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Homeless and widowed: One Gazan's tragic story

Rasha Abu Oda fled her Gaza home, took shelter in a UN school, was injured in an Israeli strike and then died while giving birth. The war in Gaza may have ended, but Gazans are just starting to pick up the pieces of their broken lives.

By Awni Farhat

The aggression of the Israeli army against the Palestinian people of the Gaza Strip ended last Tuesday evening, however the suffering and grief of those who lost their loved ones and their homes continues.

The story of Rasha Abu Oda is one of countless heartbreaking stories that I could write about. Rasha was 30 years old when she died while delivering her baby during the Israeli assault on Gaza.

The Abu Oda family gather at Rasha's grave site (photo: Awni Farhat)

The Abu Oda family gather at Rasha’s grave site (photo: Awni Farhat)

“We had left our home because of the Israeli incursion, and taken shelter in the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun,” Rasha’s husband, Nidal Abu Oda, told me. “Then the school yard was hit by the Israelis – 15 people were murdered and dozens injured. So we were forced to move on again, and ended up at the Jabaliya [refugee] camp’s school, where I spent the last days with my wife.”

Abu Oda continued: “On Sunday August 24, before sundown, they hit a house near the school where we were taking shelter. It was a huge explosion and my wife fell down and hurt herself, screaming in fear as she was expecting to have our baby at any moment. We called for an ambulance but it was delayed in reaching the school by the attacks. We couldn’t make it to Al-Shifa hospital because the road was too dangerous, so we went to a smaller one nearby.

“We ended up Al-Wada hospital, my mother and me waiting together for Rasha to have her baby. Explosions surrounded us, and later we heard an ambulance crew saying that a shell hit the Joda family’s yard, killing the mom with four of her children. We heard more ambulances arriving.”

Things then took a turn for the worse. “From the beginning of the attacks, my wife was living in fear and horror. She gave birth with explosions around us; they saved our baby with an operation but Rasha was bleeding inside and she died. Her heart stopped and she passed away. Now the attacks are over and I’m still at this school, homeless and widowed.”

Rasha’s sister, Noor, is still in shock, “We were in the school waiting for Rasha to come home with the new baby when we heard that she had died. We were so shocked – I still can’t believe that my sister died. She wanted to wear a white dress to my brother’s wedding, now she’s wearing a white shroud.” She began to cry, “She was like a mom, all our neighbors and family loved her.”

Rasha's sister holds the baby that was save (photo: Awni Farhat)

Rasha’s sister, Noor, holds the baby that was saved (photo: Awni Farhat)

Rasha’s mom laments, “The last thing she saw was her baby’s face. Rasha knew she was dying… she asked me to see her baby’s face. Then she passed away. Our homes in Beit Hanoun are totally destroyed, and my daughter’s life as well.”

I was shocked when I talked to Rasha’s 14-year-old brother, Loai. He spoke bitterly: “When a person dies, he goes somewhere safer and more peaceful than here. Our lives here are full of shit.”

There are approximately 350 newborn babies living with their displaced families in a number of UNRWA schools in Gaza, in increasingly unsanitary conditions. Furthermore, at least 100,000 Palestinians are now displaced, as their homes were demolished or severely damaged by in Israeli strikes.

According to preliminary assessments from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Palestinian death toll stands at 2,104, with 1,462 people identified as civilians, including 495 children. In addition, more than 100,000 people whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged will need longer-term shelter solutions. Despite work to repair infrastructure, most areas of the Strip still experience electricity outages of 18 hours a day, and only 10 percent of the population receives water once a day for six to eight hours, while 75 percent of the population only has access to water every four or five days.

Awni Farhat is a 25-year-old freelance interpreter/translator, social worker and community activist. He has lived in Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip all his life. This article first appeared on the author’s blog, and you can read it in Hebrew on Local Call.

