Oxford Brookes Scholar fighting for his life in Gaza

First published on the Middle East Monitor with edits
By: Jehan Alfarra

00008Hassan Alhallaq, the third recipient of the annual Gaza Oxford Brookes Scholarship scheme founded following Operation Cast Lead, is at Al Shifa Hospital fighting for his life after an Israeli airstrike killed his 8 months pregnant wife, his 2 little kids, his mother, and his sister.

Having left his home in Karama due to the intensity of the Israeli bombardment in the area, Hassan took his family to Sheja`eya to stay with relatives. As the Israeli ground troops carried out an intensive operation in Sheja`eya neighboured on July 19 as part of their ground invasion, Hassan had to evacuate once again and headed to his sister’s flat in Rimal, in the centre of Gaza City. Without any prior warning, an Israeli airstrike targeted the Alhalaq family flat on July 20 killing Hassan’s mother, So`ad, his 29-year-old pregnant wife, Samar Yaaqoubi, and his two sons Kenan, 6, and Saji, 4. Hassan’s sister Hala was also killed along with her husband, Hani, and their baby son. Hassan’s father survived the attack, while he sustained serious injuries and was immediately transferred to the ICU at Shifa hospital.

Vice-Chancellor at Oxford Brookes University, Professor Janet Beer, said in a press release: “We are deeply shocked and saddened by this tragic news. Hassan came to Oxford with his family and became fully embedded into the life of the city and the University. Our thoughts are with him at this time.” Hassan had successfully completed his MSc in E-Business at Oxford Brookes University, where he was also awarded the Technologies Prize by the Department of Computing and Communication. He then went back to Gaza and worked for the Bank of Palestine.

Sir Iain Chalmers, a founder of the Gaza Oxford Brookes Scholarship and an old friend of Gaza, and his wife Lady Jan have come to know Hassan and his family during their stay at Oxford. Samar, Hassan’s wife, was very enthusiastic about Lady Jan’s Palestinian History Tapestry Project. She made the first small embroidery panel and donated it to the project, before she became an assistant coordinator for the project in Gaza. Appalled by the news, Sir Iain and Lady Jan praised the family’s kindness and joyful spirit. “His two little kids were here last Ramadan, playing with our grandchildren,” Sir Iain exclaimed. This Ramadan, they mourn them. The Chalmers are not the only friends in Oxford that mourned Hassan’s loss. Yesterday, around 200 people attended a memorial vigil at Carfax Tower to pay tribute to his family.

Back in Gaza, hundreds of Alhallaq family’s relatives and friends mourn. Aya Zinati, Samar’s cousin” recounts what happened to them saying that death followed them in the most horrendous way she can imagine. “My mother and my aunt lost their minds when they heard the news,” she said, “we still can’t believe it. We don’t know whether to pray for his recovery from the injuries, or for patience over his unspeakable loss.”

Being the fourth Gaza Oxford Brookes scholar myself, I was in contact with Hassan only a couple of weeks before the beginning of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. I had sought Hassan’s help in a project I am working on called “Gaza Digital”, which aims at helping Gaza’s youth and professionals find job opportunities, and without any hesitation, he offered me his unconditional help. His passion for helping his society in Gaza is one of great admiration, and I hope that Hassan will regain his strength and pull through such formidable conditions.

Israel’s operation in Gaza and the ground invasion continue as the Palestinian death toll exceeds 600, with an overwhelming majority of civilians, with 31 Israeli deaths, 29 of whom are IDF soldiers. The latest UNRWA figures also stand at 118,300 displaced in 77 UNRWA shelters, and 3,720 injuries in the last 24 hours alone. Meanwhile, the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, ”calls on the Government of Israel to immediately cease the bombardment of inhabited homes, neighbourhoods and areas in the Gaza Strip.”

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