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'I cry all the time': Nova Scotia couple returns after 40 days in Gaza

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It has been five days since Palestinian-Canadian couple, Khalil and Nabila Manna, returned from visiting relatives in Gaza.

Khalil, who is 72-years old, and 68-year old Nabila travelled to Gaza to visit Nabila’s ill mother.

While the couple planned to visit for a short-period of time, the Israel-Hamas conflict left them stranded for 40 days. During that time, the couple said they lived in fear.

Khalil said bombs began dropping near their home, forcing them to relocate three times because nowhere was safe.

“We lived in the north near Al Shifa hospital, but we had a hard time there so we moved south looking for a safe area but it was the same thing,” said Khalil.

Nabila’s mother was unable to move and had to be carried to different places.

Khalil recalled experiencing a number of close calls as they travelled and sought shelter in different homes. “I was lying in bed and then got up to get food so after I moved [from] the bed, [after] just one minute they bombed the house. The complete wall was destroyed where I was lying.”

Nabila and Khalil say their family and neighbours lost their homes to Israel’s bombardment.

“The front of my home is completely destroyed. 60 people were killed at the same time in [the] neighbouring building as it collapsed, and another building nearby [had] the same thing happen,” said Khalil.

The Manna’s said the very communities they grew up in and frequently visited now lie flattened. They said they heard cries for help from neighbours under rubble that were unable to get out – voices which continue to haunt them.

“They were screaming for help,” said Nabila. “They were saying I am still alive but there aren’t any tools to move it to help,” said Khalil. Eventually the calls for help stopped.

The couple and their family said it was difficult finding food, water, and fuel. “For the whole 24 hours we ate only one meal. We made bread and cooked it over a fire since we didn’t have a stove. To use the bathroom you would [be] lining up for hours,” said Khalil and Nabila.

Nabila Manna filling a jug with water in Gaza. (Courtesy: Nabila Manna)

They said they waited for support from the Canadian government but didn’t expect it would take so long. “We didn’t know where to go. Do we go to Egypt? We don’t know,” said Nabila.

After countless calls and emails to local MP’s, the couple’s son, Ibrahim, said there was support to bring his parents back to Halifax.

Now that Khalil and Nabila have returned home, they carry the weight of their war-torn homeland. Their thoughts and hearts remain tethered to their families in Gaza. “I am so worried about them. I cry all the time because I don’t know any news about them,” said Nabila tearfully.

Now that the temporary ceasefire deal has ended, the couple watch the news and frequently make calls to their families, waiting for them to answer.

Their son Ibrahim also tries to stay connected to family back in Gaza, however it is getting harder, especially due to their family losing power, cell service, and frequently moving around to find shelter.

After several phone calls, by-chance, Ibrahim’s cousin answered. Over the phone she told him, “Life is not available for living anymore. We are living in tents and on the street.”

The tents in Gaza that people are using for shelter. (Courtesy: Ibrahim Manna)

Ibrahim’s nephew has stage four cancer. He said his cousin told him that there is no access to hospitals or medications.

“She’s watching a young boy that’s 10-years-old dying in front of her slowly and she can’t do nothing about it,” said Ibrahim.

He said his cousin registered to go to Turkey and through the border but were refused to leave Gaza. “I even tried to talk to a couple MPs here if they could go case-by-case and that we have a lot of community members that can try and help them settle.”

Since returning home, the family is glued to their phones and television, keeping up with everything happening in Gaza. While the Manna’s are grateful to be back home, they’re spending their time hoping for another ceasefire deal that will lead to peace.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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