Marwa Jarada, a student pursuing her master’s degree at North Dakota State University, shakes the hand of Duane Pribula, a retired Catholic priest, while at the Islamic Society of Fargo-Moorhead on Sunday. Last week, she learned that 16 members of her family were killed in an airstrike in Gaza.
Marwa Jarada’s mother Nima Ali Ibrahim Jarada, 54, and father, Nasr Rbah Salama Jarada, 67, were killed in their apartment after an air raid that flattened buildings in Gaza. They were two of 16 family members killed in the same airstrike.
Dressed in a black hijab, head bowed, Marwa Jarada stepped from the women’s section at the Islamic Society of Fargo- Moorhead. In front of her, dozens of worshippers had finished a prayer service for her and the 16 members of her family who were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.
Quietly, she accepted condolences from spiritual leaders of the Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran and Muslim faiths who gathered at the Islamic center, 601 28th St. S., to show solidarity with 24-yearold Jarada and declare that the war between Israel and Palestine must stop.
As of early Monday, Nov. 6, the death toll in the Gaza Strip surpassed 10,000, of which many are women and children, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza and multiple media outlets.
The most recent war began Oct. 7 after Hamas attacked communities in Israel, killing 1,400 people and kidnapping around 240 others.
In response, Israeli forces launched a ground attack and aerial bombardment on Gaza, saying the ultimate goal is to eliminate Hamas, the ruling political party in Gaza, which has been called a terrorist organization by at least 15 countries.
Israel’s death toll remains around 1,400, according to NBC news.
Jarada, currently in a master’s program for computer science at North Dakota State University, said she was following a Telegram channel for any news on Saturday, Oct. 25, when she learned that the neighborhood her family lived in was hit by an airstrike.
The Associated Press and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported airstrikes killed 704 people in Jarada’s neighborhood on Oct. 25.
The last time Jarada was able to communicate with her family was the day before the attack. On Oct. 25, she tried calling, but nobody answered or returned text messages.
A surviving brother, Tamer Jarada, learned that everything in their family’s neighborhood had been destroyed. The first body found was their father, 67-year-old Nasr Rbah Salama Jarada.
“And any humans there were under the rubble,” Marwa Jarada said.
The people in contact with Marwa Jarada “were listening to the voices of people who were still alive. I came across a voice message in a Telegram channel where a girl trapped under the same building as my family confirmed her presence and that she was alive. We also posted on our social media accounts, appealing to the civil defense. Unfortunately, it was a tragic situation, with death all around the neighborhood,” she told The Forum.
People in the area had no machinery to remove rubble, so the work had to be done by hand, she said.
Then, she learned that another family member believed to be a sister was discovered, which was followed by reports of two more family members the next day.
“They pulled out my father from the ground, then found my sister, and buried them. But the next day they found my two sisters, and I said, ‘You just did that to my sister.’ And they said, ‘No,’” Marwa Jarada said.
Her brother asked for a photograph, and she saw her mother’s ring on one of the bodies that was otherwise too damaged to be recognized easily. On the ring, her father’s name had been written.
Their mother, 54-yearold Nima Ali Ibrahim Jarada, was a “devoted homemaker” and the mother of six children.
“This ring is my mother’s wedding ring. Our tradition is to write the husband’s name on it, which is my father’s name, so the body they found after my father was my mother’s body, then next day, they found my sisters’ bodies. After that, I lost hope of finding any of the others alive,” Marwa Jarada said.
“I’m still not sure if my nephew has been pulled out of the rubble or not,” she said.
Marwa Jarada put her head into her hands but did not cry.
She paused before telling The Forum a message: “The world will not be destroyed only by evil, but also by those who are silent. When you know the truth, everyone will be accountable for that.
What does the world expect from people who are living such terrible lives and experiences like this? “We attempt every possible means, such as speaking out, sharing videos to shed light on the reality of the situation, doing reports and showing our own families in distressing news coverage,” she said. “Personally, I don’t find pleasure in including my own experiences and my family’s story in this narrative. I don’t want my family to become a tragic tale, but if it’s the sole means to put an end to this genocide, I reluctantly do so.”
