Photo: Courtesy of Loay Elbasyouni
On Saturday, October 7, Loay Elbasyouni woke up in his Los Angeles home to a slew of text and WhatsApp messages from friends and family. Hours earlier, thousands of armed Hamas fighters had attacked parts of Israel. killed more than 1,400 people and the kidnapping of more than 200 people in the deadliest attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust. In response: Israel launched a barrage of sustained airstrikes which have leveled parts of the Gaza Strip, killing more than 3,700 people and displacing thousands more. Elbasyouni could only think of his 75-year-old father and his 67-year-old mother, who live in Germany but also have a house in Gaza and have been visiting family there since June. Elbasyouni, who spoke on Sunday, October 15, is now trying to figure out how to get his parents out of the area.
That morning, when I realized what was happening halfway around the world, I immediately called my parents. My first two questions were: Where are you and are you okay? They said they were in their house and everything was fine, but a bomb had just fallen across the street, covering the front of the house in mud and shattering every glass window in the building.
I told them to leave. They told me they had nowhere to go. I checked the status of the border. It was closed.
My parents lived in Beit Hanoun, in the northern part of Gaza. My father is 75. My mother is 67. Both can barely walk. My father has high blood pressure and recently had heart surgery. Twelve years ago my parents moved to Germany, where my father eventually retired. After his operation, my father wanted to visit Gaza and see his beloved home again. He wanted to walk among the olive, lemon, guava and orange groves that he admired so much. He wanted the chance to just look at her. My father loved one thing in life: planting trees. Now those groves – our groves – are gone.
The bombs got closer and closer, so my parents finally said they would try to relocate to Gaza City, about 10 to 15 miles from the northern border. My father, a doctor, has an old, non-operational medical clinic in the city. As they prepared to move, my father began talking about the “worst case scenario”: death. He told me, “When I die, just take care of your brothers.” He gave me the last news. Last wishes. I did not know what to say.
Then I lost contact with them.
For five days I constantly called my parents – everyone I could think of – but all their phones were turned off, either destroyed or broken because there was (and still is) no electricity in Gaza. For five days I tried to keep my head down, but all I could do was watch the news. I scanned every inch of my television screen, trying to figure out if it was her neighborhood, her house, or my father’s clinic that was hit. For five days I spent my time reading the news because that was the only way I could know if they were okay.
Even in my desperation and need to find some sign that they were still alive, I realized how ridiculous it was to rely on news footage alone. It’s not like they can identify the people on the ground when the bombs fall.
I thought about the house I hadn’t visited in over 20 years. I was born in Germany and lived in Gaza for 13 years. I was supposed to visit my parents in Gaza a week after the war began because I hadn’t seen them in more than a year. I thought about how devastating it would be if I never saw her again.
Elbasyouni says his parents, who are seeking shelter in Gaza City, can barely walk.
Photo: Courtesy of Loay Elbasyouni
At the beginning of the war, one of my cousins, also in Gaza, sent me a video of the almost constant bombing. It felt like they were living in a 24-hour magnitude 8.0 earthquake. Even though the bombs didn’t fall directly on their heads, the walls, the doors, everything shook. The glass shattered. I can’t imagine being in this situation.
After five days, my parents miraculously found a way to charge their phones. I was working from home and calling my mom until she finally answered. I immediately felt relief. We talked for a total of three minutes before the line went dead. I asked them how they were and if they had any food or water. I also asked her if anyone from the German embassy had called her. They said “no”.
Since the start of the war I have spoken to my parents three times, for a total of no longer than ten minutes. Before the war, I talked to them for at least an hour every day.
The last time I spoke to my parents was Sunday morning. They sounded so weak. After calling them seven or eight times, I managed to get through and talk to both of them for a few minutes. They are alive and safe, but have no access to medicine, food or water. They are still in my father’s old clinic in Gaza City and are not alone. Sixty other people, including my cousin, my uncle and other refugees, all live in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment.
That morning, my cousin left the clinic at 6 a.m. and waited in line at a nearby bakery for four hours. He returned with a single loaf of bread. With access to running water cut off, they walk the bombarded streets of Gaza City every day to refill water bottles at a nearby mosque.
My parents have been ordered to evacuate again – they keep telling people to move south – but they have nowhere to go. There is no transportation. Most of the streets are bombed. They are simply trapped. The average civilian doesn’t know what to do because there is so much chaos right now. I cannot help my parents escape or bring them food, water or medicine. There’s nothing I can do to save her. I feel powerless.
When they see the thousands of people who were evacuated and are now stuck on the streets, my parents tell me they consider themselves lucky. You are lucky to live with 60 other people and have access to a single bathroom. My mother told me she was grateful for the last morning I spoke to her. A toilet.