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Oxford Brookes Scholar fighting for his life in Gaza

The third recipient of the annual Gaza Oxford Brookes Scholarship founded in the aftermath of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2009 is fighting for his life in Al-Shifa Hospital after his sister’s flat was bombed by Israeli forces in the latest assault on the Gaza Strip. Hassan Alhallaq’s 8 months pregnant wife, his 2 young children, his mother and his sister were all killed in the explosion.

As the Israeli ground troops carried out an intensive operation in the neighbourhood on 19 July, 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 family flat on 20 July 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 transferred immediately to the ICU at Al-Shifa Hospital.

The 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 completed his MSc in E-Business at Oxford Brookes, where he was 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, is an old friend of Gaza. He and his wife Lady Jan came to know Hassan and his family during their stay in 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 explained. This Ramadan, they mourn them. The Chalmers are not the only friends in Oxford who mourned Hassan’s loss. Yesterday, around 200 people attended a memorial vigil at Carfax Tower to pay tribute to the family.

Back in Gaza, hundreds of the family’s relatives and friends also mourn. Aya Zinati, Samar’s cousin, recounted what happened and said that death followed them in the most horrendous way she could 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 his help for a project I am working on, called “Gaza Digital”, which aims at helping Gaza’s youth and professionals to find job opportunities. Without hesitation, he offered me his unconditional help. His passion for helping his society in Gaza is one to be admired, and I hope that Hassan will regain his strength and pull through such a daunting situation.

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

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