Arizona Family Escapes Gaza
- AZ: LOCAL FAMILY REUNITED AS GIFFORDS HELPS FOUR GET BACK FROM GAZA
A Tucson family is grateful to be back in its adopted country after
surviving a civil war and fearing that it would never be able to leave
its troubled homeland.
Husain Gharbia and his wife, Fatina, planned to make 2007 the year
they returned to the Middle East and introduced their families to
their daughters, Ayah, 3, and Tala, 1.
The parents are permanent legal residents, and their daughters are
Fatina left with the girls in late January. Husain, a cab driver,
joined them three months ago. They were due to return to Tucson via
Cairo, Egypt, on June 30.
Little did they know that a civil war would break out on the Gaza
Strip, even in his family's neighborhood.
"I was afraid to move around in my living room," Gharbia said
Wednesday night, minutes after his flight landed in Tucson. "There was
shooting all around."
One bullet whizzed right by Gharbia's head, he said, motioning to
describe his narrow escape.
"Even the baby was, 'Stop, please, it's too loud.' "
Complicating matters was the fact that the Islamic militant group
Hamas won the battle with rival Fatah in June, and Gaza's borders were
shut down. Gharbia feared his family would never be able to leave.
"I knew there was no way" to get out of the country without the proper
permits, Gharbia said.
"Over there, everything is paperwork," Gharbia said. "You don't go
anywhere if you don't have it. If you have it, no problem."
Here, Gharbia's extended family went to work securing the return trip.
More than a decade ago, Husain and Fatina Gharbia immigrated to Tucson
because his close cousin, Monir Gharbiah, a computer expert, lives
here. The spelling of the family name varies.
Gharbiah's wife, Ginger, set things in motion by calling the local
office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
"Congresswoman Giffords saw this as a humanitarian issue," said her
communications director, C.J. Karamargin. "There was a local family
with two young children who needed to get out of a virtual war zone."
Two of Giffords' staff members were assigned to work the phones and
try to get the Gharbias out of Gaza and into one of the neighboring
countries Palestinians routinely travel through.
By coincidence, Giffords was scheduled to travel to Israel with a
congressional delegation, Karamargin said. A visit with Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert proved to be the key to unlock the borders for
the Gharbias, Karamargin said.
The Gharbias were allowed to cross the border into Israel on Tuesday
and begin their long journey home.
Wednesday night, the Gharbiah family - Monir, Ginger and their
children, Maey, 25, and Hafez, 17 - waited anxiously in the lobby of
Tucson International Airport, scanning a monitor showing arriving
"There!" Ginger said, pointing to the screen, thinking her relatives
were arriving, only to be disappointed when it was another family.
At last, the weary travelers came into frame, sending the Gharbiahs
into cheers and applause. They crowded around the exit, oblivious to
the cadre of media around them, eager to welcome their cousins.
Husain Gharbia was the first to land in the lobby, rushing toward
Monir. The two men tearfully embraced as their wives and children
greeted each other.
"He's much more than a cousin to me," Monir Gharbiah said later. "He
couldn't be closer to me than a brother."
Husain Gharbia took a few moments to thank Giffords' representative,
district director Ron Barber, before regrouping his family to collect
the luggage and make the final journey to their home. Giffords is
planning to meet with the families next week.
"I'm going to sleep for two days," Gharbia said, grinning. "And then
I'm going back to work."
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