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UVA student from Gaza says good people should agree on one thing

UVA nursing student Abdallah Aljerjawi is speaking out for friends and family left behind in Gaza.
Abdallah Aljerjawi
UVA nursing student Abdallah Aljerjawi is speaking out for friends and family left behind in Gaza.

Abdallah Aljerjawi grew up in Gaza – the son of a doctor who cared for wounded soldiers and civilians during three wars.

“In the first war I was about 5 years old. The second war I was around 10, and the third war I was about 12," he recalls.

And it was during that third conflict that Abdullah got word his father’s hospital had been bombed.

“It was life-shattering!" he told RadioIQ. "No matter how many times I tried to call him, he wasn’t responding.”

Then came a knock at the door.

“We open the door. We find my dad holding two bags – 20 pounds each – of cucumbers. We were crying, but laughing and jumping, and he was like, ‘Whoa! What’s going on?’”

It turned out his father had left the hospital a short time before the explosion, and lacking gasoline to drive home had hitched a ride.

“He waited on the street until a truck came that had cucumbers on it, and he said, ‘Are you going south?’ The truck driver was like, ‘Yes!’ And he said, ‘I’ll buy some of your stuff if I can hop on’ and he said, ‘Yes.’”

When that war ended, Abdallah’s dad told the family he had a green card and would leave soon for Houston. Three years later, the rest of the family – mom and six kids – joined him in Texas.

“It was awful,” he recalls with a smile. “Technically I was supposed to be in 10th grade, but because I didn’t speak English they put me in middle school. We were considered high class in Gaza. I went to private school. Yes, I’ve witnessed a lot of hard things, but I had to leave my friends, and at the age of 15 and a half I had to let go of every single person, every single familiar place and my own language and religion and come to a place where I am a foreigner.”

Today he’s got a full scholarship to UVA and is studying to be a nurse, but the tragedy of war has followed him to Virginia.

“Actually, three hours ago my mom texted something in the family group chat, and it was: ‘So-and-so died two hours ago, along with his entire family,’ and that’s not the first t6ime my mom dropped something like this in the family group chat.”

And while he knows it’s controversial, he feels obliged to speak on behalf of the people he left behind.

“One point eight million people are homeless in Gaza, some of which today I’ve seen stripped naked on the street. They do not have a voice. My job is to educate for those who are willing to be educated and to speak for those who don’t have a voice. I personally disagree with what Hamas did. Any civilian death is an act of terror – especially kids! At the end of the day people think that Palestinians are animals who have no mercy. No! I disagree with what Hamas did, and I could guarantee you many Palestinians and Muslims and non-Muslims would agree that what Hamas did is brutal and was wrong, but can we acknowledge the wrong on both sides? Can we acknowledge the terror on both sides? Can we acknowledge that it’s wrong to kill a kid no matter what?”

Aljerjawi is grateful to UVA for making his education possible, but he wishes the university would take a stand publicly on this matter. That seems unlikely after the board of visitors discussed how best to handle important political and social issues. Visitor Doug Wetmore – an attorney and business executive summed up the consensus.

“I think we should go out of our way to avoid making any statement that seems overly political. We ought to be reluctant to speak out on controversial political and social topics, because you just can’t win.”

Aljerjawi has shared his views with administrators at UVA and plans to keep speaking out. To hear more of Sandy Hausman's interview with Abdallah Aljerjawi click here:

UVA student from Gaza

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief