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War on Gaza: Israeli army forces family to leave 92-year-old grandmother behind

The fate of Palestinian woman Naifa Rizq al-Sawada is currently unknown. Her daughter says she 'cannot move, eat, or drink alone'
The fate of 94-year-old Naifa Rizq al-Sawada is currently unknown (Supplied)
The fate of 92-year-old Naifa Rizq al-Sawada is currently unknown (Supplied)
By Maha Hussaini in Gaza, occupied Palestine

The fate of a 92-year-old Palestinian woman in Gaza remains unknown after the Israeli army stormed her home and ordered her family to evacuate, leaving her behind.

Naifa Rizq al-Sawada, who suffers from Alzheimer's and is unable to walk or speak, was in her home in the vicinity of the al-Shifa Medical Complex in the west of Gaza City on 21 March when the Israeli military invaded the area post-midnight and forcibly evicted its residents at gunpoint.

Her family fears that she might be kept in the building before it is bombed or used as a human shield by the Israeli army inside the Shifa Hospital.

Her daughter, Maha al-Nawati, recounted to Middle East Eye the events that took place on Thursday.

“We all live in one building consisting of different apartments, and my mum had her own apartment. But during the [war], my brother, his wife, and his children moved to stay in her apartment with her,” Nawati, 69, said.

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“They used to take her with them every time they had to evacuate. When the Israeli forces invaded the al-Shifa area, my brother and his family would take her and move to my sister’s home in the Tuffah neighbourhood [east of Gaza]; and when they invaded the Tuffah neighbourhood, they would all move along with my sister to the al-Shifa area.

“But this invasion happened at around 2 am, they could not evacuate or move anywhere.”

Nawati, who had evacuated Gaza during Israel’s ongoing war on the strip and is currently staying in Egypt, says her brother and his wife told her that they were forced to leave her mother behind as they evacuated to the southern and eastern parts of the Gaza Strip.

'We just want to know whether the army has indeed taken her, or if she was left alone at home, we want to know anything about her'

- Maha al-Nawati, daughter

“The building was full of displaced people. The army stormed it and separated men from women. They took the men and kept them out of the building, then told the women to evacuate to the south.”

After searching the men of the family, the army ordered them to evacuate to the eastern parts of Gaza City.

“My brother’s wife told an Israeli officer, ‘This is my mother, I will take her with me.’ He told her, ‘No, leave now and we will take care of her,” she continued.

“All of them left and my mother stayed there. We don’t know what happened next.”

Since the beginning of its renewed military attack on the Shifa Medical Complex on Thursday, the Israeli army has been raiding neighbourhoods and residential buildings surrounding the hospital area and forcing their residents to evacuate to the southern parts of the strip, before bombing or setting fire to the majority of their homes in the area.

According to a report by Haaretz, Israeli officers operating in the Gaza Strip have been instructing their troops to set fire to Palestinian homes without legal approval.

Israeli soldiers leaving Gaza on 12 March (AFP)
Israeli soldiers walk after coming out from the Gaza Strip, near the border in southern Israel on 12 March 2024 (AFP)

Residents and eyewitnesses told MEE that Israeli tanks and military vehicles are encircling the area and besieging the residents, who are not allowed to leave their homes without the army’s permission, while quadcopters open fire towards “anyone who looks out their windows”.

This is the second invasion of the medical complex since the beginning of Israel’s large-scale military attack on the strip. The first one started on 14 November and lasted for around 10 days.

'I don’t know what the army wants to do with her? She is an elderly woman who cannot do anything in life, why would they take her?'

- Maha al-Nawati, daughter

Inside the hospital, the Israeli army has killed, injured, and detained hundreds of Palestinians, including healthcare professionals, patients, and displaced people who were taking shelter in the hospital buildings and courtyard.

Eyewitnesses reported that Israeli officers used some Palestinian civilians as human shields as they stormed and searched the hospital buildings.

One of Sawada’s granddaughters told MEE that the army informed her family that they would take her grandmother to al-Shifa Hospital, but “there is no proof that she was taken there, as she was still kept at home when the family left".

“Some people told us that they saw the army taking her out of the building towards al-Shifa Hospital, but we are not sure if this is true. People also told us that the army bombed the building [after the family was forcibly displaced],” Nawati said.

“We are helpless, we cannot do anything for her. This pain weighs heavily in our hearts. We just want to know whether the army has indeed taken her, or if she was left alone at home. We want to know anything about her.”

‘She cannot do anything’

Due to her age and multiple illnesses, Sawada’s family says her physical and mental health have deteriorated over the past few years. She currently “cannot do anything on her own”.

“My mum cannot move, eat, or drink alone. When she slept, we used to turn her on her left and right sides so that her body does not develop ulcers. She cannot go to the bathroom alone, we used to assist her. She even cannot speak now; if they ask her what her name is, she will not be able to answer,” Nawati explained.

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“During this war and due to the food scarcity, my brother and his family used to secure food for her before anyone else.

"My brother would make sure that they had enough food for her even before his children, because she is not aware of the situation and thus would not understand that there isn’t enough food available.”

Following Israel’s forcible evacuation order to the residents of Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip on 13 October, the Israeli military has imposed a tight siege on the area, severely restricting the entry of international aid, and targeting residents who attempt to return to their homes from the southern parts.

Elderly people in the coastal enclave have been bearing the brunt of the suffering, with many of them subjected to field execution.

In November, the Israeli military released an image of one of its soldiers assisting an elderly Palestinian man, Bashir Hajji, 79, with a walking stick, purportedly to highlight a "safe corridor" for civilians escaping northern Gaza. However, shortly afterwards, the resident of Gaza City's Zaytoun neighbourhood was allegedly killed by Israeli soldiers.

“I don’t know what the army wants to do with her? She is an elderly woman who cannot do anything in life, why would they take her? Why didn’t they let her leave with her son and his wife to evacuate to the south?” Nawati asked.

Around 7 percent of the nearly 33,000 Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip since 7 October are elderly people.

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