Gazans lie at death's door as Turkey-Syria earthquake shatters community

Gaza mourns expatriates killed in Turkey-Syria Earthquake
4 min read
28 February, 2023

Three weeks have passed since the Turkey-Syria earthquake first struck on February 6, with deaths currently numbered at over 50,000.

At least 91 Palestinians were killed by the earthquake, according to official statistics released by the Palestinian Foreign Ministry. 

Abdul Karim Abu Jalhoum, a 39-year-old Gazan was among the victims, alongside his five-member family in their house in Antalya in the south of Turkey. 

"For over twelve years, my son escaped death's door in Gaza. He simply cannot go like this"

After hours of searching, Turkish rescue teams found the bodies of Abdul Karim, his wife and his four children. Abdul Karim's family back in Gaza were quickly informed of the tragedy, with their reaction one of agony. Abdul Karim's mother and his 17 siblings were beside themselves.

"I'm still waiting for my son to call just like he promised me in his last WhatsApp message," Om Raed, Abdul Karim's mother, said with heart-wrenching grief.

Looking around the room for support Om Raed told The New Arab: "For over twelve years, my son escaped death's door in Gaza. He simply cannot go like this."

The mother of Abdul Karim Abu Jalhoum speaks to The New Arab (TNA)
Overcome with grief, the mother of Abdul Karim told The New Arab of her torment [photo credit: Sally Ibrahim/The New Arab]

After a few minutes of silence, Om Raed suddenly cried out and asked the heavens: "Why does death insist on tightening its grip around our collars without mercy...we are poor people, all we want is to live in peace and security."

Twelve years ago, Abdul Karim left Gaza in a bid to escape the poor economic conditions which left him unemployed and unable to support his family. But upon reaching Turkey, as Om Raed explained to The New Arab, his path was far from secure. "He was forced to move on feet from one place to the other, often sleeping rough on the streets in the cold."

"My son eventually found a job and worked hard for six years to afford to bring his family to him in Turkey," Abdul Karim's mother told us. "He thought his troubles were beginning to leave him. He didn't realise death would be waiting around the corner for him and his family."

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Not far from her mother, Abdul Karim's sister Lubna Abu Jalhoum, sat alone and looked back at pictures of her brother and his family. “Look at him, he was smiling all the time. He wanted to tell us that he was happy in his life, but he did not tell us that he will die soon,” the 35-year-old young woman told The New Arab

"We're always trying to run away from death. The Israeli occupation causes us to fear everything, we're in a state of permanent shock."

The sister of Abdul Karim Abu Jalhoum speaks to The New Arab
The sister of Abdul Karim mourns her brother, her sister-in-law and her five nieces and nephews [photo credit: Sally Ibrahim/The New Arab]

Because of continued Israeli aggression in Gaza as well as the internal political division between Hamas and Fatah, the situation has deteriorated in our coastal enclave,  complained.

As a result, she said, the young Gazan people were forced to immigrate from their homes.  “We have lost dozens of people who drowned as they tried to cross international seas. Others died in the forests because of the cold while trying to illegally cross the borders to reach European countries.”

For the family of Yousef Darabih, a Gazan doctor who passed away in the Turkey earthquake, the situation was no better. His parents and his siblings had to wait six arduous days before learning his fate. 

"Those were the toughest days of our life. We were watching the rescue efforts through WhatsApp calls, Abdullah Darabih, Yousef's brother told The New Arab

	Palestinians carry the body of Yousef Darabih in a coffin, who died in Turkey's earthquake, transport his body to Al-Shifa Medical Hospital in Gaza city,
Palestinians carry the body of Yousef Darabih to Al-Shifa Medical Hospital in Gaza City [photo credit: Sally Ibrahim/The New Arab]

Majdi Darabih, Yousef’s father received his body in a wooden coffin as his tears rolled down his face. A day later, Yousef was buried in a local cemetery in Gaza city.

Speaking to The New Arab, Majdi said “my son travelled to Turkey eight years ago to study medicine at the university in Ankara. When he finished his studies, he decided to work in Turkey as Gaza still suffers from a lack of work opportunities.”

 “I was so happy as he escaped from the intolerable situation in Gaza, but I did know that you will not survive from the earthquake and I will not see you again,” the elderly man, who is in his 60s, added.

Darabih and Abu Jalhoum's family were among 90 others killed during the 7.8-magnitude devastating earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria last Monday, according to the Palestinian Foreign Minister.

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So far, the earthquake killed at least 50,000 in Turkey and Syria, according to Turkish media reports.

About 21,000 Gazans live in Turkey, according to a report issued by the Immigration Department of the Hamas-run interior ministry in 2021. 

Sally Ibrahim is a Palestinian reporter with The New Arab based in the Gaza Strip.