scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Hundreds of foreign passport holders leave Gaza, but Plymouth family remains stuck

From left, Sharaf Shafai, Yasmeen Shafai, who are the children of Hani Shafai of Rapid City, S.D., pose for a photo with their aunt and uncle, Massachusetts residents Sanaa Shafai and Hazem Shafai of Plymouth. In front of Sanaa are the Plymouth couple’s two daughters, Yomna Shafai and Seera Shafai.courtesey photo

A Plymouth family that has made repeated attempts to flee Gaza 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 nearly a week later. They’ve been turned away several times since Gaza’s borders were closed and Israel has since declared war on the Gaza strip.


The family was living in their friend’s apartment near Rafah when they first traveled to the southern border, but they recently relocated to a conference room in 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 strip. Hazem and his family got a ride to the Yasser Arafat International Airport Wednesday, but were turned away.

Hani said his brother’s transportation to and from the airport was expensive due to a lack of fuel that has crippled Gaza.

“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 now dehydrated. Many of them contracted the flu on Saturday and although most of them are now 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.

When he asked his father, “what is the main thing that you need?” his father answered, “We need one gallon of gas so that we can haul water on a tractor that is near the school, and we need a propane tank so that we can heat up a piece of tin bake bread.”

“Imagine the necessities, the things we think we need, and these guys, all they’re asking for is one propane tank and a gallon of gas,” 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.”


Maggie Scales can be reached at Follow her @scales_maggie.