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Gaza baker flees Rafah with nearly 1 million other Palestinians

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We've been following a professional baker in Gaza throughout the war. Our producer Anas Baba met him at the main branch of his bakery in Rafah a few months ago. He had been making birthday and wedding cakes for injured and displaced people. Another branch of his bakery just north in Khan Younis was badly damaged in an Israeli ground offensive against Hamas. Now, Israeli forces have reached Rafah. Nearly 1 million Palestinians fled the city, and so did the baker, who had to abandon his main shop. Here's NPR producer Anas Baba.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: I met with Ibrahim Abu Hani, and he told me about his escape from Rafah.

IBRAHIM ABU HANI: (Through interpreter) I called my wife and children and told them to get ready because we were leaving. They asked where, and I said I didn't know. I told them to pack up, but only what they could carry, not everything. My brother told me to come to his place. I went. The place wasn't ideal, but he provided a room on the roof that was originally a storage room. When I arrived, everyone around me started asking me, how could you risk the bakery? I couldn't bear to lose the bakery. I didn't want to lose another one. It's something I couldn't imagine. People told me to go back and get anything I could from the bakery.

BABA: He said the area had become dangerous with shelling and drones, but the shelling wasn't happening all the time, so he decided to take a chance.

ABU HANI: (Through interpreter) I arranged with the driver and a few guys to go and try to retrieve whatever we could from the bakery. When I entered the bakery and opened the door, everything was priceless. It felt like choosing between your children. Who do you sacrifice, and who do you save? Time is limited. The driver is in a hurry, and the place is dangerous. So I started prioritizing. For example, this mixer, I need it. Put it in the car. This fridge? Yes. Let's take it because you need a place to display things.

BABA: They were carrying the fridge to the car when a shell landed nearby, so they let go of the fridge.

ABU HANI: (Through interpreter) I left behind a lot of materials, many, many things, things that could have kept me working for a year. I got mad at the driver for rushing me. I wanted to stay in the place, in my bakery. The driver was rushing me, saying there's shelling and danger. All the words in the world can't describe the sadness you feel when leaving a place that meant everything to you.

BABA: Abuhani is now north of Rafah. He's sheltering on his brother's roof in one-room attic with his wife and four kids.

ABU HANI: (Through interpreter) So six of us, plus a large number of birds living with us in the room. The room itself was a storage space, and birds had nested there. When we cleaned it out, we kept the birds because we couldn't disturb their home. They were there before us. Living with the birds is a source of inspiration - waking up to their movements, seeing them feed their young. It's live in front of you. My kids and I wake up in the morning and watch the birds.

BABA: Abuhani has set up his new bakery in the yard - in his brother's outdoor car mechanic shop. Nearby are rows and rows of tents with people who ran away from their homes in the war.

ABU HANI: (Through interpreter) Look around. You can see piles of garbage everywhere. What can people do? Where can they throw their trash? They're forced to dump it somewhere. When I first arrived here, I was shocked by the number of flies. I used to have strict cleanliness standards in my bakery. There were no windows, only vents.

BABA: Now, he's baking in the open air. At night, he spreads sulfur around the place to keep away pests.

ABU HANI: (Through interpreter) You learn about remedies you never imagined. Despite all this, you try to keep the dream alive and believe that better times will come. The first day I came here, my goal was to work. I wanted to make cakes because it was the only thing that could make me feel like myself. The first day I arrived here, I made a cake and took it to the nearest tent for a child who had a birthday. We're trying to create joy for the children, but that joy seems more manmade. I clapped for them and gave them the cake. But there's always something inside you that controls you, reminding you that you're losing everything. Despite all this sadness that overwhelms us, when I look at the video of a child at a party I organized, laughing and happy...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Vocalizing).

ABU HANI: (Through interpreter) ...I might have been sad at the moment the video was taken. But later, when I sit alone and watch the video, seeing the child's joy gives me more motivation to continue and persevere. I'll tell you something. The highest form of happiness is not what you receive but what you give. When you strive to bring happiness to others, you will feel joy, no matter what obstacles come your way. It will come back to you. I consider myself the luckiest man in Rafah because I found a place to restart my bakery, even though it's just a car repair shop.

CHANG: That was baker Ibrahim Abuhani, speaking to NPR producer Anas Baba in Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anas Baba
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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