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Medway family remains trapped in Gaza as some foreign nationals exit: ‘We hope our turn will come soon’

Medway family stuck in Gaza describes increasingly dire situation
WATCH: They have been trapped in the territory for weeks. Reporter John Hilliard is tracking them as they try to get home.

On Wednesday, hundreds of dual passport holders and dozens of seriously injured Palestinians were able to leave Gaza for the first time since the war between Israel and Hamas began.

But a Medway family trapped for nearly a month in the territory was not among those allowed to exit through the Rafah crossing into Egypt. Abood Okal and his wife, Wafaa Abuzayda, and their 1-year-old son, Yousef, remain in Gaza, said Sammy Nabulsi, a Boston attorney and family friend who has maintained regular contact with them.

“They’re totally devastated,” said Nabulsi, who expressed frustration over the plight of his friends and called on the United States government to do more to help Americans stuck in Gaza.


“I feel like they have prioritized a multitude of things over the safety and security of their own citizens,” Nabulsi said of officials.

A family from Plymouth that has made repeated attempts to flee Gaza also remained trapped there Wednesday, fighting illness from dehydration, according to a relative.

Hazem Shafai, 47, Sanaa Shafai, 36, and their children, Seera, 13, Yomna, 10, and Jaser, 2, were visiting Hazem’s father and stepmother who live on a farm when Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, said his brother, Hani Shafai.

Hani Shafai said that his extended family and his brother’s family left all their belongings behind, including livestock, to travel to Gaza’s southern border to try to cross into Egypt but have been turned away several times.

The Medway family has been sheltering in the border city in southern Gaza after fleeing from Jabaliya in the north soon after the war started.

In an audio message that Okal recorded late Wednesday afternoon, he said his family is staying in a single-family home with 40 people, including his sister and her three children, who are also Americans. Amid heavy shelling and an escalation of Israeli attacks, Okal said they have chosen to remain close to the border to be ready “on moment’s notice” to cross into Egypt.


The family continues to struggle to obtain clean drinking water, which Okal said has become “the biggest issue” in Gaza. They secured a gallon of water on Tuesday by roaming the streets and asking anyone they came across for help, he said. They obtained another gallon Wednesday, which has to be shared among 40 people.

“We continue to live off nonperishable food, canned food,” he said. “Since power’s out, again, I think the days are getting shorter.”

When they heard news reports that foreign nationals would be allowed to depart Gaza, Okal said, they were “extremely hopeful and cheerful last night despite all the bombing around us.”

“We finally see a glimpse of hope for leaving the war zone and saving our lives basically,” he said.

But as the night wore on, Okal came to understand they would be staying in Gaza for at least another day.

Just after midnight, the family received a notification from the State Department that Americans would not be leaving Wednesday. The message was both “surprising” and a “bit of a downer,” Okal said.

“We expected that Americans, among other nationals, would all be departing on the same day,” he said.

Those initially permitted into Egypt include the wounded and foreign nationals from Japan, Finland, Austria, Bulgaria, Jordan, and other countries, Okal said. The local border authority circulated a list on Wednesday.


“While we’re happy for all that have departed, and also for the wounded to be able to get medical treatment, we can’t help but feel a little frustrated that it’s taking longer than we expected,” Okal said.

Okal said there was “no clear timeline” on when they will be able to depart.

“We hope our turn will come in soon among those that are leaving, and we trust that our State Department is doing its best to get us out of Gaza before it’s too late,” he said.

For the Shafai family, they were living in their friend’s apartment near Rafah when they first traveled to the southern border but recently relocated to a conference room in a mutual friend’s office to escape the retaliatory airstrikes by Israel.

Hani called his brother and told him that the Palestinian Crossings Authority planned to let hundreds of foreign passport holders to leave Gaza and told him to try to leave. The family got a ride to the Yasser Arafat International Airport Wednesday but were turned away.

“They could not make it through, of course, they had to turn back and are still waiting,” Hani said from his home in South Dakota.

Hani said that his brother’s family has faced difficulty getting clean drinking water and are dehydrated. Many of them contracted the flu on Saturday and while most are feeling better, Hazem’s youngest child is still sick.


“My nephew, Jaser, who is about 2 years old, he is not feeling good which is probably due to the water supply,” Hani said. “He developed a fever and is throwing up.”

Hani has a large family who still lives in Gaza, many of whom have taken shelter in different areas. His 85-year-old father is sheltering in a school with 2,000 people, and he has had to mediate arguments over sharing scarce supplies of water, Hani said.

More than 8,700 Palestinians have been killed in the war, mostly women and minors, and more than 22,000 people have been wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry told the Associated Press Wednesday. Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’ initial attack. Palestinian militants also abducted around 240 people during their incursion and have continued firing rockets into Israel.

“It is really sad to see what is happening, and the world is watching and nobody is saying, ‘Hey let’s stop for a second and see who needs help,’” Hani said. “It seems as though human life is not worth anything anymore.”

Shannon Larson can be reached at Follow her @shannonlarson98. Maggie Scales can be reached at Follow her @scales_maggie.