After nearly a month, Medway family escapes Gaza

Local News

After a evading bombs and scrounging for supplies for weeks, a Medway couple and their young son escaped the war zone Thursday.

From left, Wafaa Abuzayda, Yousef Okal, and Abood Okal. 

A family from Medway that has been trapped in Gaza for almost a month amid the Israel-Hamas war finally made it through a border crossing and into Egypt this week.

Abood Okal; his wife, Wafaa Abuzayda; and their 1-year-old son, Yousef left the enclave through the Rafah Crossing at 5:20 a.m. Thursday, The Boston Globe reported. The family, who lives in Medway, was visiting family in Gaza when the war broke out. 

“The Okal Family is overwhelmed with the love and support they have received from home and abroad, but they are also exhausted, physically and emotionally drained, and have a long journey ahead of them back to the United States,” the family said in a statement to the Globe. “The Okal Family expresses its deepest gratitude to their family and friends around the world, the Medway community, the media for sharing their plight and the plight of the hundreds of other Americans trapped in Gaza, their elected officials who fought hard for their return, and the State Department for providing them with safe departure.”

Following weeks of stalled negotiations, injured Palestinians and foreign nationalists were allowed to cross through into Egypt beginning Wednesday. The Okal family had been holed up  with about 40 other people in a house about 10 minutes from the border crossing. Hope came and went as U.S. officials occasionally said that the border may open to U.S. citizens throughout October. They traveled to the crossing multiple times, only to be rebuffed. 

As they waited for safe passage, supplies began to run out. Hot meals were an impossibility, and the family ate mostly canned tuna and fava beans, Sammy Nabulsi, an attorney and family friend, wrote in a piece for MSNBC. Clean drinking water was scarce, and sometimes drinking saltwater was the only option. 

Yousef suffered an ear infection during the family’s ordeal, and his parents ran out of milk to give him. Okal and his wife slept with their son wedged between them, hoping it would provide some measure of protection in the event of an artillery strike, according to the Globe. Okal described seeing airstrikes around Rafah, and hearing the sounds of more explosions and gunfire. 

After Hamas terrorists killed more than 1,400 people and took more than 200 hostages on Oct. 7, Israel told Palestinians in Gaza to evacuate to the south as troops bombarded the enclave relentlessly.

Israeli troops launched a ground invasion of Gaza this week, and fierce gun fights were reportedly taking place around Gaza City Thursday. Israeli officials have said that their goal is to destroy Hamas. Their tactics so far appear to center on separating the north from the south while closing in on Gaza City.

More than 9,000 people have died in Gaza since the war began, officials there have said. Death tolls and their accuracy, on both sides, have been the center of much debate recently. 

Amid the chaos, scores of people are hoping to follow the Okal family and make their way into Egypt. With fuel at a premium and airstrikes everywhere, simply getting to the border is a harrowing task. 

“You could be collateral damage any time,” Ala Al Husseini, an Austrian citizen who evacuated on Wednesday, told The New York Times. “I was scared to death.”

Although the Okal family is now further from the warzone, getting back home to Massachusetts will likely be no simple task. They are prioritizing privacy now, they told the Globe, while calling for the safe departure of other Americans in Gaza. The family asked for “compassion and prayers for the innocent civilians in Gaza, who gave them shelter, who helped them find food and water, but who continue to be without their own supply of food, water, fuel, or medicine to live.”