'We lived through it all': Palestinian family reunited in UAE after escaping Gaza war

Now in Dubai, the expat's family watches the news from afar but, every day, their heart breaks for everything and everyone they lost: 'We didn't have time to grieve'


Waad Barakat

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From left: Sami, Yaqoub, and Maysoun — Photo: Supplied
From left: Sami, Yaqoub, and Maysoun — Photo: Supplied

Published: Wed 20 Dec 2023, 11:55 AM

Last updated: Thu 21 Dec 2023, 8:54 AM

Palestinian mother Maysoon Abdel Qader and her two children had to sleep through the sound of drones and blasts in Gaza for several weeks.They rummaged through bombed neighbourhoods in search of food, power, and warmth. They lived through the brutal war for 36 long days — until they found their way to the UAE where Maysoon's husband Sami works.

"It's heartbreaking to see the news from afar when I had lived through it all," Maysoon, who is now in Dubai, told Khaleej Times.

The family could remember that entire month of "helplessness" like it was yesterday.

"We went to my mother's house for the weekend, and then the 7th of October happened, and we were unable to return," Maysoon explained, her voice filled with sadness.

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Being away from home meant leaving behind important medication and personal belongings. The family was unable to return for several weeks, with their entire neighbourhood becoming a war zone.

What night and day were like in Gaza

At night, Maysoon and her children, Yaqoub Sami, 16, and Ibrahim Sami, 11, could barely sleep as drones whizzed past their home and bombings rattled the ground.

Daylight brought new challenges as Maysoon sent her children on missions to find essentials as basic as bread, and charge batteries they needed for warmth and cooking.

Here's how they cooked in Gaza:

Getting all these meant walking long distances in search of places with functional solar panels.

One neighbour had a solar panel but their house was bombed, burying people in the rubble. It took a week to recover all the bodies, Maysoon said.

An 'endless month' for Dubai expat

More than a thousand miles away in Dubai, Maysoon's husband Sami couldn't rest nor shut his eyes during that endless month when his family was trapped in Gaza.

"I can't describe the feeling of helplessness I experienced during that time," Sami told Khaleej Times. "Not knowing anything about my wife, my boys, and my entire family left me on the edge."

Communication was arduous, and he relied on the Internet initially to stay in touch. However, the Internet was cut off after 10 days, forcing him to make international calls. Unfortunately, even those lines were hit during the war, leaving him without information about his loved ones for extended periods, sometimes up to 10 days.

How the family escaped the war

Five days after the war erupted on October 7, Maysoon took the courageous step to leave Gaza. She and her children have New Zealand passports, and with Sami in Dubai, they do have a chance to leave. However, it wasn't easy.

They had to apply for a no-objection certificate (NOC) to ensure safe passage, and they didn't receive it until an entire month later. On November 14, they finally arrived in Dubai — reuniting with Sami.

From left: Sami, Ibrahim and Maysoun — Photo: Supplied
From left: Sami, Ibrahim and Maysoun — Photo: Supplied

They are now arranging for the papers and tickets to fly to New Zealand in January. They may have escaped the war but not the tragedy. In the middle of the chaos, Maysoon lost a cousin.

“We didn’t have time to grieve. I just learnt my cousin was among those martyred when I saw the name on the list of dead people," Maysoon said.

As they rebuild their lives in the UAE, they found solace and hope — but their thoughts will remain with their loved ones who are still living the horrors of the Gaza war.

"Gaza was already like a prison, but we built and loved that prison. It's painful to witness its destruction," Maysoon said, her voice cracking.


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