Female Gazan karate champion loses leg in Israeli strike

Palestinian, 24, defied societal norms to earn black belt

Nagham Abu Samra, a Palestinian karate champion before and after Israeli air strikes. She was treated at Al Aqsa Martyr’s hospital in Deir Al Balah. Photo: Mohammad Abu Samra
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Nagham Abu Samra spent her life challenging rival athletes and traditional stereotypes in Gaza's society on her way to winning karate championships.

Since childhood, the 24-year-old athlete has been rarely seen without her white uniform and black hijab, having won first and second place in the Palestinian Karate Championships in 2017, and 2019. Today, she lies in the Intensive Care Unit of Al Aqsa Martyr's Hospital in central Gaza's Deir Al Balah, unconscious, with her right leg amputated.

The Israeli strike that hit her family's house in the central Al Nuseirat neighbourhood on December 18 killed her sister and shifted the path of her life's journey. From fighting for glory, she is now fighting for survival.

Outside the hospital in the besieged coastal enclave sit Nagham's two brothers and her father Marwan. They have all been living in their car since the Israeli strike.

“My dad refuses to go anywhere. He refuses to even sleep in the back seat where he will be more comfortable. All he does is sit and wait until he can visit her,” Nagham's brother Mohammad told The National.

As the war continues in the coastal Strip, killing more than 20,600 Palestinians, the family is worried that the next Israeli strike could hit the hospital where Nagham lies.

“We have our hands on our hearts all the time,” Mohammad says, referring to the dangers of staying close to the hospital.

Her father's particular heartbreak over his daughter's fate is because she was the closest and “kindest” to him, the brother explains.

“Their relationship was near perfect.”

Mohammad says Nagham's father's support despite societal pressures against her participation in the male-dominated sport, was a debt that Nagham tried to repay.

“He embraced her and she embraced him.”

Karate kid

Karate shaped Nagham's personality, making her stronger than her peers, although the beginning of her journey was merely a coincidence until she earned her black belt.

There was a training centre near the family home in the northern Gaza city, where she used to see children her age in their uniform. Her dad granted his daughter's wish to take part in classes.

Mohammad says since then, Nagham has loved karate and become passionate about it.

Her love for the sport was so strong, that she decided to pursue a bachelor's and master's degree in Physical Education.

Nagham then opened a gym that offered karate training to girls.

But for now, Nagham remains in a coma, her fate unclear. “Her condition is unstable,” Mohammad said.

The hope is for Nagham to become stable enough in the coming days to be sent through the southern Rafah border crossing into Egypt for transfer to the UAE.

Nagham's mother died of cancer four months ago before the war with Israel began on October 7 following the Hamas attacks on Israel.

The death of all the women in the family has added a complication to the process of taking Nagham abroad.

“After asking around, we've learnt that applications for treatment outside of Gaza are being rejected when the injured person's companion is a male,” explained the brother.

After a long search, the family found a woman who “volunteered” to be Nagham's companion in case she was selected for treatment abroad.

The family is making appeals to governments worldwide to take Nagham for treatment abroad while her father spends his days outside the hospital doors, waiting for his only remaining daughter to open her eyes.

Updated: December 27, 2023, 4:14 AM