By Colette Lauture
A Plymouth, MA couple was told they were allowed to leave Gaza on Thursday, but according to a relative their three children had to stay behind.
Hazem Shafai, 47, Sanaa Shafai, 36, and their children, Seera, 13, Yomna, 10, and Jaser, 2, were visiting Hazem’s father and stepmother who live on a northern Gaza farm when Hamas militants launched the Oct. 7 surprise attack against Israel.
Hani Shafai, Hazem Shafai’s brother, said their extended and immediate family left all their belongings behind to try and cross into Egypt from Gaza’s southern border. He said that ever since Gaza’s borders were closed they have been turned away several times.
When the family traveled to the border again Thursday, the couple was told that “they were expected to leave the children behind,” according to Hani Shafai. He added that Hazem and Sanaa Shafai’s names were on the list of names of people to cross, but their children’s were not. Because of this, the whole family went back to the conference room in Rafah where they have been staying.
“These kids were born in the US, they’re citizens just like everyone else, to say ‘leave them behind’ is just inhumane,” Hani Shafai said.
Sammy Nabulsi, a Boston attorney and friend of the Medway, MA family who escaped Gaza Thursday, explained there are two lists of people who can cross the border: one from the State Department and another that is published by Palestinian authorities.
Nabulsi said it is his understanding that people must be on both lists in order to cross the border. However, the Palestinian authorities’ list changes. He said US citizens were on that list Thursday, but not on Wednesday.
The State Department did not immediately answer questions Thursday as to why the Shafai children were unable to leave with their parents.
Hani Shafai said the family is working with the US Embassy, the State Department, and congressional representatives to “schedule an exit,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll be able to do it.”