'No life away from my country,' says woman returning to Gaza after treatment in UAE

Mariam Abu Jalal is a mother of two who was evacuated from Gaza to receive treatment for cancer

Mariam Jamal Awad Abu Jalal who returned to Gaza after receiving treatment in Abu Dhabi.
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Hope, fear and tears. This is what could be seen on Mariam Abu Jalal's face as she waited in Abu Dhabi Airport's VIP terminal for a plane to Al Arish military airport in Egypt, from where she would head to Rafah, Gaza, to be reunited with her family.

The 33-year-old mother of two arrived in Abu Dhabi in December to receive treatment for breast cancer as part of the UAE's mission to bring over 2,000 sick and injured Gazans for medical assistance.

Ms Abu Jalal had been receiving cancer treatment in Gaza since 2020 but that stopped when Israel launched its war in the Palestinian territory in October, she said.

"I was getting some of the best care there is. Then all of a sudden, nothing."

Israeli air strikes targeted the hospital where Ms Abu Jalal was receiving treatment in late October, destroying it completely.

"Cancer patients weren't even able to get in touch with their doctors," she said.

She said the Israeli attacks on Gaza exacerbated her symptoms, even though growing up in Gaza had made her "used to" wars.

"I was relatively stable before the war began. But since it happened, I became afraid – not just for myself but for my two kids."

Now she wants to go back, against the advice of her husband, to return to her homeland and to be reunited with her children.

"We're used to the fighting since we were young and we've gotten used to being brave and steadfast in defending our land no matter how afraid we got," Ms Abu Jalal said.

Hearing her children ask her to come home, especially during Ramadan, was very difficult, she said, recounting the phone conversations she had with them as tears welled up in her eyes.

"They used to say, 'Mama, Mama, when are you coming back, when are you coming back?' I told them after Ramadan. Then on the first day of Eid, they asked again, 'Mama, are you coming back today?' I told them I can't."

Ms Abu Jalal said that just as she had faith that God would feed and keep her children safe while she was away, she was also certain that returning to Gaza was the right thing for her to do.

She vowed never to leave her children again.

"I left them crying. It was very, very difficult leaving my children in a state of war – where they could become hungry at any time, run out of water or even get killed or injured by an Israeli strike on or near them."

Rafah, her home city, is the only urban area of Gaza that has remained relatively untouched by Israel's devastating military offensive. Now under threat of an imminent attack by the Israeli army, the city's population has more than tripled to about 1.5 million people as people from other areas sought refuge there.

More than 34,000 people have been killed and more than 77,000 injured in Gaza since the start of the war. More than two thirds of the territory's homes have been destroyed or damaged, as have most of its hospitals. An acute hunger crisis is only just starting to ease after an international outcry prompted Israel to ease its strict controls on delivery of aid.

However, Ms Abu Jalal said she was overwhelmed with a sense of "positivity" while in the UAE.

"People in the UAE celebrated us [Gazans]. They welcomed us. They kept assuring us that everyone back home will remain safe. They had very strong and impassioned feelings towards us. It made us feel less worried and stressed out."

Despite the danger of returning home, Ms Abu Jalal said there was nothing like being in your own country.

"I went to Jerusalem and visited Al Aqsa mosque. Yes, it was amazing. But returning to Gaza felt different, even though it's the same country. There's no life away from my country."

Updated: April 30, 2024, 3:14 AM