Hanging abandoned in an empty house is Mansour Shouman’s Queen’s engineering jacket, with his graduating year of ’05 stitched into the arm. Shouman intends to retrieve it—if his house is still standing.
Mansour Shouman, Sci ’05, has been living in a warzone inside the Gaza Strip for 29 days. He’s taken refuge in an improvised media room inside Nasser Hospital.
“I’m one of 2.3 million civilians. I’m married, I have a wife and five children, we’re all Canadian. We’ve relocated five times. Our neighborhood is severely damaged, over 50 per cent of the infrastructure and buildings have been bombed to the ground,” Shouman said in an interview with The Journal.
Outside the hospital, Shouman described families huddled under pieces of cloth on streets eclipsed by rubble. Donkeys and carts account for half of the traffic as civilians have become dependent on fuel-less modes of transportation under the extreme supply shortage.
Trucks carrying food and medicine for civilians are stuck at the Israeli border. While Israel has allowed 260 trucks to cross, humanitarian workers warn it’s not enough according to a Globe and Mail report.
There’s no sense of normalcy for Shouman. Schools have become refugee camps, civilians are relying on well water, and most of Gaza is without internet or power. Shouman said he hasn’t seen signs of Hamas activity.
At the hospital, Shouman and other Palestinians living out of the media room pool money for a meal from the market.
“[Eating] is not a priority for us, we just try to get the news out. People here have lost family, have lost colleagues, people are just trying to focus to do their jobs,” Shouman said.
Walking home from a bakery three days into the war, Shouman heard the drones before he saw them. Pressing himself against a caravan, he was shielded from the rubble falling from buildings overhead. Before the third drone strike, Shouman decided to make a run for it.
“I ran for 60 meters, and then the third drone brought the building down,” Shouman said. “I was carrying two bags, and I didn’t let those bags go. They were full of bread and breakfast. It was my stuff. No one’s taking this away from me. I went back home covered in rubble.”
Gaza is far from the place it was when Shouman and his family relocated there from Calgary about a year and a half ago. After visiting family, Shouman opened a consulting practice, and his wife taught at a school in Gaza City. They felt the social norms in Gaza reflected the values they wanted to instill in their children.
“We had a good life,” Shouman said.
It wasn’t until the family awoke for their sunrise prayer on Oct. 8 that they heard rockets being launched. The first target in their neighbourhood was their local mosque, 100 metres away from their home.
“I realized that this is the start of a war,” Shouman added.
In the southern end of the Gaza Strip, Shouman’s family is living with eight other families in one apartment. He has no direct contact with his wife or children.
More than 300 foreign passport holders were allowed to leave Gaza on Wednesday, the first departure since the war began. No Canadians are on lists to cross the border, CBC reported.
“It’s not in our hands, whether we stay or not. We haven’t heard back from Global Affairs Canada in 19 days. No Canadian was on the 400-name list that was at the crossing today. Even if my family wanted to leave, it’s not in their hands,” Shouman said.
As a learning institution, Shouman hopes the Queen’s community is educating itself on the war and advocating for peace. Sharing his story is how Shouman is amplifying the voices of Palestinian people.
“For me, as long as I try to get the word out, I feel I’m doing the right thing and my morale is good,” Shouman said.
Placing his faith in God, Shouman is praying he and his loved ones are carried through this war. Born in Jerusalem, he’s steadfast about remaining in Palestine.
“[Palestinians have] been refugees for decades, they have been oppressed for decades, and they don’t want to take this anymore,” Shouman said. “We’re not leaving our land.”
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