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Peace activists fundraise for a Gaza City family with Kalamazoo ties

Palestinians look for survivors after Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. A man in a bright blue shirt walks through the rubble, along with others searching for survivors amidst the concrete and metal debris left by the blast.
Abed Khaled/AP
Palestinians look for survivors after Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.

WMU alumnus Abdelaziz AbuShaaban lost a daughter in an October airstrike. He and his wife hope to seek medical care in the U.S.

This story includes a graphic photo of a severe injury to AbuShaaban's arm.

Professor Said AbuBakr teaches chemical and paper engineering at Western Michigan University. He told WMUK that almost twenty years ago, in 2005, he befriended Abdelaziz AbuShaaban, a Western graduate student from Gaza who was working on his master’s degree in educational studies.

AbuBakr added that AbuShaaban and his family left their neighborhood in Gaza City last month after Israeli forces warned they would bomb it. But the school where they sought shelter had little room, so the family went home. Soon after, an airstrike severely injured AbuShaaban and two of his children, and killed the third. His wife was also injured, but her injuries were less severe. AbuBakr said that his friend "broke into tears" when asked about his wife.

“He said, 'my daughter Joud, whose 14 years old, was hugging her mom, when the bomb exploded near the house. And all the shrapnel got to my daughter so she died and her mom was saved.'”

AbuBakr said the surviving four family members made it to Egypt and are waiting to come to the United States. The couple’s 18-year-old son, Youssef, was born in Kalamazoo and is a U.S. citizen.

Abdelaziz AbuShaaban lies prone on a hospital bed in Gaza.  His arm is bloody and mangled as a doctor in scrubs and surgical gloves holds up his hand arm in order to attend to his injury.  AbuShaaban is wearing a blue and white striped polo shirt and blue slacks. It is clear that he is grimaces in pain as the doctor works on his arm.
Courtesy of Said AbuBakr and Abdelaziz AbuShaaban.
Abdelaziz AbuShaaban lies in a hospital bed in Gaza after a bomb exploded near his Gaza City home on Oct. 18. AbuShaaban attended Western Michigan University in 2005-2006 and earned a master's degree. His eldest child was born in Kalamazoo while he was a student here.

AbuBakr said the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund is providing funding for the couple’s eight-year-old daughter and her mother to receive care in Philadelphia. But he said father and son are also in need of medical care, because AbuShaaban’s arm is mangled and his son’s wrist bones were pulverized. Youssef needs reconstructive surgery and care for shrapnel wounds.

That’s why AbuBakr contacted Kalamazoo Nonviolent Opponents of War, or KNOW. The group is raising money so AbuShaaban and his son can come with his wife and surviving daughter as they seek medical treatment in the U.S.

Daniel Smith is a co-chairperson for KNOW, which has been holding Sunday peace demonstrations in front of the Michigan Avenue federal building since 2002.

“We're trying to raise money to fill the gap. Because he (Youssef) is over 18, this particular charity can't help him. So, we're filling in the gap.”

Smith said he was moved by the story of the 14-year-old hugging her mother when their home was bombed, likely saving her mother’s life.

“It’s such a powerful image that I feel like we want to do something to stop the bombing.”

Raelyn Joyce is a long-time member of KNOW.

“You step forward when there is something that you see that you can do something with. Seems like this is the moment to work on something because there's a need for it. And I can help.”


Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.