Israel Gaza: ‘Where is mum? Where is grandma? Where did they go?’

Casualties are treated while sitting on the floor at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, in central Gaza (11 December 2023)
Image caption,Casualties arrived at the hospital in Deir al-Balah after fresh Israeli strikes on central Gaza on Monday

By David Gritten

BBC News

“When he asks me about his family I can’t answer. Instead, I take a deep breath and try to avoid the question in a childlike way by changing the subject.”

Moein Abu Rezk is the only surviving relative of his four-year-old nephew, Omar, who is in a critical condition at Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip.

Omar had to have his left hand amputated and was left with a large, open wound on his right leg, smaller wounds on his chest and face, and a dislocated jaw following an Israeli air strike that Moein says killed 35 members of his family, including his mother, father and grandmother.

So far, Moein has decided to not tell Omar about their deaths, in case it causes his condition to deteriorate before he can be medically evacuated from Gaza via Egypt, hopefully as part of an initiative by the United Arab Emirates government and the Emirates Red Crescent.

“He needs to be told the information in a specific way so that he doesn’t go into shock or go into a state that I can’t control,” Moein told BBC Arabic in a series of voice notes on Sunday night.

“He knows that he hasn’t seen any of them, and yet he feels the need to ask: ‘Where is mum? Where is grandma? Where did they go?'”

However, it is not guaranteed that an ambulance will transport Omar to the Egyptian border because of the intense fighting and heavy bombardment around what is known as Gaza’s Middle Area.

IMAGE SOURCE,EPAImage caption,

The Israeli military says it has struck more than 22,000 “terror targets” across Gaza since the start of the war

Israeli ground forces have already divided Gaza in two, fully encircling Gaza City in the first two months of the war with Hamas – which Israel, the UK and other Western powers class as a terrorist organisation.

Tanks and troops are now pushing deep into the southern city of Khan Younis. The main highway from Deir al-Balah has been declared a “battlefield”, leaving people in the Middle Area with only one supposedly safe evacuation route along the Mediterranean coast.

Many Palestinians living in the north of Gaza sought refuge in the Middle Area after the Israeli military ordered them to evacuate their homes and move south of the Wadi Gaza river two months ago.

That order came at the start of the war triggered by a cross-border attack by Hamas gunmen on southern Israel on 7 October in which 1,200 people were killed and about 240 others were taken hostage.

Since then, more than18,200 people have been killed in Gaza according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry. Omar is among the more than 49,000 other people so far reported injured.

The Israeli military says its forces are operating to eliminate terrorists, locate weaponry and destroy terrorist infrastructure, and that more than 22,000 targets have been struck since the start of the war.


Moein Abu Rezk hopes his nephew Omar can be evacuated abroad so he can receive the specialist treatment he needs

Moein told BBC Arabic that Omar and his family had been visiting his grandmother’s house in Nuseirat camp, just to the north of Deir al-Balah, when it was bombed without any prior warning from the Israeli military.

“We have never seen missiles like that before. The missile falls and destroys the whole residential area around it,” he recalled.

“Luckily, the house had an opening through which [Omar] fell. But his left arm was [so badly] injured that it had to be amputated immediately.

“[On Saturday], he lost about three units of blood and his haemoglobin [concentration] fell from 9.5 to 7.4, so he had to be transferred to surgery for a blood transfer.”

Moein said the situation at the hospital was so bad that doctors could not find a bed for Omar despite the severity of his injuries, forcing him to wait in a corridor while doctors and nurses treated him as best as they could.

“All medical equipment and tools are so limited to the extent that the we have to deal with the situation in a more practical rather than a healthy way.

“There are no painkillers so we have to joke around and try to make him laugh in order to calm him.”

Moein conceded that this method only worked some of the time but added: “We don’t have any other option.”

He said he hoped that Omar would be transported next Thursday to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and then taken to a hospital for specialist treatment.


A crowd gathered outside a UN aid distribution centre in Deir al-Balah on Sunday

Lena Shakora, her husband and three young sons have so far survived the Israeli bombardment, but she said they were still living a “nightmare”.

They fled their home in the Sheikh Radwan district of Gaza City and are currently sheltering in a house in an agricultural area outside Deir al-Balah with their relatives.

“I wake up every day remembering that we are at war [and] people are starving. Its torture to be displaced from your house and find no food,” Lena told BBC Arabic on Sunday night.

“My family and I are sitting with 40 individuals in one room and all the windows are [blown out] because of the bombing. We are basically sitting outdoors… and it is very cold and people are humiliated.”

Lena said her sons had hurt their backs because they were having to carry containers of water. And to make matters worse, the water is not clean because treatment plants and pumps are not working because of a lack of fuel.

The family was also being forced to eat contaminated food because shops were empty and they had not received any aid, she added.

“Our greatest hope is to have flour so that we can bake, and even that we can bake it on [clean] wood.”

“People go around collecting whatever wood they can find. But the bread comes out contaminated because it is cooked on wood from the scene of a bombing,” she explained.

The UN said on Sunday that it had been unable to distribute outside the southern city of Rafah, on the border with Egypt, in recent days because of the intensity of hostilities and restrictions on movement.

Additional reporting by BBC Arabic’s Marwa Gamal and Doaa Fared.

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