When Mohamed Shamiya, a 39-year-old Palestinian doctor living in Las Vegas, woke up to the news that his childhood best friend had been killed in a nighttime airstrike in Gaza this week, he began crying uncontrollably and canceled all his appointments from day.
Like scores of other Palestinians scattered around the world, Shamiya has spent the last few weeks in a constant state of stress and turmoil, fearing for the lives of his friends and relatives with whom he grew up in Gaza. The death of his former schoolmate and neighbor Abdulrahman Abuamara, who was killed while seeking shelter with four family members in the pizzeria he owned, hit him hard.
“He is the most pleasant person I have ever met,” Shamiya told The Daily Beast. “He is very polite. He is very quiet. Very smart. He was one of the best students in our school.”
Abuamara, also 39, died on Tuesday, buried under the rubble of Italiano, a popular restaurant he opened in Gaza nine years ago. The apparent airstrike also killed his mother, father and two brothers.
The family’s tragedy came after a month-long bombardment of the Gaza Strip by Israel that killed about 11,000 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry. The war began on October 7 after Hamas launched a brutal attack on Israel, killing around 1,400 people and taking more than 200 men, women and children hostage.
In local television interviews, Abuamara, the restaurant owner, spoke about why he opened Italiano despite having a master’s degree in engineering from a university in Europe. After graduating in 2014, he returned to Gaza but had difficulty finding a job. So he decided to put his experience to good use by working part-time for an Italian chef in Spain.
“I had to find my own path to success. I had learned how to make Italian pizza and when I came back to Gaza I realized that there was no authentic Italian pizza here,” he said, adding that while the blockade of Gaza posed some hurdles, ” However, the reviews are great and customers keep coming back.”
“There is nothing wrong with bringing a new idea back here and sharing a different culture… I encourage young people to follow in our footsteps. If you can’t find existing work, try to innovate,” he said. “I feel proud. I feel like my ambitions are big but I have the resources to achieve them.”
As it turned out, the restaurant was a huge success – so much so that it reopened in 2019 in a new location in a modern three-story building. Abuamara’s brothers Saleh and Abdullah also took part in the restaurant, which over the years has become a favorite among Gaza diners.
The disaster occurred on November 7th in Italiano. Witnesses – neighbors of the restaurant – described “a massive explosion” in the middle of the night in interviews with an Al Jazeera camera crew at the scene.
Abdulrahman Abuamara poses in Italiano
“I still don’t know how I’m still alive. What happened was terrible. And incredibly tragic,” a neighbor said of the explosion that leveled Italiano. “I was lying on the floor holding my two girls and my wife. Everything was upside down. The carpet that was on the floor was on the ceiling. How? I don’t know. This was a civilian restaurant owned by brothers.”
Another witness who helped with the rescue effort told Al Jazeera that he initially had “no idea where the explosion came from” before going outside and finding the restaurant had been destroyed.
“We knew it was full – full of people who we know are civilians who are not affiliated with any organization. We heard the voices of small children, including a woman who was nine months pregnant,” he said, referring to the brothers’ children and Abuamara’s wife, who survived the blast. “Eventually we discovered that five people had been martyred.”
“The children said their family members were on the other side, but after the explosion we couldn’t reach them because there were still airstrikes. We had to wait until we got them in the morning. Because it was really dangerous.”
Video footage showed how a once-bustling pizzeria was completely reduced to rubble. Although it was in Gaza City, in the enclave’s northern region, where civilians were ordered by Israeli authorities to evacuate, Shamiya said his friend believed that “no place is safe.”
“The last time I spoke to him was two weeks ago during the war. And I mean, he was fine,” he said. “Like many people in Gaza, he saw no reason to evacuate… he just hoped to be safe.”
The Italiano Pizzeria before, above and after, below when it was destroyed in the war.
Photo illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/YouTube/Facebook
Since the tragedy, tributes have been pouring in for the family, including from Abuamara’s sister, who was living abroad when the war broke out.
“Abdulrahman, my buddy, the youngest brother and yet the one who makes our most important decisions. I’ll miss our conversations after midnight. You still had ideas and plans for the restaurant, but you haven’t realized them yet. God knows how tired you and the other brothers were from the restaurant, from the preparation and the cultivation. Oh my darlings…” she wrote in a public Facebook post.
In a separate public tribute shared on social media, another close friend spoke about Abuamara’s brother Abdullah.
“What you all don’t know about Abdullah: his secret good deeds. Anyone who entered the restaurant while he was there and was unable to pay was still served.”
In his own farewell to his friend, Shamaliyah wrote: “I swear to God, I have seen nothing but kindness, love and charity from you,” he said of Abuamara.
“You were my best friend and companion. There are no words to express this wonderful friend and buddy since childhood. Our last meeting and our last farewell was a year ago, but we will meet again in heaven, my friend.”
Source : www.thedailybeast.com