Deaf, Mute and Starving – Gaza Mother Searches for Her Disabled Family among Rubble

Scenes from a displacement camp in Rafah, southern Gaza. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Abdallah Aljamal – Gaza

The Palestine Chronicle spoke with 75-year-old Umm Ayman, mother of seven children, three of whom with special needs.

Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza has spared nobody, with over 34,000 Palestinians killed and nearly 78,000 wounded in less than seven months. 

People with pre-existing conditions and disabilities, however, have been exposed to an unbearable degree of suffering amid the catastrophic humanitarian situation. 

According to UNICEF, even before the war, 21 percent of Gaza’s households included at least one person with a disability.

The Palestine Chronicle spoke with Fatima Abu Bakra, known as Umm Ayman. The 75-year-old woman has seven children, three of whom with special needs.

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“I am a mother of three young men who are deaf and mute, and four daughters, three of whom are married and one who lives with me,” Umm Ayman told The Palestine Chronicle. 

“I live alone with my children east of Al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. I separated from my husband many years ago, and I have been taking care of my family and looking after my sons alone since then,” she continued. 

“My three sons are deaf and mute. They are married and we all live together in a small house east of Al-Bureij, where I built a small apartment for them.” 

When Israeli occupation forces invaded the Al-Bureij camp in the first month of the war, Umm Ayman refused to leave her house, which is located less than a kilometer away from the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel. 

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But a few weeks later, Israeli soldiers drew nearer to her house.

“At the end of December, we were surprised by the arrival of the occupation tanks and vehicles very close to my house. We were completely surrounded and we could not leave,” Umm Ayman told us. 

“The occupation vehicles besieged us for three days and we could not leave the house. The bombardment was severe, and my grandchildren were screaming from fear and hunger, the whole time,” she said.

“I tried to calm them down and reassure them, but for three days, we had no access to food or water. I feared we would all die of hunger more than from the bombardment. It was an extremely hard situation for my sick sons and the children.”

When the occupation forces began to withdraw, the family tried to leave the camp. 

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Where is My Son? 

“My sons and I went out holding white flags, and we managed to leave the camp. We headed to the displacement tents in the city of Rafah, in the south”

But Umm Ayman was injured and during the journey, she was separated from her son Sulaiman and his family. 

“For months, I have been searching for my deaf-mute son and his family, his wife and their two daughters, but I had no luck. 

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At the end of January, after the complete withdrawal of the occupation forces from the camps in central Gaza, Umm Ayman and her family returned to Al-Bureij. 

However, due to the presence of Israeli forces near the house, they were forced to settle in tents inside the camp. The woman still does not know the fate of her son and his family. 

“Sulaiman is sick and unable to hear or speak. I searched for him everywhere, but I could not find him. I have asked our neighbors and relatives, but nothing came out so far,” Umm Ayman said, desperate.

“I called his wife’s mobile phone many times, but it’s switched off, and there is no response. I am afraid something bad happened to my son. Maybe he has been killed by Israeli bombardment in Rafah or Khan Yunis. Or maybe they have all died from hunger. I haven’t heard anything about them for several months.”

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Umm Ayman’s only hope is to receive any information about her son. 

“I miss him terribly. He has never been away from me before the war. He is used to my presence in his life, and I cannot live without him. I miss my grandchildren, too.”

Umm Ayman told us that she already lost one of her sons in 2000, at the beginning of the Second Intifada. 

“I don’t want to lose another son. I hope I will find him soon and they are all safe. I wish the war would stop, and I could return home. I learned that the occupation completely demolished it, but it doesn’t matter: I will live in a tent above my house, and I will never leave it.”

(The Palestine Chronicle)

Abdallah Aljamal is a Gaza-based journalist. He is a correspondent for The Palestine Chronicle in the Gaza Strip. His email is abdallahaljamal1987@gmail.com

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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