She provided The Forum with a list of all 16 family members’ names, ages and occupations.
The youngest person killed in her family was a 7-year-old nephew, and the oldest was an 87-yearold aunt.
Some in her family were civil servants. Others held business administration degrees or were software engineers. One of her sisters, Nisreen Nasr Rbah Jarada, had finished her master’s degree in clinical psychology and was preparing for her upcoming wedding.
“It’s not realistic, but I would say give people their lands back. Free Palestine,” Marwa Jarada said.
Duane Pribula, a retired Catholic priest, attended the prayer service for Marwa Jarada and her family. At least three other ministers from different faiths, including David Myers, who is on the board of directors for Temple Beth El, a Jewish synagogue in Fargo, also attended Sunday’s prayer service.
Myers attended the service to show his support but did not respond to requests for an interview with The Forum.
Pribula talked to Ahmer Qarni, with the Islamic Society of Fargo- Moorhead, before the prayer service began.
Qarni told Pribula and others that the issue today in Gaza is not a religious one, as he has friends from different faiths, including the Jewish faith, who express support for an end to the war and the killing.
“It is a war for a piece of land,” Qarni said.
“Gaza is about two thirds the size of Cass County and about 2.2 million people,” Pribula said.
“I don’t think people understand the relatively small size that Gaza is.”
Qarni and Pribula both said people should be looking at the war with humanity rather than picking a side to pray for.
“What we are seeing now is intentional bombing and massacre,” Qarni said. “It’s horrible. You cannot bomb an entire church or hospital or refugee camp for one terrorist.
Where is the humanity? You cannot justify terror with terror.”
Pribula added, “Pope Francis has been calling out for a ceasefire. Stop the killings. Stop, in the name of God. He has said that repeatedly.”
Gaza doctor who worked through multiple wars
Ahmed Abuzaanona, a local cardiologist who grew up in Gaza, was an emergency room doctor at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital, the region’s largest hospital, and has seen multiple wars, he said.
“I’ve seen a lot of what kinds of injuries, what populations are targeted, and most of the patients we got were civilians.
About 50% of people in the Gaza Strip are under 15 years old, and a lot of the people who were killed were not Hamas.
Hamas followers do not even constitute 10% of the population in Gaza, and women are not actively involved in any military actions,” said Abuzaanona, who also attended Sunday’s prayer service.
“Whenever there is an indiscriminate attack, it’s almost a guarantee that we would have tons of children as casualties.
Unfortunately, the way I see it, most of those were indiscriminate,” he said.
Keeping in contact with friends and family back home in Gaza, Abuzaanona said Israeli troops used to warn civilians of an upcoming attack.
“From what I hear now, they don’t get that warning anymore; it’s just bombing. That’s why you hear about entire families being wiped out,” he said.
Now, his doctor friends are overwhelmed not only with patients but with worry that their families could be killed at any time.
“That fear. Every time my phone rings, I panic,” he said. “Even if I am with a patient, I have to glance at it to make sure it’s not a call to say I have lost one of my friends.”
Like three Palestinians interviewed by The Forum last week said, Abuzaanona said Gaza is “the largest open-air prison in the world.”
The people there are treated with ruthless aggression on a daily basis, he said.
“And when you have this open-air prison with such a tremendous amount of helplessness, then you are creating an environment where extremism can grow,” Abuzaanona said.
Taking away the threat of war and offering Gazans a chance at a normal life is the only way to eradicate extremism, he said.
“My take on this is that if you can guarantee a two-state solution, and in the process provide support to both sides equally, and you give Gazans something to lose, it will be difficult for extremism to grow,” he said. “They will think a million times before they get involved in extreme situations.
People just want to live.
“This is not a war between Israel and Palestine; this is a war of extremism on both sides.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter C.S. Hagen at 701- 241-5535 or at cshagen@ forumcomm.com.