21 members of Dunedin woman's family killed in Gaza

A Palestinian woman cradles the body of a child who died in an Israeli airstrike on Khan Younis...
A Palestinian woman cradles the body of a child who died in an Israeli airstrike on Khan Younis in southern Gaza. PHOTO: REUTERS
"In the first week of the current war six members of my family were killed," Rula Talahma says, and pauses.

It’s a dreadful toll. Anyone would need time to gather themselves after relaying such news. Except, Dr Talahma is not finished.

"And another 10 in the second week," she says. It is clearly taking an extraordinary effort to share these details calmly, accurately.

Sixteen members of one family. It is a tragedy beyond grasping. Except, Dr Talahma is still not finished.

"And another five in the third week, last week."

Among the dead, an uncle, his children. A cousin six years into his medical training.

News of the carnage in Gaza has made its way back to Dunedin, where Dr Talahma, an education sector public servant, has lived for a decade, despite the destruction of telecommunications.

"We lost contact with them twice last week when Gaza went into a blackout because of a bombardment of the landlines and everything."

The Telegram messaging app has been an important source of news, used by the Gazan health ministry to release lists of those killed.

More than 9000 people have now been killed in Gaza since October 7, another 22,000 injured. Last week the names of the first 7228 civilians killed were released, filling sheet after sheet of the documents published online, names, ages. The elderly, children, babies short of their first year of life.

"I would go through pages to look to see if they are alive," Dr Talahma says.

"That is where I saw, at the time, a number of my family and friends that were among the people who were murdered."

Dr Talahma’s brave front falters.

"It is heart-wrenching," she says, spilling more tears for people she will not see again.

"To be here, you breathe feeling guilt, unable to help. You drink clean water feeling guilt, unable to help."

And at the same time, there is an information war seeking to discount the deaths of so many Palestinians, creating an indifference to the slaughter, she says.

"It takes a toll on the mind and the body."

Dr Talahma is the granddaughter of refugees from what Palestinians know as the Nakba, the Catastrophe, the 1948 war that resulted in the permanent displacement of more than half of the Palestinian population.

Among them were Dr Talahma’s grandparents, who fled the town of Hamama in fear of Zionist militias. They settled in Gaza, where two-thirds of the population are refugees.

She has heard that the family home, near the Jabalia refugee camp, a scene of massive airstrikes in recent days, has probably been destroyed.

"So with that goes the childhood memories, the artefacts, the toys, the books. We had a massive library."

An estimated 13,000 tonnes of explosives has been dropped on the densely populated Gaza strip, an area smaller than Invercargill City, in the few short weeks of the war.

It is ethnic cleansing, Dr Talahma says, a view attracting growing international support.

There needs to be a ceasefire, now, she says, and the New Zealand government needs to raise its voice in support of it.

"There is a child killed every 10 minutes," she said, her voice breaking again.

"Now as we speak, another child has been bombarded, and each one of them had a story and a dream."

By Tom McKinlay