Gaza dispatch: When tanks shell refugee camps
PHOTOS: Gaza’s half-million displaced
War is the new system of governance (and five other Gaza takeaways)

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    1. bor

      “The aggression of the Israeli army against the Palestinian people of the Gaza Strip ended last Tuesday evening…”

      I think you meant to write, “The aggression of Hamas against the Palestinian people of the Gaza Strip and all Israelis within rocket range ended last Tuesday evening…”

      Right? After all, the Israelis stopped firing 7 times with cease fires and the first 6 times the cease fires were violated. It was only after Israel killed the Hamas commanders and destroyed the 2 large towers that the Hamas cease fire violations ended.

      That’s without getting into the Hamas murder of its own citizens, who we now know weren’t “spies” but almost certainly Fatah operatives. And that’s without getting into the hundreds and hundreds of Hamas rockets that landed accidentally and perhaps even purposely inside Gaza. And that’s without getting into the launching of rockets and attacks at Israelis from within the most sensitive residential areas. And that’s without getting into the construction of military tunnels inside residential neighborhoods.

      We should have a tremendous amount of sympathy for all the victims of this recent war, Gazans and Israelis. However, the blame is fully that of Hamas. There were less than 200 deaths when Israel declared its first cease fire. But Hamas attacked…

      Reply to Comment
    2. @Bor:

      No matter how much you keep screaming ‘It’s Hamas!’ inside that topsy-turvy world that is your head, the simple fact remains that Hamas is a reactionary resistance movement, born out of frustration with the non-achievements by Fatah (blocked continuously by US/Israel) and initially supported by… Israel!

      Their post-operations new-found popularity reflects that they are the only channel of resistance still open to Palestinians.

      They did not start this war because they simply had no motive to do so: with a new Palestinian unity government in the making, Hamas’ years in the wilderness seemed over. No need to rock the boat. But for Bibi and consorts motive to try and destroy Hamas was clear: a Palestinian unity government with some degree of EU backing was a threat to the status quo and the further pilfering away of Palestinian land. Kill Hamas, et voila: end of problem. But it didn’t quite work out as planned.

      Enter the murders of the three Israeli teens and Israel’s brutal and deliberate overreaction to it and the lid came off the pressure cooker. Hamas survived, so did the unity government but Israel’s face was full of egg.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Pedro X

      Another long sob story. The tears could have been avoided if Hamas had not started and engaged in a war using civilian Gaza as a military fortress for attacks on Israelis.

      Instead of investing billions of dollars in armaments, rockets and tunnels turning mosques, schools and hospitals into military targets, Hamas could have invested the monies into health care and equipment which could have saved this woman’s life.

      However, most Gazans and Palestinians will not acknowledge the obvious, they have no immunity from responses to attacks emanating from Gaza. When Hamas uses schools and hospitals as military assets they become targets and the people in them will suffer.

      The sad part is that Gazans think they won the war, even though they have nothing to show for it but 71 dead and 800 injured Israelis. Palestinian hatred of Israelis and Jews is so great that they were willing to sacrifice 2145 people killed, 10,000 injured and 100,000 homeless just for the privilege of killing a few Jews.

      Reply to Comment
      • Anastasia

        Please just stop! you have been brainwashed far beyond expected. Not starting an argument, just tired from hearing crap from people like you. Open your mind to the truth.

        Reply to Comment
      • ***Instead of investing billions of dollars […]***

        Billions of dollars? Neither the PA nor Hamas has billions of dollars to spend on anything. Even Israel’s MoD budget isn’t that astronomical.

        One would think that if they [Hamas] had billions of dollars to spend they would have come up by now with guided missiles (instead of stovepipe crackers) and a decent surface to air missile defence system.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Whiplash

      Surreal. A freelance community activist cannot see beyond the pain and suffering in Gaza to ask why are their lives “shit”. Hamas has done everything in their power to make their lives shit. Prior to Hamas’ first kidnapping and murder of an Israeli in 1989, Gazans had free movement to the West Bank and Israel and the outside world. 100,000 Gazans were employed by Israelis. There was trade back and forth between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Gazans had access to international markets through Israeli ports. There were joint Arab Israeli industrial free trade zones bordering Gaza creating businesses and employment for both Israelis and Gazans. Gazans and Israelis knew each other as neighbors and had personal family relationships.

