Norfolk County

‘Mentally we’re still there:’ Medway family shares details of harrowing escape from Gaza with child

MEDWAY, Mass. — A Medway family who recently escaped the horrors of war in Gaza are speaking out about the struggle to get to safety.

Abood Okal, his wife Wafaa Abuzayda, and their one-year-old son, Yousef Okal, flew into Boston Logan International Airport on Monday after crossing into Egypt last week and were finally safe and sound at home in Medway.

They spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper about having mixed feelings about being back in the United States.

“I feel happy because we’re safe here,” Wafaa told Cooper, “but our minds are still in Gaza. I still have my parents over there, Abood’s parents over there.”

The Okal’s traveled to Gaza in early October to visit friends and family. In the early hours of October 7 renewed fighting between Israel and Hamas broke out. Abood recalls hearing the sounds of rockets launching and knew their troubles were only beginning.

“It was unclear in the beginning but then in a couple hours as the news rolled out about what was happening, we realized that we [were] in trouble and that this is going to be a big event,” Abood said.

The Medway family was staying in Jabalia in northern Gaza. The escalating violence forced them to clamber more than 20 miles south to Rafah.

“It was chaotic,” Abood says of the family’s mad dash to get to safety. “There was no timeline given, there were no specific instructions.”

After getting to the Rafah border, the family tried several times to cross into Egypt to no avail.

With nowhere else to go, they reportedly stayed in a single-family house with 40 other people.

“It was so difficult,” Wafaa said. “We used to wake up every morning thinking about how we’re gonna get water, bread, food.”

Abood, Wafaa, and young Youseff stayed in that home for weeks, hoping for a chance to make a run at the border at a moment’s notice.

“Abood used to go with his brother waiting in the line to get water and bread and come back after 7, 6, hours with one gallon of water for 40 people and pieces of bread,” Wafaa said. “It was not enough.”

As if sharing resources with 40 other people wasn’t difficult enough, Abood and Wafaa had a baby to care for, and not nearly enough milk to keep him fed.

“I knew we were going to run out [of milk] at some point,” Wafaa said. “I started to reduce his bottle from whole bottle to half bottle. In the last 5 days or a week, we were completely out of milk.”

On November 2, after nearly a month of living amid the violent conditions, the Okal family got word they would be able to cross the border into Egypt. They then traveled to Cairo and eventually back to Medway, Massachusetts on November 7.

“We’re still processing what we experienced,” Wafa said. “I can’t believe our short trip turned into a nightmare.”

Abood says they’re both still mentally with their friends in family who are still stuck in the war-torn country. They both fear for the safety of their loved ones.

“If you’re not dying from air strikes or shelling you’re at high risk of dying from dehydration and lack of food,” Abood said. “Despite that little aid that’s coming in it’s not really making, it’s not moving the needle.”

In a statement shared with The Boston Globe, Okal said, “There is some getting used to [the return] to normal life...But mentally, I don’t think we’ll be at a safe point until we know the war has stopped. The people in Gaza are humans. The innocent civilians are not happy about what’s happening, and they deserve to live in peace.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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