And I think we can eliminate Hamas.”

Danielle and Noam were together for six years before they were killed by Hamas gunmen

The former Israeli army officer knows about waging war. He served in an elite unit – the Golani Brigade.

He also knows about building bridges. In the past he opened a design centre in Gaza, donated $360,000 (£286,200) to a hospital there, and created jobs for Palestinians both in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.

Does he regret that now?

“No, I don’t,” he replies without hesitation. “I think we need to do everything we can to make this place the best place to live in.

“And we need to stop killing each other and find a way to live together. I have been working for two-and-half decades trying to make peace.”

Just 10 days before Danielle was killed, she was chatting with her father about the future.

“She said ‘you know Dad, I decided I am going to marry Noam,'” he recalls. “They were together for six years, and it was an amazing friendship and partnership. They were going to live in the country, raising kids. She wanted many kids and a lot of dogs and horses.”

The devoted young couple – who never got the chance to marry – were buried together instead.

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