      Hamas, with help from Islamic Jihad and the Al-Asqa Martyrs Brigade, destroyed the economic and personal relations between Gaza and Israel. Israelis were shot, stabbed, blown up and hacked to death. The old, the young and the unborn were not spared. The economic zones were attacked and forced to close. Ashod port was attacked in an attempt to create massive casualties in bombing the chemical farm at the port. They sent Palestinians receiving medical treatment in Israel to blow themselves up in maternity wings of Israeli hospitals. They shot an anti tank missile at a Israeli school bus. Since 2001 they have sent 16,000 rockets at Israel. They have attacked crossing points into Israel killing Israeli civilians helping to deliver goods and fuel to the Gazan people. They have hit the power lines which provide electricity from Israel to Gaza. Cement, rebar and building materials for civilian use were used to build tunnels.

      Hamas also sent guns, rockets and fighters to Egypt to help the Muslim Brotherhood, which resulted in the closure of Rafah terminal.

      Within months of election in 2006, Hamas committed an act of war and invaded Israel, killing Israelis and a soldier guarding Israel. This caused a military response from Israel which caused over 1300 Gazan deaths. Hamas then engaged in 3 subsequent wars costing the lives of another 3600 Gazans.

      There are consequences to the actions of Gazans and they are suffering them now. They have little access to the outside world because Egypt and Israel consider them enemies. Their lives are shit, their economy is destroyed, their infrastructure badly mauled, 100,000 are homeless and they are simply worse off before Hamas killed the three Israeli teenagers triggering the first step in the war. In addition they are so much worse off than when Israel administered the territory.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        I know, right? Why, oh why, can’t she see the bigger picture?! Yeah, I know we bombed the hell out of them and all, but can’t they see WE DIDN”T WANNA DO IT???!!! When will they learn how awesome and kind we are, and have a revolution that puts Zionist collaborators in charge?

        Reply to Comment
    5. “Awni Farhat is a 25-year-old freelance interpreter/translator, social worker and community activist. He has lived in Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip all his life.”

      I don’t know about Pedro X or Bor Bar Bra, but I’m pretty certain I couldn’t have written something so well with that history. Have some respect. You don’t have a monopoly on life struggle.

      Reply to Comment
      • bor

        The origin of the reporter is immaterial.

        What he writes is what matters. He wrote, “The aggression of the Israeli army against the Palestinian people of the Gaza Strip ended last Tuesday evening” in his introduction. It is a willful misrepresentation of this war, its origin and the fact that Israel tried to stop it a number of times while the Palestinian forces persisted.

        Why couldn’t the author simply have been truthful. Do you realize that he doesn’t even know whether some of the explosions he’s describing are Israeli bombs? There were 800 Palestinian bombs that fell on Gaza, not to mention Palestinian armaments that exploded as secondary explosions when Israel struck the buildings/houses/tunnels housing them.

        If people want to have a real conversation, simply write with integrity.

        Reply to Comment
        • Origin is very important to you, for of Jews and of original political infraction, a long line of “then”s exonerating you know who. Your first comment said the author must impart all blame to Hamas; he’s not going to do that, no more than you the reverse. What he did is focus on a story he confronted directly. Maturing as he has in Gaza I think he deserves much respect for what he is doing.

          I happened to hear Thomas Friedman on Charlie Rose this evening. While not my favorite columnist, he said something rather pertinent to the travails of your area. Paraphrasing, “The most powerful human emotion is humiliation.” Let’s not humiliate. You’re going to have to live with these people as your neighbors. Even when they are enemies, show some respect. It’s a way to begin anew.

          Reply to Comment
          • bor

            I live in America. Chances are I won’t have to “live with these people.”

