Boy wounded in Gaza finds caring community in Ohio

Abood tells Hanadi Mujahed how to say “water cooler” in English after mocking her Arabic. Hanadi taught the 11-year-old when he attended school at the Yunus Emre Muslim Community Center in Youngstown. The two shared a close relationship.

Editor’s note: This story captures moments of Abood’s life in America and will include breaks between specific events.

Snow, as every child who grew up with it knows, has to be of the right consistency to pack. It has to be wet enough to stick together, deep enough to form a ball. Otherwise, it falls apart, loose and soft.

It was the morning of the first November snowfall in Avon, Ohio. It fell overnight, dry and cold, and when 11-year-old Abdelrahman Nofal rushed outside, he brushed his bare hands against the thin layer of snow that coated the deck. He tried to push it together to make his first snowball.

He did not grow up with snow in Gaza.

He would return home to the place he was born that morning — the place where he dreamt of becoming a soccer player.

The place where he lost his leg.


In April, Abdelrahman, whose nickname is Abood, was playing soccer near the border fence between Gaza and Israel. He and his friends had gone to see the weekly protests called the Great March of Return. As they played, the ball got away and rolled toward the fence.

Abood chased after it.

He said he turned and, his legs carried him back to his friends, ball in hand. The next moment, his left leg was a mangled mess of blood and flesh.

An Israeli soldier’s bullet had tore through it, leaving a gaping wound.

Treatment in Gaza was not an option; the wound was too severe. Treatment in the West Bank wasn’t an option, either; since Abood was at the protest, Israeli authorities labeled him a terrorist. And terrorists are not allowed into the West Bank for treatment.

A request for special circumstances was submitted, but it was turned down. Upon appeal, the authorities granted permission two days later for Abood to receive treatment in the West Bank.

But it was too late — doctors were forced to amputate his leg.

Abood’s father told the Los Angeles Times, “If he went very early to the hospital, maybe they could have saved the leg.”

But they couldn’t save it and Abood’s family couldn’t afford a prosthesis.


In late August, Abood arrived in the U.S. to receive a prosthetic leg from Yanke Bionics. With care coordinated by The Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), an organization that provides medical and humanitarian relief to Arab children in the Middle East, Abood would receive his prosthesis for free.

Initially, he stayed with PCRF’s founder, Steve Sosebee, in Kent. When Steve returned to the Middle East, Aboud moved in with Yousef Mousa — a member of the Kent State chapter of PCRF who graduated in 2018 — and his family.


Abood and Sama Mousa stared at their intertwined hands, the tension apparent. Both wore looks of intense focus, bracing themselves against the table.

Suddenly, with apparent ease, Sama forced the back of Abood’s hand to the table, looking up from their intertwined grasp to see on his face a mixture of embarrassment, frustration and laughter, while hers was radiant in victory.

Refusing to admit he had lost the arm-wrestling match, Abood demanded a third attempt.

“He always does this. He never admits he loses,” Sama said, laughing as she reveled in her string of victories over the boy who was roughly the same age as her.

Behind her, Yousef, her older brother, laughed as he filmed the match on Snapchat.

“He’s like my little brother,” