The death of a beloved father illustrates the savage cost of war in Gaza: ‘The ambulance couldn’t come’

Mohammed Dawwas, a highly skilled journalist and fixer, worked for The Independent and with Kim Sengupta for years. He is one of 15 members of the extended Dawwas family to have been killed in 12 weeks, with the health of one of Mohammed’s daughters also deteriorating alarmingly. His family believe he would have survived if medical facilities in Gaza hadn’t been devastated by this conflict

Wednesday 27 December 2023 18:15
<p>Mohammed Dawwas reported on the reality of life in Gaza for decades </p>

Mohammed Dawwas reported on the reality of life in Gaza for decades

Mohammed Dawwas, a highly respected translator, fixer and journalist who worked for The Independent for decades, has died from a lack of medicine and critical medical care after being forced to flee with his family from their home in northern Gaza.

The Dawwas family were among the civilians who left Gaza City and headed south on the instructions of the Israeli military. They sought refuge in Deir al Balah, about 10 miles south, before that town too was hit by an airstrike – which, according to the Hamas-run Palestinian health authorities, killed 45 people and injured 50 others.

Mohammed was already partially paralysed following a stroke he suffered five years ago. He had another stroke, brought about, say his family, by the stress of the situation inside Gaza. He did not survive this time.

Ambulances could not get through to the area where the family were staying because of the bombing. The family had run out of the medicine Mohammed was taking, and no further supplies were available in the chaotic conditions. One of the few neighbours who had stayed behind in Gaza City went to the Dawwas family’s home to see if any of Mohammed’s drugs had been left behind in the rush to leave. They found that the building had been destroyed.

Fifteen members of the extended Dawwas family have been killed in the war so far. Mohammed’s wife Tahani, three daughters, and a five-year-old granddaughter, Sophie, have been granted asylum in Australia, but remain trapped in southern Gaza, deeply worried about what might befall them as the fighting closes in around them.

There is little chance of the conflict ending soon. According to the health authorities in Gaza, more than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed there since the Israeli military launched its offensive after Hamas massacred around 1,200 people and abducted 240 others in the 7 October cross-border raid. The Palestinian health authority says 241 more people were killed in the last 24 hours, mostly in airstrikes.

Despite repeated calls from international leaders and senior religious figures, including Pope Francis and the archbishop of Canterbury, for a ceasefire, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared: “We are not stopping. The war will continue until the end, until we finish, no less.”

Yasmine Dawwas, one of Mohammed’s daughters, now lives abroad and works as a doctor

One of Mohammed and Tahani’s daughters, 18-year-old Hala, needs continuing medical care – including surgery – following a car accident 14 years ago in which she was seriously injured. Her condition, says the family, is deteriorating alarmingly.

Yasmine Dawwas, one of Mohammed’s daughters, who has previously worked as a translator for The Independent, is now a doctor living abroad.

She said: “We feel so desperately sad. I couldn’t be there when my father died. My mother and sisters saw him pass away and could do nothing. He was struggling to breathe and needed to see a doctor, but the ambulance couldn’t come. It’s so painful to think about what happened.

“My mother was saying she did not know what was worse, having someone you love get killed instantly in this war, or seeing him die slowly knowing he could have lived if he only had access to medicine,” Yasmine added.

“We have to now think about Hala. She had operations after the accident and she was scheduled for more surgery for injuries to her pelvic region, but of course, that did not happen after the war started. She has now got an infection because of contaminated water, but they can’t get any antibiotics to treat it.

“Every generation is affected by what’s happening. My niece, Sophie, is very young; she is having nightmares about what she has seen and heard. So many young people in Gaza who survive all this are going to grow up with traumatic memories.

“Lists of names of those who are allowed to leave Gaza are published every day. These lists have to be approved by the Israeli and Egyptian authorities, and so every day we wait to see if the names are on the list, but that hasn’t happened yet. We need to keep on hoping,” she said.

Mohammed’s granddaughter Sophie (right) and her mother, Mariam, in happier times

Mohammed had worked for The Independent with correspondents including Robert Fisk, Donald Macintyre and Alistair Dawber, as well as me. I also worked extensively with Yasmine covering the wars in Gaza after his illness.

Mohammed wrote a diary for The Independent on Sunday during the 2009 war, which received wide praise for being vivid and moving in describing life in a conflict situation. He forcefully stressed the need for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, saying he had seen too many people killed and injured in the wars he had covered.

Although Mohammed was not killed directly by military action, his family say that he is very much a casualty of this war. Between 78 and 100 Palestinian journalists are estimated to have been killed in Gaza since the war started in October.

Unlike in most of the previous wars in Gaza, foreign journalists have not been allowed to carry out independent reporting from the territory. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists, based in New York, points out that this has been the most lethal war for the media to cover in modern times. After the death toll passed 68, it said: “More journalists have been killed in the first 10 weeks of the Israel-Gaza war than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year.”

As well as The Independent, Mohammed had worked, over the years, with several other news outlets, including Der Spiegel, La Repubblica, Voice of America and The Sunday Times.

Mohammed’s daughters Suzie, Hala and Mariam Dawwas before the latest war

Donald Macintyre said: “Mohammed knew everybody and everything in Gaza. Like all the best Palestinian journalists, he was not affiliated with any faction but was on familiar terms with all their leading figures.

“As I recall, he had even played football as a teenager against Ismail Haniyeh, now the exiled political head of Hamas. But he was every bit at home with ‘ordinary’ Gazans, and more often than not, an interview with Mohammed and whoever we were seeing began with them exchanging their knowledge of members of the other’s family.

“Mohammed was from a refugee family, and for an Independent story on the 70th anniversary of the birth of Israel – and the flight of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in what is now Israel – he was kind enough to introduce me to his proud uncle. [He was] old enough to remember the 1948 war, until which he had lived as a boy in Deir Suneid, so close to what is now the Gaza Strip, until its residents were forced to flee,” Macintyre added.

“Like so many Palestinians of his generation, Dawwas was both a devoted family man and had a passionate belief in education. The fruits of this are palpable in all his children.”

Alistair Dawber, now the Washington correspondent for The Times and The Sunday Times, spoke of “a consummate professional working in Gaza. Like all the best of those that do the vital but often unsung behind-the-scenes job of connecting a correspondent with contacts, he would sometimes roll his eyes at a reporter’s latest idea, but would always produce at the end.

“On one occasion, The Independent’s correspondent asked him to find six people from different walks of life in Gaza, all to be interviewed and photographed for a magazine piece, and all to be done that day. He sucked his teeth and, more politely than necessary, suggested that more than 24 hours’ notice would have been useful.

“Of course, by the end of the day, the six interviews – with farmers working close to the border, Hamas officials, fishermen bringing in the day’s catch, and those operating in the tunnels that brought in supplies through Rafah – were all completed, all achieved through his dogged determination and a contact book surpassed nowhere else in Gaza,” Dawber added.

“Mohammed’s death is a very sad loss to his family, to his friends, and to journalism.”

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