            Regarding the question of origin, it is immaterial to the content of the story. What exactly are you respecting? That he wrote a story? The implication of the first sentence is that everything that follows is Israel’s doing. Well, guess what? If there’s no electricity in Gaza, it’s not Israel’s fault. It is Hamas’s. The horror of the fighting? It is the fault of Hamas which violated every single cease fire until it lost its commanders and the two big towers. Why can’t he say this? Because 89% of Palestinians agree that rockets should be fired at Israeli civilian centers?

            There need not have been a kidnapping and murder of the Israeli teens (and, of the young Palestinian teen murdered by Jewish Israelis), there need not have been rockets fired at Israel, there need not have been a plan to overtake the PA in Judea and Samaria, there need not have been fighting tunnels and arms in residential areas, there need not have been boobytrapped homes and neighborhoods, there was no reason for the cease fire violations. And so on.

            Enough already with the endless lies and manipulation of facts, especially to try to find equivalence where there isn’t any. Hamas started it, pushed it, pushed it harder, violated attempts to stop it and then after they lost far more then they would have if they had just quit earlier, they stopped and declared a victory. What they did here was one of the most cynical, disgusting abuse of their own population as well as the enemy’s civilians that one could possibly see.

            Reply to Comment
          • If you don’t have to live with them, well…go for broke.

            I find your own rendition about as skewed as you say you find “theirs.” There really was an imperative to take out the only Gazan power plant? Really? The original kidnappers were not rouge, rather acting under direct command elsewhere? Really?

            But this is standard fare. As is not being able to see what struggle on the other side of the line is. Palestinians are not going away, nor will they be what you demand. Respect is the first step to finding another way for all.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Philos

      The inability of the Zionist trolls to keep silent on moving stories only affirms in the minds of many two things: 1) that Zionism is a destructive and hateful ideology. (2) that some Zionists are so blinded by their ideology they can’t even tell anymore when they’re damaging their own cause with their vitriol.

      I wish this family a good future and I hope they will forgive me (and all Israelis) one day for what my government did to them one day.

      Reply to Comment
      • ***I wish this family a good future and I hope they will forgive me (and all Israelis) one day for what my government did to them one day.***

        A day will come when many Zionists will finally understand that Zionism in its current form isn’t sustainable and is as bad for Zionists as it is Palestinians.

        Like after the fall of the Apartheid regime, some Zionist officials will declare they don’t understand why that realisation took them so long. But just like in that case in I/P this won’t happen without extensive external pressure…

        Reply to Comment
    7. Pedro X

      Leftist Gershon Baskin said this about pursuing chances of peace:

      “it is essential that the Palestinians begin to understand that the wrath of Israel that was brought down on them stems from the “resistance” mentality and policies of hatred and fanaticism.”

      Until Awni Farhat, her fellow Gazans and her fellow Palestinians begin to grasp this fundamental realization and give up their strategy of violent resistance and policies of hatred and fanaticism, they will continue to suffer the indignities of war. No amount of sob stories will change this.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        It’s morally wrong to persecute co-thinkers (rather than debate and prove them wrong), but it’s hard not to wish for a unified international leftist movement (like the Catholic Church), just so Baksin and the rest of the Israeli “left” could have their arses purged out of it.

        Reply to Comment
    8. ***Leftist Gershon Baskin said this about pursuing chances of peace:

      “it is essential that the Palestinians begin to understand that the wrath of Israel that was brought down on them stems from the “resistance” ***

      A ‘Leftist’ who can’t see where the Palestinian need for resistance stems from may as well sign up to Likud. The Israeli ‘Left’ is a rotting corpse anyway.

      As long as the world stands idly by (and worse of course, see US) without trying to get some justice for Palestinians, said Palestinians will occasionally resort to resistance, sometimes violently.

      Far more peaceful modes of resistance aren’t tolerated by Israel either: the Palestinians are simply expected to stay quiet while Zionism devours their country. Another large settlement expansion has already been rubber stamped. No doubt you’ll attribute that to Palestinian resistance too…

      Reply to Comment