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Egypt and Gaza: The tale of two Rafahs

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A ball of fire is seen following an Israeli air strike, on July 11, 2014 in Rafah, in the southern of Gaza Strip. Israeli warplanes kept up deadly raids on Gaza but failed to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets across the border, as the United States offered to help negotiate a truce. (Photo: AFP-Said Khatib)


Om Mohammed Zaarab is an Egyptian woman of Palestinian descent. She has been living in the Salahuddin neighborhood in Sinai’s Rafah since before the division of the town into an Egyptian side and a Palestinian side.

Sinai – It was shortly after 2 pm when Om Mohammed Zaarab, a woman in her fifties, was seen standing on the balcony of her house located on the border of the Salahuddin neighborhood in Sinai’s Rafah. She prayed to God to ease the suffering of people in Gaza and her relatives living on the Palestinian side of Rafah.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar Om Mohammed said, “We did not sleep at all during the night, we kept hearing the sounds of Israeli jets bombing the region that separated the two Rafahs. They targeted the houses of my relatives and my cousins on the Palestinian side.”


“I could see their homes from my balcony, I saw it with my own two eyes as the planes bombarded their houses and turned them into piles of rubble,” she recounted.

“I saw the dead bodies of children and adults of the Zaarab family on TV, but all I could do was to pray to God to bring destruction upon the Israelis and all those supporting them… Here I am, standing a few steps away and I cannot join them, or even attend the funerals of the deceased,” she sighed.

Om Mohammed was not the only one hit by the tragedy. It was a feeling she shared with many Egyptian families of Palestinian origin who are today living on the Egyptian side of Rafah.

This town and its famous crossing were at the heart of the peace initiative launched by late Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat who visited Israel and signed a “peace accord” that involved redrawing the borders and dividing Rafah, hence separating families that lived on both sides of the borders.


“I could see their homes from my balcony, I saw it with my own two eyes as the planes bombarded their houses and turned them into piles of rubble,” - Om MohammedIn his shop located on the corner of a Salahuddin’s side street, Hajj Moussa Qashta sat with a friend watching the news of the Israeli aggressions on Gaza.


“We are sad about the massacres we see on TV that are being committed against our cousins and our relatives in Gaza, and targeting neighborhoods in Palestinian Rafah where our families are living,” he said.

Mahmoud al-Akhrassi, an Egyptian man from Rafah explained that “there are family ties linking people from the Palestinian side to those on the Egyptian side, my sister-in-law is Palestinian and her nephew was killed in the recent Israeli aggression.”

“We received condolences at our house, from both our relatives and from the relatives of the martyr, who are members of Egyptian families of Palestinian origin,” he said.

Meanwhile, an emotional Ibrahim al-Qomboz said, “We wished that Egypt would open the Rafah crossing so we can visit Gaza, especially Rafah, but there is nothing we can do.”

“We see them crying and yelling for help and we cannot even go bury them or participate in the funerals of our loved ones,” he added.

Om Khaled, who has been living in Rafah for over 30 years, is a Palestinian woman married to an Egyptian man.

She says she will never stop mourning her relatives. Constantly worried because of the Israeli war on Gaza, she said, “May God [take our revenge on] the Israelis, they do not distinguish between anyone, they kill children, mothers and old men, may God deprive them of everything they cherish.”

As we walked through the town, we reached a house in the Ahrash neighborhood. Iman Zaareb, 27, was covered in black as she sat at her parents’ house, holding the picture of a man in his thirties.

When asked about the man in the picture, she broke down in tears. She calmed down a few minutes later as her mother comforted her, and she was finally able to share her pain with us.

“This is my husband Iyad Zaarab, he visited us in Rafah when the borders were opened, we got married and I went with him to the Palestinian side where we lived what I thought was the most beautiful life,” she said.

She described her husband as “a compassionate man, who did his best to make me and our three children happy.”

“Two weeks after the Israeli aggression, some shells and missiles fell near our house and some of our neighbors were martyred,” she said, recounting her story. “My husband asked me to travel with my children to Rafah and to stay at my parents’ house until the end of the war, when the situation stabilizes. I insisted on staying there and told him we either live together or die together, but he refused and demanded that I leave.”

“In the end, I did as he wished and I came to my parents’ house,” she said with deep sorrow.

“He used to call us every day to check on me and on the kids but four days ago, Rafah was targeted with intense Israeli shelling, and dozens were martyred, including my husband,” she continued.

“He did not answer when I called him on his phone and I found out from his brother that he was martyred in the shelling,” she sighed.

“I headed to the Rafah crossing on the same day, trying to enter Gaza to see my husband before he was buried, I wept and did everything I could but the Egyptian security refused to let me in. But God is sufficient for us, for he is the best disposer of [our] affairs. He will deal with those who killed him and those who prevented me from seeing him as a martyr before he was buried,” she lamented.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.



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