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Student ‘stuck in never-ending nightmare’ hopes to escape Gaza and become surgeon in UK

‘I’m just really terrified we might not survive,’ aspiring surgeon Mohammed Alhabil, who studied at Oxford University, tells Lydia Patrick

Tuesday 05 March 2024 07:09 GMT
Mohammed Alhabil had returned from the opportunity of a lifetime where he spent two months studying medicine at the University of Oxford
Mohammed Alhabil had returned from the opportunity of a lifetime where he spent two months studying medicine at the University of Oxford (Provided)

A young medical student who dreams of finishing his medical studies in the UK described how his life was “turned upside down” by the Israel-Hamas war.

Mohammed Alhabil, 24, left Gaza for the first time in July last year when he embarked on the trip of a lifetime to spend two months completing medical training at the University of Oxford.

Upon his return in September, he was overcome with anticipation and renewed enthusiasm to complete his final year of medical school at Al-Azhar University and start his future.

He dreamed of returning to the UK to train to become a gastrointestinal surgeon, and then eventually open a clinic in his homeland. But just a month later, life as he knew it tore apart at the seams.

Mr Alhabil said: “I never thought my life would be turned upside down in a matter of moments. The war in Gaza crushed my dreams, I experienced the worst days of my life in that early October onslaught.

“Now I am stuck in this never-ending horrific nightmare, awaiting death or hoping for a miracle to survive.

“I went from having dreams of becoming a surgeon, helping others and my community, to queuing for too little bread and queuing for water, which isn’t even clean to drink.”

Mohammed Alhabil dreams of becoming a gastrointestinal surgeon (Provided)

Mr Alhabil’s family were forced to flee to Rafah, 6.7 miles south of their home in Khan Yunis - a densely populated area in southern Gaza.

They have now raised more than £16,000 towards Egyptian permits to allow them to leave Palestine, but they still need just under £20,000 more to pay an extortionate fee for the entire family’s escape.

On 4 December, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) alerted the community they needed to leave as the area was going to be bombed, added Mr Alhabil.

The next day, terrified, the family of seven made their way to Rafah to live with his sister, Alaa A.M Alhabil, in her two-bedroom apartment with her daughter Lana, one, and husband Mohammed, 34.

They believe their home has since been destroyed by airstrikes after reports their neighbour’s home was struck.

Rafah residents queuing for scarce water supplies (Provided)

Some 1.5 million civilians are currently sheltering in the city and nearly 30,000 lives have been claimed by the ongoing conflict.

Every day is now monotonous for Mr Alihabil. He queues to collect dwindling water supplies from barrels and visits the overcrowded market to buy basic necessities - it can take up to three hours to find one item.

He said there is no internet and residents have to pay £1 a day for patchy access. The residents get food deliveries on Monday and water which only lasts four days of the week.

Mr Alihabil described his situation as “fortunate” since others have been forced to pitch tents on the beach for shelter.

Mr Alhabil’s home photographed by his friend before an airstrike struck their neighbour’s home (Provided)
Crowds of Rafah residents queuing to buy sugar (Provided )

Mr Alihabil’s mother, Rola, 46, has to cook on a wood fire and his father Ali, 55, who suffers from diabetes and has other health issues, is running out of medication.

He added: “We have even lost the simple joys of going to the supermarket to buy a biscuit or a chocolate, being able to browse the internet, or having water and bread whenever we are hungry.”

Mr Alihabil’s brother Ismail, a third-year IT student at the University of Palestine, has also had his future stolen by the conflict and his youngest sister Maryam, 14, who dreams of becoming a teacher, has been suffering from constant panic attacks.

Rafah residents queuing to buy frozen meat (Provided)

His middle sister Hala, 18, was about to go to college to study graphic design, and his eldest sister Alaa, 26, is raising her one-year-old daughter, Lana, alongside husband Mohammed, 34, who has lost his source of income as a taxi driver.

Mr Alhabil told the Independent: “I’m just really terrified we might not survive, we are truly desperate and stressed, my mum and dad can’t stop thinking about it, where do we go from here?”

“It’s really hard to describe the heartache we are living in. We don’t have enough tap water every day and food prices are getting so expensive.

The family have to use a wood fire to cook and there is no cooking oil (Provided)

“We are really worried because of the threat of the ground invasion - Israel has been threatening to invade Rafah for two months.

“Some of my friends are still in Northern Gaza, yesterday I was about to cry speaking to my friend as they are facing true starvation - it’s really unimaginable.”

The anxiety-inducing burden of an imminent attack is made even heavier by the arrival of Ramadan.

He added: “It’s really hard as we Muslims start to prepare for Ramadan one month before, we start to get goods, decorate our homes and the streets but this year, everything is gone. People are truly sad looking at the memories thinking, ‘What happened to us? Are we living in a nightmare? Is there any hope of getting out of all of this?’”

Mohammed’s one-year-old niece, Lana (Provided )

Mr Alhabil says he and his family might have to evacuate in the middle of the religious celebration - but all he cares about is saving his family.

He said: “Everyone is stressed, worried and concerned, but life has to go on.

“If we were just sitting waiting for death, not doing anything - we hope we might have a way out, It’s just hope keeping us here.”

Previously he complained about his gruelling day-to-day routine of training - now he says he longs for the normality of his studies and socialising with his friends in cafés and on the beach.

“It’s a killing routine for me now: I wake up in the morning, I check we have enough water, I go to the market,” he added.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential buildings and a mosque in Rafah (AP)
A tent camp housing Palestinians displaced by the Israeli offensive in Rafah (AP)

Around a week ago, the family survived a brutal airstrike on Rafah, he added.

“It was a brutal attack after midnight, it lasted an hour and we didn’t sleep, we felt it so close we thought we were going to be next, it was the most terrifying night of my entire life,” he added.

Mr Alhabil’s cousin Abed, a 35-year-old engineer and father of five, was killed in an airstrike in Rafah in mid-November when he was gathering wood to cook for his children. He will never get to meet his sixth child, who his wife gave birth to after his death.

He said: “When I look into his children’s eyes, I feel misery, what do they have to do with all this - they’re too young.”

Mr Alhabil described his new existence as a “prison” and said he has stopped counting the days, as every day rolls into one.

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