A Massachusetts family has been stuck in Gaza for weeks amid the ongoing war between Israeli forces and Hamas terrorists, and they are now without adequate resources – including food, water, fuel and connectivity – as they continue to look for a way home.
Abood Okal, Wafa Abuzayda and their 1-year-old son, Yousef, were visiting family in Gaza when Hamas launched its surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7. The family, which had been in the region since late September, was initially planning to return to their home in Medway, Massachusetts, on Oct. 13.
Sammy Nabulsi, friend and attorney for the family, spoke with Fox News Digital about their situation on the ground in Gaza, which he described as “extremely dangerous and dire,” adding that their circumstances continue to worsen each day they remain in the region.
“Currently, the family is staying in a single-family home with 40 other people taking shelter,” Nabulsi said. “They’re having to sleep on the floor, as they’ve been doing for a little over two weeks. Their chief concern has been access to water. A couple of times over the last week, they’ve run out of clean drinking water. They’ve had to resort to drinking salt water from a well that they have access to.”
“Another concern now on top of that is there hasn’t been any access to fuel,” he continued. “They rely on diesel fuel to pull and pump the well water, which is just the running water that they have at this home, and also to filter it, which they’ve been unable to do because they’ve run out of fuel and have no access to any fuel. So there have been days when they’ve just had to drink salt water, unfiltered salt water, to stay hydrated.”
Nabulsi said the family told him over the weekend that they ran out of drinking water again and are now trying to figure out how they will access clean drinking water over the next few days. They are also completely out of cooking oil and fuel.
The family also has an extremely limited food supply and Nabulsi said he was told Sunday morning that they waited in line for six hours for some bread to share.
Additionally, Yousef, who turns two in December, relies primarily on milk as his main source of nutrition and the family ran out of milk a few days ago. They have been unsuccessful in their efforts to find milk in Rafah, which is the town they are currently staying in, or the nearby town of Khan Yunus.
Okal said in an audio message to Nabulsi on Saturday that there were three airstrikes within 800 to 900 feet of the home they are at.
“There continue to be airstrikes in the town that they are staying in,” Nabulsi said. “And presumably, this is the same town where the other hundreds of American citizens who wish to cross into Egypt are currently located. So this family is in exceptionally dangerous circumstances at the moment.”
As many as 9,700 people have been killed on both sides of the war since Hamas launched its largest attack on the Jewish State in decades on Oct. 7, prompting retaliatory action from Israeli forces. The death toll in Israel includes at least 1,400 Israeli civilians and soldiers and 33 Americans. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says more than 8,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and 110 in the West Bank.
Thousands more have been wounded, and many others have been taken hostage by Hamas and raped, tortured and murdered.
Nabulsi also spoke about the family’s difficulty with connectivity over the weekend after cellular and internet service was cut for much of Gaza starting on Friday amid a heavy Israeli bombardment. Though connectivity was not easy before then due to reliance on solar-powered battery packs for their phones, Nabulsi said he had been able to reach the family three to five times a day from morning to early evening local time.
After communications were cut, Nabulsi was only able to reach the family about once a day.
Internet and phone service began gradually returning to Gaza on Sunday, and U.S. officials said they had pressured Israel to restore communications to the region.
The family’s communications were limited, but possible, because they have U.S. phones and there is a field next to where they are staying that allows them to find a signal through Israeli telecommunication infrastructure if they walk far enough into the field. But, Nabulsi said, walking into the field has become dangerous because of concerns of being targeted or mistaken for a scout for Hamas or another group in the area.
“They’ve been approached by people they’re staying with and neighbors [asking them] to stop going out into the field and making phone calls and trying to reach people in the United States,” Nabulsi said.
Okal and Abuzayda feel “hopeless and abandoned” by the U.S. government, according to Nabulsi, because they say they have not received any information from the State Department or the White House about a departure option or timeline.
“They’ve done everything they’ve been asked to do,” Nabulsi said.
The family has contacted the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and Jerusalem, Israel, on a daily basis, signed up for every alert system the State Department has urged them to sign up for and they have been in contact with their elected officials.
“[The family] went down to Rafah when northern Gaza was evacuated, and they went to the Rafah Crossing every single time that the State Department has communicated an opportunity to them to do so, and at every single turn, they’ve not received any sort of help or assistance or even information from the U.S. government.,” Nabulsi explained. “They just feel completely abandoned, and they don’t think that the United States is focused on this effort at all.”
Nabulsi pointed out the difference in how the U.S. government is handling the evacuation of Americans from Israel compared to the Americans stranded in Gaza as the State Department has organized charter flights from Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel and chartered cruise ships to move Americans from the ongoing violence.
