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Gaza's first music teacher Elham Farah killed by sniper

84-year-old Elham Farah: Accordionist, aunt and Gaza's first ever music teacher killed by Israeli sniper
7 min read
On November 13, Elham Farah, an elderly and much-loved music teacher from Gaza's ancient Christian minority, died from her wounds after she was shot by an Israeli sniper metres from her home, where she had returned to fetch some warmer clothes.

On 12 November, Israeli forces killed 84-year-old music teacher Elham Farah, a much-loved "Friend, daughter, sister, aunt, teacher, musician, Christian, Palestinian, human, person", as a family member wrote in a tribute to her published on November 18.

Farah hailed from Gaza's ancient Christian community which has dwindled to under 1,000 in recent years. She had always chosen to remain in Gaza, though many Christians had fled to the West Bank since 2007 due to the repeated assaults on the besieged enclave, as well as the difficulty of movement due to Israel's stifling siege.

These restrictions on movement amounted also to curbs on the religious freedom of Palestinian Christians generated by Israel's occupation, especially during Christmas and Easter when travelling to significant sites like Bethlehem and Jerusalem is rendered near impossible.

Farah was from one of the oldest Christian families in Gaza, with roots stretching back to the Ghassanid Arab period between the 4th and 7th centuries. She was also the youngest daughter of Palestinian poet Hanna Dahdah Farah.

Many in Gaza have voiced their grief over her death, especially her students, who point out that she was the very first music teacher in Gaza's educational system. Her neighbours in Gaza City fondly called her the "always smiling Mrs Umm al-Orange ("Mother Orange" – a reference to her shock of ginger hair).

Farah was full of life and strong-willed, say those who knew her. She would always be seen wearing her hat and glasses, carrying a purse adorned with Palestinian embroidery. She played many instruments, including the violin and the organ, but her favourite was the accordion.

Farah's niece, Rand Markopoulos describes her aunt as "a friend and mother; a teacher of music and life." Rand has lived outside Gaza for years, but she maintained contact with her aunt who lived by herself in a small apartment in the prosperous middle-class al-Rimal neighbourhood of Gaza City, close to the Palestine stadium.

Rand said to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition: "She was retired, and she had become elderly, but she remained the life and soul. When she was a teacher, she would play music to her students every morning, and make up melodies to go with her father's poems.

Much-loved retired Gazan music teacher Elham Farah (84) was killed by an Israeli sniper as she returned to her apartment to gather some warmer clothes [Screenshot/X]

"She had survived all the previous Israeli assaults on the Gaza Strip and described the current one as the worst she'd ever experienced. For a month, she sought shelter from the bombing with hundreds of others in the Holy Family Catholic Church, one of the two churches that had opened their doors as shelters for the displaced. However, on her final day, she left the church to breathe some fresh air, pick up some clothes, and check on her home. She would always say God would protect her."

On November 12 Farah walked out of the church and headed for her apartment on foot. As she was arriving, an Israeli sniper positioned on a nearby roof shot her in the leg.

Once her neighbours realised what had happened, they tried frantically to reach her to administer basic aid, but the sniper rained bullets down on everyone who tried to approach her.

They managed to inform her family, and her niece was finally able to get through to her. In the tribute mentioned above, her relative writes: "In that conversation, Elham described the severe pain she was experiencing and said that she'd been calling for help for hours without any aid. She expressed that she could no longer feel her leg thinking that it had been amputated from the rest of her body. Her niece told her, 'Auntie Elham if it were amputated you would have bled to death by now. Rest your head. It is getting dark. We will try to get someone to you by the morning.' Elham responded, 'Okay, I just put my head on the sidewalk. I will be waiting here.'"

However, repeated and desperate attempts to find an ambulance able to reach Elham were unsuccessful despite the family managing to get hold of the Red Cross. The elderly music teacher took her last breath on November 13, 2023.

"We have lost a beautiful soul," said Rand, adding, "She was born in Gaza, and may she rest there eternally. We will never forget the sound of her playing the accordion. She would play it with so much love. She loved Gaza and gave so much to everyone. She used to play in church on religious occasions, and she looked after herself in her little apartment until the end of her days."

Farah had lived near her friends and relatives in al-Rimal but had worked in the Tel al-Hawa neighbourhood, where the only music school in the Gaza Strip could be found, close by the offices of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. The school would hold many concerts, and Farah would always be eager to attend them and would play with musical groups at them, as at the Christian Youth Association in al-Rimal.

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Osama Al Ashi (29) one of her neighbours, expresses his sorrow at her death and confirms that he will never forget her always-smiling face.

"She would participate in everyone's special occasions – she would play for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, and she'd play during Ramadan. She always wanted to make the children happy by playing all the traditional songs and nasheeds (a type of Islamic song or chant played with or without instrumental accompaniment)  associated with Ramadan.

She'd also practice every night between 8 and 10 pm. We didn't complain because it would fill her with happiness, and her music was nice to listen to. She was well-known as a music teacher at the Latin Patriarchate School in the old part of Gaza City, and she'd previously survived the attack on Saint Porphyrius Church by the occupation."

Her student Yara Musallam (32) played the violin and the piano with many music groups, and took part in national events, and says she gives credit to Farah for this, as she was the one who taught her to play. Even though there were some restrictions placed on girls in Gaza when it came to playing in bands and concerts, she kept playing at home and in the school where she works.

Musallam also taught at the Latin Patriarchate School at primary and intermediate levels and has played the violin with musical ensembles in both Egypt and Amman.

She says she bumped into her teacher Farah three years ago and was surprised to find Farah still remembered her. Farah responded: "I still remember faces even though I've become old. I remember her as the loveliest and kindest teacher. Whenever I was playing I remember how she would look at me lovingly. She would say to me: 'Play with love because you are strong. I was shy when I was small.'

"Israel killed my beautiful teacher. Maybe many of her students are no longer in Gaza, but her love is a bond between us."

This is an edited translation with additional reporting. To read the original article click here.

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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