MISSISSAUGA — Rana Na*srawi is enjoying the little things these days.
After finding herself stuck in Gaza in the middle of Israel’s war with Hamas and narrowly avoiding airstrikes with her two young sons, the 43-year-old Ontarian says even having easy access to food drinking water now that she’s back home makes her grateful.
“No one can go through what I went through and never change. You will be very grateful for the things you take for granted,” Na*srawi said in an interview at her home in a quiet neighborhood in Mississauga, Ontario.
“The water you just turned on, wash your hands. You flush the toilet after using the toilet…this was a very big problem for us in Gaza.
Na*srawi and his two sons – aged five and seven – were among the first cohort of Canadians who were able to evacuate the besieged Palestinian territory since the war began on October 7.
Since returning home last week, Na*srawi says just being able to fall asleep in relative quiet, without the sound of nearby airstrikes, makes her grateful.
“It was very stressful. It’s very, very stressful,” she said of the weeks she spent in Gaza. “At night, when the sun goes down, until the sun comes up… is a nightmare. The bombings never stopped. It’s very noisy. Very close.”
Global Affairs Canada said 367 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their family members were able to leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, including nine people who have left without government a*sistance since then.
The government said it was in contact with 386 people who remained in the besieged territory.
Na*srawi was born in Gaza but moved to the United Arab Emirates at the age of 17. She immigrated to Canada with her husband in 2009 and is raising her five children in Mississauga.
She returned to Gaza for the first time in two decades on October 4 to visit her relatives and showed her younger sons – born in Canada – some of their heritage.
“We spend the day at the beach. We had a very nice day. We return on a Friday. We take a shower. We slept. In the morning, Saturday morning, at 6 a.m., I just hear very strange noises,” she said.
Hamas militants launched a brutal attack on towns in southern Israel on October 7. Some 1,200 people have been k**led in Israel and around 240 have been captured by militants.
Israel declared war on Hamas, launched a campaign of airstrikes and tightened its siege of Palestinian territory. Gaza health officials say more than 11,470 people have been k**led and another 2,700 people are missing.
As soon as the war broke out, Na*srawi said her husband and children in Mississauga couldn’t wait for her and her two young sons to return home.
“My husband called me and said, ‘There’s something serious. Get the children out of the Gaza Strip now,” she said.
“I have my family (in Gaza) but my husband, my life, my house, my daughters, everything is outside (in Gaza). »
As the conflict intensified, Na*srawi and his sons fled to take refuge in a school and then in a church. Her children began to wonder about the sound of bombs falling and why they could not leave Gaza, which had been sealed off.
Na*srawi said she told her sons that the explosions they heard were thunderstorms. When they came out and saw the destruction, she said she told her children that Gaza had been hit by an earthquake.
A few days later, Na*srawi said that Global Affairs had asked him to try to travel to Rafah with his children, but that when they arrived, they narrowly avoided an airstrike. She tried to reach the pa*sage twice, but Rafah remained closed.
In fashion now
She and her children then took refuge in a house with many other people, where there was no running water and very few basic necessities.
“It was a very big problem for us. Twenty people in the house and there’s no water to flush the toilet,” she said. “You feel like if you keep this up any longer, we’re going to have diseases here.”
On November 6, there was finally a breakthrough.
Na*srawi said her three older children and her husband, who were rushing to bring her home from Mississauga, told her that Global Affairs had informed the family that she and her sons were on a list of Canadians who would be allowed to leave Gaza the next day.
Na*srawi and his sons traveled to Rafah, where they waited in line for hours before finally being able to cross the border. A Canadian team took the trio to Cairo, from where they boarded a flight home.
“We arrived home around 8 a.m., by 10 a.m. I was in bed. I just slept until the next day,” she said.
Her older daughters were eager to take care of their younger siblings and took them to Chuck E. Cheese’s.
The boys returned to school this week, Na*srawi said, and their cla*smates made art for them to welcome them back.
Her two young sons still don’t know exactly what they got involved in while they were in Gaza, but Na*srawi said she plans to explain that to them when they are older.
Her family in Gaza discovered only a few days ago that she and her sons had been able to escape.
“When they have access to the internet, they know I’m safe and I’m OK,” she said. “But I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to my parents.”
Na*srawi said she has felt guilty since returning to Canada about the security she now enjoys while her parents, in their 80s, remain in Gaza. She wants to bring them to Canada, but this process is only just beginning.
“I have to do everything I can to help them,” she said.