“This has been my second-greatest frustration to just the fact there’s no departure option for them is how stark the comparison has been between what the United States has done for American citizens in Israel versus what the United States has done for American citizens in Gaza,” Nabulsi said. “To me, at the outset of this and what has motivated me to get involved, has just been that a citizen is a citizen, is a citizen. Shouldn’t matter which side of the wall they’re on. They are entitled to safety and security by their own government.”
“There’s been no departure option or plan or timeline for any of the American citizens in Gaza,” he added. “Our understanding at the moment is their only option is for them to cross at the Rafah Crossing into Egypt. I’ve not been made aware of any other options at the United States is looking at or considering. They appear to be putting all their eggs in this basket.”
The Pentagon said Monday that Hamas is preventing hundreds of Americans stuck in Gaza from leaving the region and the State Department also told Fox News Digital that Hamas has, at times, prevented people from approaching the Rafah Crossing. Nabulsi claims these statements from the U.S. government are different from what he has heard from the ground and through his private communications with the State Department.
A spokesperson for the State Department told Fox News Digital it continues to work urgently with Egypt, Israel and the United Nations to facilitate the ability for U.S. citizens and their families to safely leave Gaza and travel through Egypt to their final destinations. The spokesperson said it is unclear how many Americans are stranded in Gaza since they are not required to register their travel to a foreign country with the State Department, which previously estimated that as many as 600 Americans could be in the region.
According to the spokesperson, the security environment in Gaza is distinct from the security environment in Israel, making it harder to facilitate safe passage for Americans stuck in Gaza. The spokesperson emphasized, however, that the State Department’s commitment to providing all possible consular assistance to U.S. citizens is unwavering, regardless of location, and that it remains in contact with U.S. citizens in Gaza.
The Massachusetts family is staying in a home that is no more than a 10-minute drive away from the Rafah Crossing and had a vehicle they were planning to use to get to it. The State Department, Nabulsi said, has given the family three specific dates and times to arrive at the location to cross, yet each time they have arrived at the crossing, they aren’t able to use it.
Nabulsi said he reviewed photos the family sent him that showed the only thing stopping people who wish to leave is the physical gate at the crossing as there are no Hamas terrorists at the location.
The only people at the crossing were Egyptian guards on the other side who informed people seeking evacuation that they had not been told to open up the crossing for them yet. After the third unsuccessful attempt at the crossing, which was the third time the State Department told the family of an opportunity to cross, Nabulsi reached out to contacts at the State Department who said the reason nobody was able to cross was that a three-way agreement with Egypt, Israel and the Hamas-run government in Gaza had not been reached.
“Each time this family has driven there to the crossing, waited six to eight hours only for not a single American citizen to cross,” he said. “And unfortunately, now that the fuel supply that they had is out, they don’t have a way of driving there themselves. So the next time that there’s an opportunity for them to cross into Egypt at the Rafah Crossing, they’re either going to have to make that walk there with their 1-year-old son or try to find vehicular access through someone they can pay to take them there.”
The State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital that securing passage through the Rafah Crossing is complicated since one side of the border crossing is controlled by Hamas, but that the department has no higher priority than assisting U.S. citizens, including those in Gaza.
Not long after President Biden announced a deal was in the works to deliver aid to Gaza, a 20-truck convoy carrying humanitarian assistance was facilitated by Egypt, Israel and the United Nations through the Rafah Crossing. The State Department spokesperson said it is continuing to work on delivering additional aid to Gaza.
Immediately after Biden announced aid was on the way, Nabulsi said he contacted the State Department and the White House National Security Council and was told that this deal did not include any provision for the evacuation of American citizens out of Gaza, but that they “continued to hope that the deal might grease the wheels, so to speak, to get them out.”
“I don’t know how the President of the United States goes to Israel, negotiates an aid deal and travels back to the United States without having first secured the safety and security of these American citizens, but since that time, there has been additional vehicular aid access into Egypt, but not a single American citizen has been able to leave,” Nabulsi said. “So I don’t think the United States is doing anything as part of these aid discussions to ensure any sort of safe or immediate departure for the hundreds of American citizens stranded in Gaza at the moment.”
Nabulsi said he would like Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to give the same effort to securing the safe and immediate departure of American citizens in Gaza as they are giving to Americans in Israel and the American hostages being held by Hamas – two of whom have been released on humanitarian grounds.
“My bottom line here is that an American is an American is an American,” Nabulsi said. “None of them are worth more or less than the other. And my ask is to the administration to prioritize and to put effort into securing the safe departure of these American citizens. At the moment, it feels like, and this is what the family believes, that President Biden and the State Department are prioritizing aid to a foreign government, the destruction of a foreign territory, and frankly, the killing of foreign civilians all over the safety and security of American citizens.”