Oak Lawn, Bolingbrook residents worry about family in Gaza amid Hamas-Israel war

Deanna Othman, a Palestinian woman living in Oak Lawn, said since the Hamas-Israel war started her family has created a communication plan to speak with relatives living in Gaza.

Othman said her husband’s mother, siblings and extended family live in and around the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza. Othman said since the war began Oct. 7, her sister-in-law, who lives outside of Gaza, is the contact who calls older family members in Gaza for updates so family there can conserve battery power. She then updates the rest of the family.

About every other day, Othman said she’s been able to connect with younger family members via social media or get updates from what they post online.

“It’s honestly very difficult. We have had days where we’re just constantly worrying, not being able to get ahold of anyone, not knowing what’s happening,” Othman said.

As of Friday, Othman said it’s been even more challenging to reach family members amid a blackout. The Associated Press reported internet and phone services ended amid intense bombing as Isreal’s military said it was expanding its ground operations.

“There’s been a communications blackout. Nobody can get ahold of anybody, and it’s very frightening to imagine what could possibly be happening,” Othman said.

Othman said her family members had to leave their homes and seek shelter elsewhere. Some are sheltering in hospitals, which has been nerve-wracking because many hospitals are running out of supplies.

As her family moves south, Othman said they aren’t safe.

“They are still definitely experiencing the bombing where they are,” Othman said. “It’s not necessarily guaranteeing any sort of safety.”

Othman said one of her nieces posted her home was destroyed in a bombing. It’s unknown if any other family members lost their homes, she said.

No one from her family has died as a result of the war, Othman said. While it’s difficult to get answers to questions about injuries, Othman said her sister-in-law in Gaza told her family about an eye injury.

While her sister-in-law was standing by a window, a bomb exploded nearby and shattered the glass, Othman said. Glass and debris got into her eye, and she’s worried it will affect her eye sight.

“She was terrified,” Othman said. “Eventually she was able to flush everything out, and she was doing better. But if that’s just from impact farther away I can’t imagine what it is when it’s right at your door.”

Alaa Abusaman, who lives in Bolingbrook, said he grew up in Gaza and his parents, seven siblings and extended family still live there. When the war first started, Abusaman said he was able to talk to his parents daily, but in recent days it has been more difficult.

“It’s very tough to communicate. It’s very tough to know what’s going on,” Abusaman said. “We learn sometimes about things happening with my family after two, three days. That keeps us very worried, very disturbed.”

Abusaman said his aunt and uncle and their immediate family, 10 people total, were killed during the war.

“That was very shocking to us,” Abusaman said. “They lost their lives, with their families, all of the sudden.”

Abusaman said he last talked to his parents at 10 a.m. Friday.

From what his family has told him, Abusaman said nighttime is the hardest because they have nightmares. Throughout the day, they hear bombing and aircrafts, he said, which has taken a toll mentally and physically.

Throughout the war, Israel has cut food, water, electricity and supplies into Gaza, Abusaman said. Hospitals have become inoperable as medical supplies and power run out, he said. But, despite the war, Palestinians don’t want to leave their homes or their land.

“We are talking about a pure humanitarian crisis,” Abusaman said. “Having this terrifying situation doesn’t mean that people should leave their land. In fact, we should support that the native people, the Indigenous people of this land, to stay there and support their stay.”

Othman said all Palestinians living outside of Gaza have been feeling painful emotions.

“We’re in a state of shock. We’re in a state of mourning. We’re in a state of fear. We’re in a state of anxiety, not knowing what’s going to happen from one moment to the next,” Othman said. “It’s very difficult just to continue on with your life here.”

Abusaman and Othman said they want to see a cease fire to let humanitarian aid reach Gaza.

“We have to look into this in humanitarian eye,” Abusaman said. “We demand a cease fire. We demand a permanent solution for people there.”