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‘We’re alive’, then dead silence: A Gaza family trapped in Israel’s war | Israel-Palestine conflict

It has been six days since Dina Alalami heard from her family in Gaza City after she received a text message from a relative informing her that they were alive.

The 33-year-old mother of two, who has been living in Qatar’s capital Doha for the past five years, has no idea whether her sister, two brothers-in-law, two nephews and three other relatives are still alive or have fallen victim to Israeli bombardment that has killed more than 11,500 people in Gaza.

“On Friday [November 10], they decided to leave their house and head south because the Israeli tanks had gotten closer and were surrounding the area,” Dina told Al Jazeera on Thursday.

“They took the decision because they said they wouldn’t survive the night if they stayed. We called the Red Cross and asked them to help secure a safe passage for them.”

But the Red Cross and Red Crescent said they were unable to help.

The family left their homes on November 10 during the four-hour pause – a day after Israel announced a daily four-hour window to allow Palestinians to flee from the north to the south.

At about noon, the family left the house waving white flags. Dina’s two sisters, who are married to two brothers, had left their homes on the first day of the war to stay at their in-laws’ villa, also in Gaza City.

Dina was talking to her youngest sister Rulla on the phone as the group cautiously moved forward when suddenly screams pierced the air. Their other sister Lina had crumpled to the floor, blood soaking through her shirt after an Israeli tank fired at them.

Rulla dragged Lina, getting her as far as the entrance of the Bakri building on Shuhada street, and tried to administer first aid. She saw a gunshot wound to her sister’s chest.

Rulla Khayal had finished her medical studies in Egypt and returned to Gaza to get married and work
Rulla Alalami had finished her medical studies in Egypt and returned to Gaza to get married and work [Courtesy of Dina Abuelnaja/Al Jazeera]

But as the Israeli tank fire continued, Rulla had no choice but to leave her and run inside. Rulla’s husband Bashar Khayal was shot in his hand, and his sister Dalia was also wounded.

Behind them, Bashar and Dalia’s grandmother Feryal was lying motionless on the street, killed.

Rulla told Dina exactly where they were and begged her to get in touch with the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to save them. The building was behind al-Zaytoun pharmacy, Rulla said, by the Abbas intersection.

Dina called the ICRC. They told her they couldn’t go to the area.

‘Worst feeling in the world’

The next day, on Saturday, Dina got the news she had been dreading. Lina had died, her body still at the entrance of the building.

Dalia had also been killed, succumbing to her wounds.

Lina’s two young boys, four-year-old Mohammad and nine-month-old Majed, were among those trapped inside the building with their father Tareq Khayal, their grandmother Dalia, their aunt Suha, Rulla, and Bashar. They had no food, water or electricity.

Their phone batteries dying, Suha was able to send Dina one last message: “We are alive”.

Dina flew to Cairo, Egypt, over the weekend, where her father lives alone, and was joined by her brother who lives in Dubai.

“Just the thought of those two young boys not having water to drink or food to eat, the thought that they could die of dehydration or starvation…” her voice trails off, her breath catching.

Mohammad and Majed Khayal, the two sons of Lina Alalami Khayal
Mohammad and Majed Khayal, the two sons of Lina Alalami Khayal [Courtesy of Dina Abuelnaja/Al Jazeera]

“It’s the worst feeling in the world, this helplessness,” she said. “My sister got killed, and her body is still lying on the street. There’s no respect for the dead, and that alone burns our hearts.”

More than 11,300 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip since October 7, the majority of them women and children. The healthcare system has collapsed due to the total siege imposed on the territory by Israel, and on Wednesday, Israeli forces raided the largest hospital in the strip, al-Shifa, following through on their previous threats despite patients and thousands of displaced people sheltering there.

Dina last visited Gaza back in the summer for Rulla’s wedding to Bashar. The two had been engaged for seven years and tied the knot in August after Rulla finished her medical studies in Egypt.

“My sisters are six and seven years younger than me, so we were like best friends,” Dina said.

“I wish I was with them right now. I wish we would either die or live together.”

Lina Alalami Khayal was shot in the chest by Israeli tank fire on November 10 2023
Lina Alalami Khayal was shot in the chest by Israeli tank fire on November 10 2023 [Courtesy of Dina Abuelnaja/Al Jazeera]

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