Our loved ones in Gaza are not numbers

Mohammed, a Palestinian artist, was killed in Gaza.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Mohammed, a Palestinian artist, was killed in Gaza.

Two Atlanta-area Palestinian Americans share their stories about the war in Gaza.

Justice for all people

Hani El Shawa: I am a second-generation Palestinian American who calls Georgia home. My wife and I moved here in 2013, and all three of our children were born here. I was proud to move to Atlanta and be a part of a community that became the cultural catalyst for the Civil Rights movement. I often wonder about the stance the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have taken on Gaza were he alive. King’s daughter Bernice King recently posted on the social media site X that, though her father strongly condemned antisemitism, “I am certain he would call for Israel’s bombing of Palestinians to cease, for hostages to be released and for us to work for true peace, which includes justice.”

My father moved to California from Gaza in 1966 to follow the American Dream. He opened a burger place in San Francisco that went on to become a landmark. His father owned a restaurant in Gaza that was destroyed in the recent attacks. Our family has deep roots in Gaza. Sai’id Shawa was the first mayor of Gaza, serving from 1906 to 1917. Since then, four other El Shawa family members have served as Gaza mayors. The El Shawa family has also produced world-renowned artists, founders of corporations and banks, engineers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and mothers and fathers.

Credit: handout

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Credit: handout

I am heartbroken to see what is unfolding in the place where I spent my summers as a child. I remember playing on the sprawling Mediterranean beaches with my family. I would fly kites and build sandcastles. I dreamed of one day taking my children to experience the same joy and happiness.

In six months, that dream has been erased. The impact of the Israeli attacks extends beyond the loss of more than 100 of my relatives. Israel has erased the history not just of my family but also of an entire people. My family in Gaza has lost everything, from loved ones to homes to priceless memories. More than 34,000 Palestinians, including more than 13,000 children, have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7. One of our most recent losses was baby Mira El Shawa. Mira was just two weeks old. She was not killed by a bomb but by malnutrition caused by Israel’s blockade of food, water, fuel and medicine.

Devastation is not only limited to loss of human life. Gaza students have not attended schools and universities in six months and are unlikely to return anytime soon. All of Gaza’s universities have been destroyed, and almost 90% of school buildings have been damaged or destroyed. Prior to the attacks, 503,500 children attended these schools where18,900 teachers taught. Only 11 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are partially functioning. Children are undergoing leg amputations without anesthesia.

King said, “It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.” I ask you to be in favor of justice for all people, including the people of Gaza.

Hani El Shawa is a neuroscientist who lives in Alpharetta.

Palestinian lives, like all lives, are precious

Ghada Elnajjar: I am a daughter of Palestinian refugees. Georgia has been our home for 38 years. Though I am a proud second-generation Georgia Dawg, my ancestral roots trace back centuries to the Joudah clan in Ashdod (Isdud in Arabic), a town in historic Palestine until 1948, when my grandparents were forcibly expelled as refugees during the Nakba, also known as the establishment of the state of Israel.

Since October, the Joudah clan has lost more than 80 people as a result of the genocidal war perpetrated by Israel against the innocent men, women and children of Gaza.

The Joudah family stays connected on a Facebook page that once shared happy news of wedding and graduation announcements. Today, it has become a notification page for death announcements.

Credit: handout

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Credit: handout

This is a deeply personal and painful war for me.

On Oct. 8, Yahya, a teenager, was the first one in our family to be killed.

On Oct. 11, we lost five more family members, including Ahmad and four children, all siblings. One of their bodies remained trapped under the rubble, like thousands of other Palestinians buried under collapsed buildings.

On Oct. 22, Israeli bombs killed 8-month-old beautiful baby Misk, along with 68 family members, including her parents, leaving behind her brothers 9-year old Khaled and 7-year old Tamer, now orphans.

On Jan. 12, I woke up to the horrific news that Israel killed my first cousins Tariq and Muhammed, when an airstrike hit their family home. Muhammed was an aspiring artist who dreamed of having his own art studio to showcase his work to the world. Sadly, he lived and died in an open-air prison, with no freedom of movement, his dreams cut short too soon.

The latest loss for the Joudah family was on April 20, when 29-year-old Shukri, his 28-year-old pregnant wife, Sabreen, and their 3-year-old daughter, Malak, were killed in a brutal airstrike on their home in Rafah. Initially, doctors saved the fetus in Sabreen’s womb, named Sabreen Al-Rouh (soul of Sabreen). The baby died several days later.

And the killing goes on.

My relatives are not numbers, and neither are the 34,000 dead. They were cherished and loved and will be dearly missed. They each had a name, dreams, aspirations and so much potential, all cut short by Israel’s genocidal military campaign.

As Israel edges closer to a military invasion of Rafah, I am gripped by fear about the fate of the rest of my relatives, an entire generation of our Joudah clan could be erased. Every moment is filled with anxiety as I tally family members, their ages, the grades and college levels their kids are in; devise evacuation plans, create GoFundMe pages and desperately seek humanitarian assistance. But amid it all, one question lingers: What is the cost of safeguarding an entire family tree from the horrors of war?

What is being done to my relatives in Gaza is a grave injustice. Palestinian lives, like all lives, are precious. I long for an end to their suffering; an end to the oppressive Israeli occupation.

Ghada Elnajjar is the director of operations at an independent financial firm in Alpharetta.