For 35-year-old Lucknow native Abdul Rehman, his Ramzan fasts in Gaza were not broken by the call of the muezzin but with the deafening noise of bomb explosions.
"Bombs were going off in the distance around us all the time. Rockets were raining from the skies; hearing and seeing explosions became a daily affair. Even our 'roza' (fast) began and ended with blasts in the background," Rehman told PTI over telephone from Lucknow. His wife and only son Shah Rukh still cannot believe that he survived and returned home safely from the strife-torn region. Rehman is among the four Indian tailors working in Gaza for the past two years who were recently evacuated unharmed with the help of the representative office of India (ROI) in Ramallah.
The horrors of living under the shadow of death still haunts the returnees. "It still sends shivers down my spine. I saw people being blown away by bombs, dismembered bodies strewn on the streets and people running helter-skelter to find shelter from the rockets that were dropping from the sky," Rehman said. "We ourselves would run from place to place. For days, we didn't eat anything but just cried in the corner of our room ... The blood and gory sights still haunt us. We pray for the well-being and safety of all," he said.
The four survivors left Gaza Strip last Sunday, one of the bloodiest days of the conflict with 97 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers killed in an attack launched by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
Fellow survivor Rashid Ahmed (34), from Bareilly, cannot "thank Allah" enough for uniting him with his family as he had "lost all hope" for it. "We four had lost all hope of seeing our loved ones, meeting with our family seemed like a distant dream; A family photo was my only source of solace in the hours of agony," Ahmed said. Rehman said he reached Delhi early on Tuesday and took a bus from there to Lucknow. The other two tailors of the group are Anwar Husain from Mumbai and Kamil from Kishanganj of Bihar.
The Palestinian death toll now stands at over 1,000 since the conflict began on July 8.
It's an Eid which Ahmed says his family and himself would never forget. "Eid is round the corner and we all nine brothers have come together for the festival. I thank Allah and our Indian friends in the embassy there who rescued us from the jaws of death," he said. Recounting the grim realities of living in Gaza, he also claimed that "Israeli planes air-dropped papers carrying messages that read -- Palestinians leave Gaza".
After his return, Ahmed has become more pious and his faith in the almighty and his love for the country has only grown. "I thank Allah all the time in my prayers. My wife still cries seeing me alive. After returning, I even fed a few poor persons. And, seeing my daughter now, who was born after I had left India in 2012, is emotionally overwhelming," he said.
Rehman and Ahmed cannot stop thanking the Indian government and praised the efforts made by it to safely bring Indians back to their homeland. But having lived under the shadow of death, they said it will take time for those painful memories to be erased from their minds.