An Israeli shell from the bombardment of Gaza has exploded in the lives of people from Oxford. Hassan Al Hallaq won a scholarship to study for a Master’s degree at Oxford Brookes University. His wife Samar and their two children, Kenan, six and Saji, four, stayed with him in Oxford for three months.
On Sunday Samar, eight months pregnant, and the two boys were killed by a bomb. Hassan is lying in intensive care after a compound fracture of his right femur and burns on his face and neck.
Iain and Jan Chalmers and six other Oxford residents established the scholarship that brought the Hallaq family to Oxford last year. They became good friends. Jan described the bond. “We were ensnared by their generosity. Once they got into our lives, we knew they would stay forever.”
The funeral of the three members of the Hallaq family
Jan was in her kitchen in Leckford Road when the news came on Sunday and it seemed that another bomb went off in her brain,. She wailed. “I thought – No, no. It can’t be true. It’s not real. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think straight. I had a cacophony of thoughts.
“It’s unbelievably unfair, immoral, robbing people of their future. This is the first family we have seen destroyed almost in front of us, a family we knew well and hoped to see again, often.
“I have been watching the attack of Gaza on Facebook, and I have been waiting for something like this to happen; and now it’s happened very close. It has hit home.”
Samar Hallaq and Jan Chalmers
What does the former home of the Hallaq family look like?
Iain described it as “a pile of concrete of breeze blocks with bent and twisted wires sticking out of it at all angles.
“The people of Gaza pick out the wires from the rubble and straighten them out to use in rebuilding new homes. Like a phoenix they will arise out of these ashes.”
Sir Iain and Lady Chalmers have been involved with the Palestinians since the 1960s.
After the six day war in 1967, they went to Gaza where Iain worked as a doctor with UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and Jan worked as a nurse with UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.
More recently Jan got involved in a project to help Palestinian women record their history in a way that would enable them to earn money through sewing.
“For many years the only stitching I ever did was in the hospital operating rooms after surgery. The traditional craft of the Palestinian needlewomen is both beautiful and a powerful way to tell a story. So I set up the Palestinian History Tapestry Project.
“When she was living in Oxford, Samar became intrigued and sewed an image that will be part of a tapestry a tapestry to record the story of the Palestinian people. This experience awoke something in her and she was going to play a major role in the project back in Gaza.”
The couple’s children, Kenan, six, left, and four-year-old Saji died in the attack
Hassan and Samar and their two little boys came into the lives of Jan and Iain last summer in Oxford and the two families have been in regular contact.
Iain explained: “They had moved in with Samar’s parents to await the birth of their third child in the ‘safe’ residential neighbourhood of Shuja’iya of Gaza City. But the Israelis began shelling houses there; so the family recently moved to another ‘safer’ house that her parents owned in central Gaza.
“That house was demolished by a direct hit, possibly by a tank shell or from a boat. A direct hit that killed everyone in the house including several relatives and young children. Only three people survived including Hassan.
“When I talked to him on Tuesday, Hassan sounded remarkably calm. But I’ve seen the pictures of people with their legs cut off and children that had been beheaded. He’s probably in a state of shock.”
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