As Bombs Fall in Gaza, History Hangs Over a Family Fighting to Survive

Mohammed Abujayyab was at his wits end.

For six days he has been stuck inside his Los Angeles apartment, sleep-deprived and anxious, glued to the television and jabbing messages into his phone. The 39-year-old software engineer was trying to save his grandmother, who was thousands of miles away in Gaza. But she wasn’t listening to his pleas to flee.

By then, Israeli warplanes had already dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza in response to the devastating Hamas attacks of Oct 7. Entire neighborhoods had been leveled in Gaza, and the reported death toll was rising by the hundreds every day. Israel had just ordered more than a million residents to immediately abandon their homes in the northern part of Gaza and move to the south.

In frantic conversations on a family WhatsApp group, Mr. Abujayyab urged his 88-year-old grandmother, Rifa’a, to join the exodus of residents — even if dozens had died in blasts along the route. (Hamas blamed Israel, which denied responsibility.) But she refused to go.

His grandmother had already fled once, he explained, in 1948, as one of 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes during the war that followed the creation of Israel. She ended up in Gaza, the crowded coastal strip, where she spent most of her life under Israeli occupation and control. Seventy-five years later, she had no intention of running again.

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