After fleeing fierce fighting in Yugoslavia to Gaza more than thirty years ago, Palestinian Samir El-Barawy and his Bosnian wife have now been displaced again by the impact of the war between Hamas and Israel.
Their home was bombarded by airstrikes just days after the Hamas attack in southern Israel on October 7. Not quite up there. The flight back to Bosnia from his home north of Gaza was also marked by danger.
“I left everything behind, but I am still alive,” the 59-year-old Palestinian told AFP just days after arriving at the refugee center in Salakovac, Bosnia.
El-Barawy said the attack on his home was “like an earthquake.”
After the attack, El-Barawy and more than a dozen family members decided to move south through bombed-out streets littered with dead.
Houses destroyed by Israeli attacks during the conflict, at the Beach refugee camp, Gaza City, November 26 2023. (Photo: REUTERS/Abed Sabah)
“We saw bodies along the road, dead people in cars. Dogs were roaming around the bodies. There was a very strong smell,” said El-Barawy.
Israel says a Hamas attack on October 7 killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and about 240 people were taken hostage. Israeli counterattacks and ground attacks claimed around 15,000 lives, according to the Hamas government in Gaza.
El-Barawy’s return to Bosnia marked a dramatic change in his family’s fortunes.
The Palestinians first arrived in Yugoslavia decades ago when the socialist federation welcomed students from around the world.
In 1991, he was studying in Sarajevo when war threatened to engulf Bosnia, following the outbreak of fighting first in Slovenia and then in Croatia.
“There will be war here,” said the father-in-law, urging them to leave.
The couple and their infant daughter, Dalila, followed the advice and fled before Sarajevo was surrounded by Serb troops. The war between the two countries lasted for years and killed around 100,000 people in Bosnia.
Despite frequent fighting amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the family remains prosperous in Gaza.
El-Barawy runs a strawberry farm located just “500 meters from the Israeli border” and exports thousands of tons of fruit every year, including to European markets.
People view the bodies of Palestinians killed in an Israeli attack, in the morgue of Nasser Hospital, in the southern Gaza Strip. (Photo: Reuters)
Corpses and Wounded Victims
But El-Barawy admits that the life they once enjoyed in Gaza is now gone forever.
“We decided not to go back there anymore. What is left of my life, I want to live in peace. There is no more life there,” he said.
To date, 37 people have arrived in Bosnia from Gaza.
The group is part of a handful of foreign nationals and medical refugees who have managed to leave Gaza since the war began.
Despite the destruction, Ahmed Shahin hopes to return to Gaza and his home in Jabaliya after the war ends.
Houses destroyed by Israeli attacks during the conflict lie in ruins, in the Beach refugee camp, in Gaza City. (Photo: Reuters)
The 55-year-old pediatrician studied medicine in Bosnia in the 1990s and was granted citizenship which allowed him to be evacuated from Gaza several years later.
In the early days of the war in Gaza, he volunteered at an Indonesian hospital in the hard-hit northern region, where medical supplies were running low.
“There were no drugs, the operation was done without anesthesia, there was no amputation, and there was no water to wash or sterilize,” he told AFP. He said he once performed a caesarean section to save a baby after the mother was injured and later died from a head injury.
As the war progressed, “the influx of corpses and wounded increased,” he said.
Soon enough, he was no longer able to cope with the large number of casualties and injuries.
Together with his wife, three daughters and teenage son, they fled south, leaving behind the grave of another son who was killed in an airstrike during the previous conflict in 2014.
“The world witnessed firsthand the destruction of buildings full of children and women, watching blood shed while the weather was still warm. And it didn’t lead to anything,” said Shahin, crying.
“That’s not true,” he groaned. (ah/rs)