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Todd Gloria mourns sister city mayor killed in Hamas attack

The shocking events over the weekend hit close to home for San Diegans on both sides of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. KPBS Reporter Matt Hoffman has more.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and the city's Jewish leaders expressed sorrow Saturday over the death of Ofir Liebstein, the mayor of Shar'ar Hanegev, San Diego's sister city in Israel, after news of Liebstein's death in the Hamas attack.

"This morning I learned of the death of Mayor Ofir Liebstein. He led Shar'ar Hanegev in southern Israel and was killed defending his community. San Diego is a sister city of Shar'ar Hanegev and there are deep connections between our two cities," Gloria posted on X, previously known as Twitter.

Gloria shared further posts, along with photos of Liebstein's visit to San Diego in 2021, and Gloria's subsequent visit to Shar'ar Hanegev.


"Ofir was a friend and the news of his death is absolutely heartbreaking. I offer San Diego's deepest condolences to his family and the people of the community he loved so much and served so well," the mayor continued.

"My condolences extend to all of the innocent civilians killed in the terrorist attacks by Hamas. San Diego stands with Israel," Gloria said.

The Jewish Federation of San Diego said, "Ofir was killed as he went out to defend the community during the terrorist attack. The council's administration, its employees and the entire Sha'ar HaNegev community are saddened by his death. Deputy head of the council, Yossi Keren, is currently filling his place. The council's administration and the council's emergency team continue to handle the events."

The federation is collecting donations for "our friends in Israel and Sha'ar Hanegev."

Donations can be made via the group's Facebook page.


Fabienne Perlov, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of San Diego, released the following statement: "The entire San Diego community mourns the loss of our sister city colleague and send collective condolences to his family and the families of the victims in the Hamas attack against Israel. We wish for a speedy recovery for those wounded, pray for peace and stand with Israel."

Heidi Gantwerk, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation, told KPBS Monday that local Israelis are still in shock.

"We have a big Israeli community here," Gantwerk said. "Many of them have family or friends who have been missing or injured."

The San Diego Police Department told City News Service that no extra security measures had been activated for local Jewish and Muslim institutions as of late Saturday morning, but they said it was a possibility.

Hamas — a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist group founded in 1987 that disputes Israel's right to territory — launched the attack early Saturday morning, firing thousands of rockets into Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip and also sending in ground forces.

Israeli authorities said a second round of rockets were fired at the nation Saturday evening, and struck multiple locations inside Israel, including in Tel Aviv.

The attack came on the 50th anniversary of the so-called "Yom Kippur War," in which Israel was attacked by a coalition of Arab states.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his nation, "We are at war" in a televised address. "What happened today has never been seen in Israel. We will take mighty vengeance for this black day," Netanyahu said.

Subrein Damanhoury, a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement’s San Diego Chapter, told KPBS Monday she hopes people understand that this conflict started long before Saturday. 

"Gaza has been an open-air prison for 16 years not necessary just in Gaza — in the West Bank," Damanhoury said. "There’s settlements popping up left and right. It’s not unprovoked — this has been going on since 1948."

President Joe Biden issued a statement of support for Israel, and many elected leaders throughout California condemned the attack.

"Today, I spoke with @IsraeliPM about the appalling Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel. I offered our support and reiterated my unwavering commitment to Israel's security," Biden posted on X. "@FLOTUS and I express our heartfelt condolences to the families who have lost loved ones."

Sha'ar HaNegev is a city of about 9,000 people located close to the Gaza border.

The Jewish Federation of San Diego has nurtured a relationship with Sha'ar HaNegev for more than 20 years, and has provided more than $13 million in funding to the region.

The U.S. State Department said U.S. citizens seeking to get in touch with the U.S. Embassy in Israel can go to online, or call 888-407-4747.