A Boca Raton woman appealed to U.S. and Israeli authorities Wednesday to help her husband leave the Gaza Strip, where he has been trapped for three months.
Deborah Almbasher said her husband, a legal permanent resident of the United States, entered Gaza on April 26 to visit his ailing mother. He intended to stay for two months. Before his departure date of June 27, however, Hamas Islamists seized control of Gaza, prompting Israel and Egypt to close their borders with Gaza.
U.S. Embassy officials in Jerusalem have told Almbasher they do not have the authority to assist her husband, 39-year-old Hafez Almbasher, because he is not a U.S. citizen, she said.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last week that several thousand Palestinian students inside the small seaside strip are also stuck, unable to get to their foreign universities.
"I'm getting weak. I'm getting tired. I need my husband," said Deborah Almbasher, who suffers from a breathing ailment that she described as "acute asthma."
"We have a mortgage to pay and my medical bills are phenomenal," she said. "He's the sole support of the household."
Almbasher spoke to reporters at the Pembroke Pines headquarters of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She had turned to the council after her pleas to U.S. legislators and embassy officials failed to secure her husband's passage home. Almbasher said Israeli authorities organize evacuations from Gaza for medical and humanitarian reasons, but officials must first grant clearance to those leaving.
The council has lent its support to five other U.S. families nationwide with members stuck in Gaza, including a family of seven from North Florida. The council's Florida director, Altaf Ali, said that even before Hamas took control of Gaza, U.S. citizens and residents had difficulty traveling there.
"This is not an isolated case. We have many American families who go to Palestine in the summer and many have problems getting back," he said.
Of the Almbasher family, he said, "Our elected officials need to put some pressure on the Israeli government. All it takes is one phone call." . . .
Ali said he regretted that Florida's federal legislators had not shown interest in helping the Almbasher family. Among others, they contacted Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, and Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican. The council also has appealed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice but has not received a response.
In the meantime, Deborah Almbasher said the family is falling behind financially, relying on her daughter's income as a Publix cashier and bagger to pay the bills. Almbasher herself works as a waitress one or two days a week when her health permits. Her husband, who rebuilds cars, was the main breadwinner, she said. (MORE)