The horrors of war spare no one, not even Palestinian Ambassador to Malaysia Dr Anwar Al Agha who lives in Kuala Lumpur.
THREE weeks ago, Dr Anwar Al Agha lost 19 relatives in the Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Fourteen were at home during the day when, in a split second, their lives were snatched away and their three houses destroyed by the shelling from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), he says.
“Nineteen of my relatives were among the syahid (martyrs). I lost 14 of them simultaneously. Another four relatives were killed in shelling in different areas in Gaza,” he relates.
Al Agha, 42, is from Khan Yunis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip. He still has many family members living in the conflict zone, including his father, three sisters and brother.
“(The attack) was without warning. Sometimes, the Israelis would send small rockets to warn (civilians) but sometimes they don’t,” he says, adding that women, children and the elderly were among his family members who were killed.
In Gaza, burial ceremonies are frequently held, and graves often filled with the innocent.
“When someone is killed, and family and friends are able to find and recognise the bodies, they are immediately buried,” says Al Agha.
“You might not even be able to count the houses that were shelled, all in different areas. People did not even have time to bury their syahid when they would have to come back for another syahid.”
The vulnerability of civilians is further exacerbated by the Gaza blockade, which has not only caused an economic crisis and obstructed the flow of medical aid but also prevented escape from the war zone.
Al Agha explains that as Gaza is barricaded from all sides, by land and sea, Israel’s move to “warn” trapped civilians before an attack was useless.
“You are living in 360 square kilometres. Wherever you move in Gaza, you are not safe. My family were moving from our home to another place, and they were shelled there because there is no safe place. If they hit the north, you go south. They will hit the south, so you go to the east. Then they will hit the east.”
Since Israel-Hamas fighting began on July 8, at least 2,092 Palestinians have been killed, according to a recent AP report. On the Israeli side, the death toll is 68, including 64 soldiers, three civilians and a Thai worker.
Al Agha arrived in Kuala Lumpur in April after being appointed Ambassador to Malaysia by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Prior to his posting here, Al Agha served as the Palestinian ambassador to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
“Malaysia has sent a delegation of 83 people, including 30 doctors, to Gaza. This is just part of the assistance given to us by our brothers and sisters in Malaysia and we hope that other countries will also do the same. We hope, God willing, that the situation will be better,” he says, thanking Malaysia for the continuous support to the Palestinian cause throughout the years.
The past few weeks have been equally difficult for former Palestinian Ambassador to Malaysia Tan Sri Ahmad Al Farra, who says he lost nine family members in just one day.
Al Farra’s cousins, including five children, were killed in a missile attack while they were in their home in Gaza.
“My family were only given 57 seconds to leave (their home) after a warning missile was fired at the building they were in. They could not take anything, so they ran into the street,” says Al Farra, adding that the buildings were destroyed by F-16 fighter jets.
“(Out) in the street, another plane in the sky hunted and shot at them. They killed my cousins after they left the building. There were people running outside, including children, and they killed them all,” he relates, his voice growing noticeably strained.
Al Farra still has four sisters and a brother living in Gaza. Among those shot down were the young daughters and sons of Al Farra’s cousin, aged between one and 12.
Many more of his cousins have also been killed in the past, most of them in their homes or at work.
As he shows images of deceased relatives during this interview – some of them smiling at the camera and some wrapped in burial shrouds – Al Farra says that many are unwilling or unable to abandon their homeland.
“They don’t want to leave. I told my brother that I would try to find a way for him to come to Malaysia for a break but he said, ‘How can I leave my family here?’ He has 15 grandsons and four children there,” says Al Farra.
“He told me he could not leave without his family, that he could not live away from them. He said, ‘We have our land, our houses, our farms.’ Nobody can leave his land.”
He adds that when he offered to help his brother financially, his sibling asked: “What should I do with the money?”
“They are not allowed to leave the house, and there are no markets around. They are under curfew and they cannot leave, so money will be useless to them,” Al Farra says.
He points out that material goods such as medicines, food and construction materials are more practical in the present circumstances.
Al Farra, who was the Palestinian ambassador to Malaysia from 1982 to 1996, says that the deaths of Palestinians are a collective burden faced by those living in the area.
“This Israeli aggression against our people in Palestine has not affected my family and me only, but affected the whole Palestinian people. We felt that we sacrificed for Palestine, like any other family there.”
The clash in Gaza escalated after the abduction of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank which the Israeli government blamed on Hamas and which Hamas had denied. The conflict reached its peak on July 8 with Israel’s launching of Operation Protective Edge.