'We found kindness and safety': Gazans thankful for shelter in UAE during Eid

Colourful Eid celebrations were organised for more than 1,200 Palestinians housed at Emirates Humanitarian City in Abu Dhabi

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Palestinian families grateful for sanctuary and solidarity in the UAE have told how their "hearts are with Gaza" as they observe a poignant Eid Al Fitr far from the war in their homeland.

More than 1,200 evacuees are being housed at Emirates Humanitarian City in Abu Dhabi, many of whom are receiving crucial medical care after being wounded during the Israel-Gaza war.

Eid Al Fitr – which marks the end of Ramadan – is typically a joyous occasion in which friends and family unite for communal meals, pray together to reflect on their faith and exchange gifts in keeping with the generous spirit of the occasion.

This year's festivities are muted for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and those who have been flown out of the enclave, which has been devastated by six months of fierce fighting.

Witnessing the smiles on the children's faces reminds us of the importance of every small act of compassion
Mubarak Al Qahtani, Emirates Humanitarian City spokesman

The UAE has sought to offer some respite from their harrowing ordeal – particularly for the young children at the compound – by organising a series of colourful Eid activities.

Maijd Al Futtaim, the region's largest mall operator, has provided a large outdoor cinema, games and rides for the 400 children at Humanitarian City.

"We are all dressed up and watching the children play but to be honest our hearts are with Gaza," said Amani Al Hadad, 35, who is joined at EHC by her sister and nephew.

Her sister is a cancer patient and her nephew is receiving treatment for haemophilia and a broken skull.

"There are no signs of Eid there [in Gaza] but we have to put on a brave face for our children here. What is happening is not their fault."

Safe haven

Amal Salah is being treated for sarcoma, a form of cancer, in the UAE. The mother of four is accompanied at EHC by her daughter and sister.

"Here [at EHC] we found kindness and safety – something that we miss in Gaza," she said.

"We know that everyone is trying their best to make it easier for us. As much as I try to describe to you and tell you how much they are doing for us here, you will never understand.

"In Gaza, every moment we would say our prayers because we would expect to be killed. Here we finally feel safe.

"It actually still feels like a dream – every day here feels like a dream."

Her daughter, 13, started getting convulsions after seeing air strikes in Gaza.

"This stopped after we arrived here," she said.

'It makes me forget'

Mayar Abou Saad, 12, suffered injuries to her legs in an Israeli strike.

Now in a wheelchair and with a leg brace, she remembers little of that day.

Eid in the UAE is a chance for her to be a child again, distracted from the horrors of war.

Her favourite part of the Eid celebrations is watching cartoons, especially Cinderella.

"It makes me forget that the bones in my legs are injured. I can watch it a hundred times," she said.

Ahmed Galal Ismail, chief executive at Majid Al Futtaim, said the company was eager to support the Eid initiative.

"As an organisation founded in the UAE and with deep roots across the region, we believe we have a responsibility to aid humanitarian efforts such as those provided by Emirates Humanitarian City and Emirates Red Crescent and are proud to be able to bring our late Founder's vision to life in such a meaningful way," he said.

Bringing smiles to faces

Mubarak Al Qahtani, a spokesman for EHC, underlined the importance of bringing a moment of joy to lives forever changed by the devastation of recent months.

"As we celebrate Eid with our brothers and sisters from Gaza here at Emirates Humanitarian City, we recognise the challenges they face being away from their families for the first time," he said.

"While we acknowledge our efforts may never be enough, witnessing the smiles on the children's faces reminds us of the importance of every small act of compassion.

"We remain committed to providing a sanctuary of care and joy, striving to make a difference, no matter how small, in their lives.

"While the physical wounds may gradually heal, we know the emotional scars of the war and atrocities they have witnessed may never fully fade."

He said the infectious laughter of Palestinian children, despite all they have suffered, offered hope.

"Today as we gather amid their laughter, we are reminded that in their smiles lies the promise of a brighter tomorrow," he said.

Updated: April 11, 2024, 6:57 AM