Bay Area high school student shares shock of losing relatives in Gaza war

For many Palestinian Americans in the Bay Area, seeing the rise in civilian deaths from the war in Gaza is deeply personal, and especially difficult as Wednesday marks the 76th anniversary of the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, which forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee from their homes in what they call Nakba, meaning "catastrophe" in Arabic.
"Over 100 people in our family have been killed," said Zayna Elkarra, 15, a student at Lowell High School in San Francisco, "Every day, I wake up not knowing what's going to happen and who is alive."

Zayna says just 10 months ago, she had visited Gaza for the first time to see her family's ancestral home north of Rafah and meet her relatives.

"It was like I finally felt like I was at home. It was a feeling I'd never had before," Zayna said. "I met so much family and it was so nice because it was like they all knew me...and so many cousins, aunts, uncles."

Now, some of those family sites have been destroyed, and some of those relatives she met are gone.

"I have an uncle. He's been working his whole life to build this pharmacy from the floor up, and it started growing, and it's all destroyed," Zayna said, showing a photo of the pharmacy from the summer next to another image of the building destroyed.

Gaza health officials say more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war. For those who have lost loved ones, the pain is personal and difficult to process.

"We haven't had time to fully grieve, because we're still kind of trying to explain to people what's going on and trying to spread awareness and trying to get it to stop. Because as we're grieving, more and more things continue to happen," Zayna said. "I think the youngest person in our family was four months old, a baby."  

Zayna's mother, Dr. Manal Elkarra, says their relatives in Gaza are now refugees.

"They were all forced to flee. All of them have lost their homes.  We don't know of a single family member that has a house left," Dr. Elkarra said. "Everyone just kept moving away and away, and a lot of them ended in Rafah."

Monadel Herzallah is a San Francisco Palestinian American who says the displacement is a sad reminder of this Wednesday's 76th anniversary of the "nakba" catastrophe, when older generations of Palestinians were forced from their homes due to the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. Arab nations attacked Israel after the United Nations created the Israeli state on land where Palestinian families had lived.

Herzallah remembers his grandfather and grandmother being forced to flee from their home in Palestine. He says now he feels he understands their pain, seeing his own relatives living through this war.

"I have lost 11 members of my family. One of them is 4 years old," Herzallah said. "They have been displaced, once, twice and three times...from Gaza City to Khan Yunis, to Rafah right now, where we hardly know what's happening at this point. The thing that hurts the feel helpless, you feel unable to do anything for them."

"We want to simply live like everybody else," Herzallah added.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU. Email Jana at or call her at 510-326-5529. Or follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU.