A Medway family that has been stranded in Gaza for over a month was released Thursday morning, according to a source close to the family.
Abood Okal, Wafaa Abuzayda and their one-year-old son Yousef safely crossed the Rafah border into Egypt and boarded a shuttle to Cairo, according to a statement shared by their family friend and legal advocate Sammy Nabulsi.
The family is "overwhelmed with the love and support they have received from home and abroad, but they are also exhausted, physically and emotionally drained, and have a long journey ahead of them back to the United States," the statement from the family reads.
“This has been a nightmare,” Nabulsi told GBH News on Thursday. “And as happy as everyone is today, they've got a lot of processing to do.”
Nabulsi alerted the family about the imminent opening of the border crossing on Wednesday, after seeing their names on a list of foreign citizens approved to depart by Gaza’s Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry.
“I opened the list and my heart was racing,” Nabulsi said.
He said he was “unbelievably thrilled” to see their names on a new list after being disappointed that very few U.S. citizens were included on a list approved for release the previous day. Also included on the new list were Abood’s sister and her three children, who are residents of New Jersey.
The latest list included 400 Americans — around the same number of American citizens who have been in contact with the U.S. State Department, department spokesman Matthew Miller said Wednesday. Miller said, including the family members of those Americans, the total number of people seeking to leave is about 1,000. President Joe Biden said Thursday that 74 Americans have been able to get through the border crossing.
Nabulsi said he is not sure when Okal’s family will return to Medway. In their statement, the family asked for the immediate and safe departure of the remaining American citizens and their families in Gaza. They also asked for “compassion and prayers for the innocent civilians in Gaza, who gave them shelter, who helped them find food and water, but continue to be without their own supply of food, water, fuel, or medicine to live.”
“Their emotions are mixed today,” Nabulsi said, “because they’re thinking about the American citizens who are still there, and all the innocent civilians who will not have an opportunity to leave, who are stuck there under constant bombardment. People who have no say in the conflict that’s happening.”
The Palestinian-American family was visiting relatives in Gaza when Hamas infiltrated southern Israel and launched its Oct. 7 attack that killed some 1,400 people, according to Israeli officials. The Okals fled south, sheltering in a single-family home owned by Palestinian residents who shared their home with around 40 foreign nationals seeking refuge and escape.
The family’s escape comes as attacks by the Israeli army have pushed deeper into Gaza in recent days. More than 9,000 Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 7, according to the latest figures from Gaza’s Hamas-run Ministry of Health.
The family has requested privacy as they continue on their journey home.