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How a Palestinian-American translator refugee in Egypt is resuming a normal life with his family

Jason Shawa (far right), with his wife Najla and his daughters Malak, 7, and Zayneb, 9, in Egypt. (Courtesy)
Jason Shawa (far right), with his wife Najla and his daughters Malak, 7, and Zayneb, 9, in Egypt. (Courtesy)

Palestinian-American Jason Shawa and his family are getting used to a new life, in Egypt.

In October, days after Hamas attacked Israel, he was trying to survive in Gaza City. But as Israeli strikes intensified in Gaza, he and his family fled south, like hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

In November, they managed to cross into Egypt, thanks to his US passport. Shawa’s family took a harrowing drive through Gaza to the Egyptian border.

“There was lots of bombing,” Shawa says. “We were quite afraid.”

But for him and his family, this had become almost normal, as he says there are constant explosions in the Gaza Strip.

Once in Cairo, popular support for refugees like him proved overwhelming.

“As soon as they detected our accent and that we were from Gaza, Uber drivers, on more than one occasion, refused to charge us,” he says. And grocery store owners have offered to give them food.

Shawa’s daughters, Zayneb, 9, and Malak, 7, are now back in school. He and his wife can once again do their work online. And after weeks of sleeping on tile floors in Gaza,
Shawa says living in temporary housing in Cairo with beds and bathrooms feels like a

As they resume a fairly normal life in Cairo, however, Shawa reveals he and his wife are suffering from survivor’s guilt.

“We had a hard time coping with the fact that we were able to leave, and leave behind so
many friends, 60 people or so,” he says. “When we had to leave them, it felt like the worst day of our lives, it was very emotional. Everybody was crying, and we had to grapple with that on a daily basis, this feeling of guilt that we were able to leave because I have a foreign passport and they don’t, and most of them are still stuck in Gaza.”

Shawa says he is also very conflicted by the fact that it is an American passport that
allowed his family to get out of Gaza, because the U.S. is such a close ally of Israel.

“It saddens me when I see the [U.S.] level of support for what Israel is doing, by the president, by the secretary of state, by the whole government, frankly, it’s shameful,“ he says. “Everybody is seeing what’s happening on live television. People are literally massacred. Nobody can deny that, and yet they fully back them, arm them.”

When people he meets ask him how he got out of Gaza, Shawa says he doesn’t tell
them he has an American passport.

For now, he says neither he or his wife, Najla, would want to move to the U.S., even though his mother and siblings live there.

“It just doesn’t sit right with us, but maybe at a later stage when things calm down” he says. “We’ll see.”

Shawa says his entire family misses Gaza, their friends, their relatives, the girls’ school, and their home, which they can’t wait to return to.

“As soon as the assault is over with, and hopefully a sustained ceasefire is reached,” he
says, “I will probably go down first to check on our home, and then maybe we will be able to think clearer once we know that it’s over.”

Click here for more coverage and different points of view.

Adeline Sire produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Micaela Rodriguez.  Sire also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.