KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 — There is no other devastating event like a war.
It is even more terrifying for families with children.
Life ambitions are set aside, and only one objective remains — survival.
That was the case for Palestinian artist Abdel Halim Mansour Abu Namous.
In 2014 after the Palestine-Israel war from July to August, Abdel Halim had enough of constantly worrying for his family.
Abdel Halim made up his mind to leave Gaza for good and find a safe shelter in a different country for his family, which included his two sons and daughter.
He managed to go to Egypt in the hopes of seeking asylum in Europe.
Unfortunately, due to many obstacles, Abdel Halim had to leave Egypt as his visa validity was ending.
Almost left stranded at the airport, he refused to get a ticket back home and insisted on not returning to Gaza.
“I told the officer I’m not going back there.”
One of the officers then recommended Malaysia to him since it was visa-free for Palestinians.
He quickly booked a ticket and made his way from Egypt to Malaysia.
With no English literacy and very little money, Abdel Halim felt helpless when he left the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
“I didn’t know what to do or where to go.
“An Arab guy suddenly showed up and invited me to his house. I was there for three days and left to start a new life here in Malaysia.”
To make ends meet, he accepted all types of jobs from being a driver to making Shawarma in KL and Kedah.
After three years, he managed to save enough money to bring his wife and children here.
Despite many challenges settling down in Malaysia, Abdel Halim said he is grateful he decided to leave Gaza for good.
“There is no future in Gaza.
“I’m a father and didn’t want my son to come and ask me to buy a gun.”
He said when his 12-year-old son arrived in Malaysia, he asked for a gun.
“I told him we are not in Gaza anymore and Malaysia is safe.
“I took him to Langkawi for two weeks to make him forget about everything that happened in Gaza. I want him to study and have a future.”
Abdel Halim said he loves his country but not the ongoing conflicts that have been happening for more than seven decades.
“Why can’t my country be as safe as Malaysia or Singapore?”
He said he was amazed to see people from different races and religions here living in harmony.
“I see Muslims, Christians and people of different faiths live peacefully here.
“When we can live in peace why should we fight?” asked the 40-year-old father-of-seven.
So far, Abdel Halim has lost 40 family members in the recent war which started on October 7.
“My parents and sisters are still in Gaza but I’m worried for them.
“I call them twice every day.”
He recently relocated his family from Kedah to Kuala Lumpur and he spends some of his time painting new artwork.
Hopeful for a free Palestine
The endless conflict meanwhile almost claimed Thaer Jihad Mohamad Mansur’s life who was shot multiple times.
The 34-year-old former soldier said he was shot from a helicopter back in July 2006 and lost both his legs and his right eye.
He was then taken and imprisoned in Israel for two years.
Thanks to the pressure from the International Red Crescent and non-governmental organisations, Thaer was released from prison.
“An Israeli human rights lawyer managed to bring me out and sent me to the US to get prosthetic legs.”
He then moved to Malaysia in October 2010 to seek asylum and live here.
“If I had stayed in Gaza, I would probably be dead now.
“Thankfully Malaysia offers free entry visas to Palestinians and I decided to come here.”
He expressed gratitude towards Malaysians for their solidarity and support all these years.
“I respect Malaysians for their hospitality.”
Thaer is a good cook and that is how he makes a living as he lives alone.
“I take orders and can cook Arabic, Italian and Western cuisine.
“I can prepare food for hundreds of people all by myself.”
Before the pandemic, Thaer had a small barber shop in Cyberjaya where he also operated his restaurant.
Due to the lockdowns and lack of customers, however, he had to close down due to outstanding rental he owed to the landlord.
“God willing, I hope I can save some money to buy a new wheelchair and also be able to rent a small place for my cooking again.”
Despite living in Malaysia, Thaer said he is constantly watching the news for updates on the situation in Palestine.
He said the conflict has devastated many families over the past 75 years.
“The life in Gaza is like hell.
“The people of Palestine have never seen freedom.”
Thaer said every war has claimed some of his family members over the past few years.
“This war alone claimed 52 of my family members.”
Two of his brothers were killed in the war in 2006 and he also lost his father 10 years ago in the war.
His other brother was in an Israeli prison for 16 years and is still not allowed to return to Gaza despite being released three years ago.
Thaer also has seven sisters, two of whom were killed in the war last month.
His only hope is to see a free Palestine and peace one day.
“God willing, we will see the day soon.”