A vigil was started outside Oxford’s Carfax tower on Tuesday in support of Hassan Al Hallaq, a Brookes student who lost his family in an Israeli air attack.
Al Hallaq was initially in intensive care after the attack killed his wife, two children, and six other family members. His wife was expecting their third child.
Hassan was a Masters student at Brookes University during the 2012/13 academic year, living with his family in Oxford. A statement by the University described how he “did exceptionally well. He won the Technologies Prize awarded by the University Department of Computing and Communication for outstanding achievement in the Masters Degree of Science in eBusiness.”
Professor Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor at Brookes, declared, “We are deeply shocked and saddened by this tragic news. Hassan came to Oxford with his family and became fully embedded into the life of the city and the University. Our thoughts are with him at this time.”
The tragedy draws attention to the plight of students from Gaza who have studied, and are currently studying, at both Brookes and Oxford University. Hassan was the third recipient of the annual Gaza Scholarship, founded by Sir Iain Chalmers in 2011 to “bring in one student each year at the graduate level to undertake a course of study leading to the award of an Oxford Brookes Masters degree”.
Up until this summer, there were two scholars to benefit from Gaza scholarships at Oxford University. Saleem Lubbad, Oxford University’s first Gaza scholar, is close friends with Al Hallaq. On his Facebook page he described Hassan and his wife as “Two beautiful innocent souls that never tired. All this happiness and hope in their hearts could not prevent death being forced prematurely and unnaturally on to them, and cut their lives short.”
Speaking to Cherwell, Saleem explained, “The vigil tells us that the people who we hear of dying and being massacred are not only numbers and that we must not forget the lives and stories behind each of these numbers. We know Hassan, he was in Oxford, but what about people who we don’t know and who are also being massacred in the same brutal way? Who would tell their stories?
“Nothing more could be said about what happened to Hassan’s family, the raw story is enough to tell about what the Palestinians are going through. Tens of family have been murdered in the same brutal way, but we know of them only as numbers […].
“The horrific story of my friend, Hassan, is not unique. It is normal to hear of such stories happening in Gaza now.”
Saleem described the pains that he and others have suffered at not being able to see their families. He said, “I have been in Oxford since 2010 and I have not seen my family since two years […] A person seeing his family is considered as a luxury for Palestinians.
“Last month when I finished my finals, I was thinking about my graduation ceremony which is on 26th July, and my parents were planning to come to attend the ceremony and to spend few days with me here, and I was thinking about this ‘luxury’; I will spend amazing days with my parents soon, and now I call them every few hours to make sure that one of them will pick up the phone and say ‘yes we are still alive’.
“Other families have nowhere to go […] My family is privileged! Having a shelter and not being murdered ‘yet’ is a privilege that everyone seeks in Gaza.”
Saleem graduated from St Edmund Hall this summer with an Engineering degree. Both he and Jesus first year Rawan Yaghi have benefited from scholarships that were founded, and funded, by Oxford students, following previous attacks on Gaza in 2008-09.
Yaghi told Cherwell that she, “like all Palestinian students outside Gaza, can’t get home”. Given the situation in Palestine though, even if she were able to, there would be no guarantee of being able to return to Oxford in October.