Palestinian-Canadian Khalil Manna and his wife Nabil Nemr are back on Canadian soil, landing at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport Monday night after surviving horrendous conditions for more than 40 days in Gaza.
More than a dozen family members and friends greeted the couple at the airport with balloons and a banner saying, “It’s so good to have you back.”
The warm welcome meant hugs and tears all around.
Seventy-two-year-old Manna and 68-year-old Nemr had travelled to Gaza to visit Nemr’s elderly mother in mid-September. They had intended to stay for about 20 days, but the conflict between Israel and Hamas stranded them there.
The couple didn’t have enough of their medications with them and struggled to find food and water. Manna says bombings forced them to relocate three times to find shelter.
“One time I sit in the bed, and my wife, she tells me to come and take lunch,” recalls Manna, “and I go to take lunch, two minutes, I swear to god and after the bombing, the bed where I sit, the wall (was) completely destroyed.”
“We ran outside without (my) scarf, without shoes, it was very scary that time,” adds Nemr, “and my mom, she was inside, I couldn’t see her, the house (was) like black and smoke.
Although now safe back in Canada, they both have difficult memories they can’t leave behind. Manna says an apartment building collapsed during the conflict with a neighbor’s entire family inside.
He says the smell of corpses was overwhelming.
“It’s bad, when you walk in the streets, anywhere,” he explains.
Manna and Nemr live in Alberta but have two sons and a daughter living in Halifax.
After the Hamas attack on Israel sparked retaliation and bombing in Gaza City, daughter Mouna Manna says she called Global Affairs Canada immediately to seek assistance in getting her parents out.
She tells Global News she was frustrated by a lack of information about her parents’ status on the list of Canadians approved to leave through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt.
In a Nov. 17 email to GAC’s Emergency Watch and Response Centre provided to Global News, Mouna wrote, “Khalil and Nabila have not been in contact with anyone from Foreign Affairs though Foreign Affairs have attempted to reach them at least once … We urgently request a prompt update.”
The night before, Mouna was part of a protest outside a downtown Halifax restaurant where politicians attending the Halifax International Security Forum were dining. She says after she tried to speak to a local MP, she was arrested by Halifax Regional Police.
Frustrated, she spoke about her experience to Global News the next day. She says the day after that, her parents received the news they were cleared to cross into Egypt.
Mouna believes the process took far too long.
“The more we waited, the more worried we were, especially when I was getting calls from my parents pleading for help and asking us to get them out,” she says. “They said ‘there’s nothing we can do,’ but there’s absolutely there is lots you can do, those are your citizens that you claimed that you care about them, they shouldn’t be on standby.”
“When you say 45 days for a Canadian citizen to come out of there when you’re realizing that other citizens of other countries are going out of Gaza … that was really hard feelings for us,” adds their son, Ibrahim Manna.
“What they have seen, I know it’s something that they’re not going to recover (from) very quickly,” he continues.
John Babcock, a spokesperson with Global Affairs Canada, says: “Canada continues to advocate for the safe crossing of approximately 270 Canadians, permanent residents and eligible family members remaining in Gaza.”
In its last update on Nov. 20, the department said it had assisted 450 people in crossing to Egypt at the Rafah border.
Despite his long and difficult journey home, Khalil Manna says he is thankful to be back and hopes for peace in the region.
“I am happy, Canada (helped),” he says, “and I appreciate (it.)”