Palestinian expats in Oman pray for peace, fear for family

Relatives of four-year-old Palestinian girl Sarah Sheik Al Eid, who was killed with her father and her uncle in an Israeli air strike on Monday, mourn during their funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday. -AFP

Muscat: Palestinians in Oman may be far from the rockets falling on Gaza, but as the numbers of civilians killed in Israel's most recent attacks rises, they pray for their families' safety and for peace in their homeland.

Ismail Qeshta is from Rafah, Gaza, but has lived in Oman for the past seven years. Last Friday he flew to Cairo so he could visit his family, but he was turned away at the border to Palestine, which Egypt had closed.

"I felt like I wasn't human. This is the simplest right that anyone in this world can have, that you can see your family," he told Times of Oman.

Now back in Muscat, he is in constant fear for his family. Ismail's wife and infant son are in Gaza City and his parents and siblings are in Rafah. He says no one is safe in the tiny strip of land, which is just 41km long and 6 to 12km wide. Though no one in his family has been killed yet, some of their homes have been destroyed.

"Alhamdulillah, till now my family is ok and none has been hurt, but you cannot guarantee that till the end of the war. I'm watching the news all the time and when I hear of strikes nearby I call my father or brother or my wife," Ismail said.

He is especially worried about his son, who is just a year old. He says the rocket fire frightens him, especially when it wakes him up.

Times of Oman also contacted another man from Gaza who said he was too depressed to be interviewed, but mentioned that he was sad and angry about the situation, and very worried about his parents, who are still in Gaza.

Raied Dabbagh, a Palestinian-Brit who works at PDO, says he fears for his friends in Gaza, including a Palestinian family who were refugees in Syria. The wife and young son returned to Gaza to escape the war in Syria, but now Raied fears for their safety again.  

"I have to call and make sure they are ok. We feel sorry for them and ashamed that we cannot help them," he said.

The attacks on Gaza renew the pain not just for those under attack, but for Palestinians everywhere, says Amjad Khalifeh, a Palestinian-Canadian who grew up in Syria. They are a reminder of over 60 years of suffering.

Old pain is back
"It always brings the old pain back. It opened the wound again. When will it end? Why did my people have to suffer so much? I feel really sad and helpless that I can't provide anything significant to those people who are suffering," Amjad explained.

He says there needs to be a ceasefire to end the bloodshed and an end to the blockades of Gaza, which prevent free movement in and out of the Gaza Strip and limit the electricity, water, medicine and food.

No end in sight to bloodbath
"I hope if any ceasefire comes to reality, it takes into consideration also how we are going to rebuild Gaza, how we are going to compensate for the injured families, and it's also important to stop the siege and embargo on Gaza," he noted. As the violence intensifies in Gaza, Raied says the international community should intervene as it has the past in other countries. He worries that even if Hamas and Israel agree to a ceasefire, it won't lead to any lasting changes.

"The ceasefire might ease the situation but after that there will be conflict again in one or two years. There should be a proper solution. I don't know what it is, but there must be compromises. Each side must give up something. They cannot live like this forever," he said. Ismail hopes for a ceasefire, too, but he doesn't think Hamas will accept it since in the past Israel has broken the agreements.  Sahar Alami, who was born in occupied Jerusalem but holds Canadian and Jordanian citizenship, isn't optimistic about a ceasefire either. Despite Israel's endorsement of the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, she doesn't think they really want to put down their arms.

"I don't think a ceasefire will change (anything). The Israelis aren't willing to have a ceasefire," she worried.

"The first thing I think about is the humanitarian side. Civilians are always the victims of any conflict," Sahar lamented, adding that in her opinion world leaders who say the Palestinian people are bringing about the conflict themselves should be ashamed.

Many of the Palestinians living in Oman are from refugee families who can't return to Palestine, but their ties to their homeland are still strong. Both Raied and Amjad's families had to flee Palestine in the 1948 Nakba, but their concern for Palestine will never stop. "For the Palestinians it's 66 years but they're still holding on. My grandmother is still holding her keys to her house," Raied explained.

Sahar's immediate family had to leave in 1967, but she and her husband both have relatives in Palestine, and she says it will always be her home. "I'm a Palestinian and I've never enjoyed having my kids live there and share my memories living there. It's a human right to have a home, a place to live, a community, to have security and live peacefully. Everyone wants to live his life in his homeland," she concluded.

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:( May Allah obliterate these evil doers and grant victory to our Palestinian brothers and sisters