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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Norwich couple presses Murphy to advocate for cease-fire in Gaza

    Hartford ― A Norwich couple and members of another Connecticut family devastated by Israel’s attacks on Gaza met here Friday with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to urge him to take a clear stance against the ongoing violence and demand an immediate “humanitarian” cease-fire.

    Following the meeting, the couple, Rawan and Ibrahim Shehadeh, and Khamis Abu-Hasaballah, president of the Farmington Valley American Muslim Center in Avon, spoke at a news conference outside Murphy’s Huyshope Avenue office that had been arranged by the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR-CT.

    At Murphy’s request, the meeting had taken place at another location, Farhan Memon, CAIR’s chairman, told reporters.

    In a phone interview earlier in the day, Rawan Shehadeh described the loss of 10 of her relatives killed Nov. 11 when Israeli forces attacked al-Mahdi, a maternity hospital founded by her grandfather. Two of her uncles, both doctors at the hospital, died in the attack, she said.

    Abu-Hasaballah said more than a dozen of his family members have been killed in the Israel-Gaza conflict, though he doesn’t know the precise number because some of their bodies have yet to be recovered from rubble.

    It’s estimated that more than 11,000 Palestinians have died in the Israeli attacks prompted by Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on Israel.

    “There is no excuse for the suffering being imposed on the people of Gaza, no justification for these senseless deaths,” Shehadeh said. “I am calling on Sen. Murphy and my other elected representatives to speak out and call for a humanitarian ceasefire. The number (of casualties) has ticked too high. We cannon in good conscience allow this pain and suffering to continue.”

    “This insanity has to stop,” Abu-Hasaballah said. “What has Israel achieved? Has it eliminated Hamas? What Israel is doing is not solving the problem. It is making it worse.”

    Menon said Murphy listened to the families’ pleas and “acknowledged their pain and grief.”

    “He’s trying to understand what a cease-fire means,” Menon said. “He believes Hamas does need to be eliminated.”

    Rawan Shehadeh, a scientist, said she and her husband, an engineer, have lived in Norwich for nearly three years. She was born in Raleigh, N.C., and grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, where her mother, who was raised in Gaza, now lives. Shehadeh still has several relatives in Gaza.

    “When Oct. 7 happened, we were all taken aback … appalled,” Shehadeh said. “Civilians in Gaza were as surprised as anyone else. There was no doubt that what would follow would be a war that would be potentially heartbreaking. But never in my wildest dreams could have imagined it would escalate the way it has ― that doctors, women and children would be targeted in hospitals.”

    “The escalation has gone beyond my comprehension. I can’t morally accept it,” she said.

    For 40 days after the Hamas attacks on Israel, Shehadeh’s mother checked in on her brothers in Gaza: Dr. Basel Mahdi and Dr. Raed Mahdi, OB-GYNs at the private maternity hospital founded by their father.

    “I told her, ‘Mom, they’re not going anywhere,’” Shehadeh said. “I was sure in my heart they wouldn’t have to pay the price for something they had nothing to do with. Then, sure enough, on Nov. 11 we got word that tanks had surrounded the hospital and the flats (apartments where her uncles’ families lived) were being shelled.”

    He uncles sought refuge with others, she said, and called for help from the Red Cross.

    “My uncle was crying on the phone to my mother, ‘please help us,’” Shehadeh said. “I assured my mother the sun would come out.”

    Shehadeh’s family would learn days later from a surviving family member ― a third uncle ― that her two doctor uncles had been killed in the bombardment, along with Raed Mahdi’s wife Iman and their seven children ranging in age from 13 to 24. The eldest, a daughter, Sameera, who had recently become a dentist, was to be married later this month.

    The bodies of those killed in the attack on the hospital have yet to be counted or recovered, Shehadeh said. There have been no funerals, no burials, and little opportunity for the survivors to mourn their lost loved ones.

    “The salt on the wound is that as my mom is trying to mourn her brothers, she doesn’t know if her remaining siblings and their families are safe and whether they will survive,” she said.

    “Innocent civilians are paying the price for a war they didn’t choose; they’re paying for being poor and on the wrong side of a border. They are being left orphaned, widowed, homeless ... For them, there may be no coming back.”


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