'What happened to my brothers in Gaza is simply inconceivable'

Mohammed Lubbad spots his brother among detainees taken by the Israeli army. Credit: Supplied

By Leila Sansour, ITV News Producer

“What they did to my brothers will stay with me forever,” Mohammed Lubbad tells ITV News.

He stumbles as he speaks to us, he seems to find it difficult to gather his thoughts.

He is from Gaza but currently lives in Belgium having earned a prestigious Al Fakhoura scholarship to study cyber security.

Since the war began, he has done nothing but watch the news.

He follows various local groups on social media and dials his family a hundred times a day, even if he only gets through once, just so to hear if they are still alive.

“All my friends do the same”, he tells me.

His immediate family consists of his parents, seven brothers and one little sister.

Most of them still live in the same building in Beit Lahia alongside many cousins, uncles and other relatives.

“There were about a hundred of us in that one building,” he says.

Mohammed on the left. A picture taken of his younger brothers a few years ago on the right. Credit: Supplied

As he lists his family members, Mohammed singles out his younger brothers Jihad, 22, and Abdel Rahman, 19.

He seems to have a special affinity for them, or, maybe, a sense of responsibility towards his younger siblings.

“They were both university students”, he tells us. “I was very keen for them to do well. I was encouraging them to learn foreign languages."

On the morning of December 7, at 8am, Mohammed was relieved to receive a message posted by a cousin on a family group chat.

Everything seemed to be alright.

But, just before 10am, he received a brief message from his brother, Abdel Rahman, telling him Israeli soldiers were storming the house opposite. After that, all lines went silent.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” he said.

"It was chilling to spot my older brother in this video posted by the Israeli army," says Mohammed. Credit: Supplied

It was not until later in the day that pictures and videos from Beit Lahia started emerging.

These images were the only thread Mohammed could follow to glean the fate of his brothers and cousins, he tells me.

“It gave me a jolt when I first spotted my own brother among the men being carted away," he says.

“It was a harrowing sight, made even more distressing because I didn’t know what they were going to do to them or if they would ever be released."

His only source of hope was that "none of his family were part of any resistance groups", he says.

As a young boy, Mohammed lived through several Israeli assaults on Gaza - in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014 and after watching so much cruelty over the past two months, he feared the worst.

It wasn’t until early the following day that Mohammed finally heard from his younger brother Abdel Rahman, who recounted the details of the past 24 hours.

“The Israeli army stormed the neighbourhood," he said his brother had told him.

“We were all forced out at gunpoint. They ordered us to take off our clothes and shoes, then we were blindfolded and our hands were tied with rope behind our backs.

"Children, women and men above 60 were all sent walking on foot towards Kamal Adwan hospital while we were thrown onto trucks and driven away."

Mohammed’s brother told him they were then taken to the Zikim military base.

“My blindfold was a bit loose so I was occasionally able to peep to see what they were doing, who they were beating”.

"The drive was eerie", he said. They travelled through familiar territory but the streets were hardly recognisable with all the destruction.

"Some areas even had newly installed Hebrew signs," he said. At the location the men were separated into three groups.

Each of them was then marked with a sign. “They drew these on their faces”, he said.

We ask if they also had numbers printed on their arms as was the case with the detainees at Al Zaytoun neighbourhood.

Mohammed saw the images from Al Zaytoun but, in their case, he tells ITV News, the numbers were drawn with charcoal on their faces.

Detainees with printed numbers on their arms and wounds from being shackled. Credit: Supplied

Mohammed’s brothers were among the lucky ones. The three of them were released at around one o’clock at night and sent home, walking barefoot.

“It was only when we walked far enough from the soldiers that we helped each other remove the blindfolds and the ropes in our hands”.

Some people also gave them basic clothes on the way, Abdel Rahman told him. “Many of us arrived with bleeding wrists and feet”.

“You should be grateful”, Mohammed’s father told him. “At least we are all alive and our home is still standing”.

“They also had food”. Mohammed tells ITV News. “My family are refugees, you see. Their turn to receive flour from the agency came just before the war broke out so they still had some supplies”.

“We are from Al Majdal. My family was expelled from there in 1948”. He adds. “This area is now on the Israeli side beyond the wall that surrounds Gaza. It is what you often hear referred to as the Gaza envelope”.

We speak to Mohammed again on December 12. This time he has bad news.

The day before, December 11, the building where his whole family were sheltering was hit.

His father and two younger brothers, Abdel Rahman and Jihad managed to pull their sister in-law from under the rubble and rushed her on foot to the Kamal Adwan hospital.

Their older brother, Ibrahim, lay unconscious, no ambulances were running.

Mohammed is reeling as he recounts what happened to ITV News. “Please help me”, he pleads.

A sniper killed Abdel Rahman with a bullet to his heart just as they reached Kamal Adwan hospital, he tells ITV News.

"My other brother, Jihad, was also hit but he is still alive. He is bleeding”.

We stay on the line as he tries to call the hospital with no luck. It's clear Mohammed is shell-shocked.

Shortly after this incident, the Kamal Adwan hospital was also evacuated at gunpoint with staff and patients all ordered to leave.

Mohammed’s father was arrested for procrastinating as he pleaded to keep his injured son in hospital to receive treatment. Mohammed then disappeared for a few days. 

On December 17 The World Health Organisation (WHO) put out a statement saying they were appalled by the "destruction of Kamal Adwan hospital over the last several days, rendering it non-functional and resulting in the death of at least eight patients". 

"Many health workers were reportedly detained", said WHO.

One of ITV News' contacts inside the hospital, Mohammed Al Madhoun, told us he was also evacuated alongside his 17-year-old son who was being treated for a head injury at the hospital.

"The Israeli soldiers cursed, shouted and beat us all", he told us. "They didn't even spare my injured son".

Mohammed pays tribute to his brothers on Instagram. Credit: Instagram

Later that same day we spotted a new post on Mohammed's Instagram.

It was a short eulogy to his brother Jihad, who ended up succumbing to his wounds that same day.

“May you rest in peace my brother! May God give us strength. This was the last photo before I left Gaza. I didn’t know it would be the last," he wrote.

“I will never forget you and I will always tell your story”. 

He called ITV News later that same day, he said "when I was awarded the scholarship they told us all we were Gaza's future. What future is that now?!"

ITV News has written to the Israeli Defence Force asking for a response to the claims made by the detainees and their families.

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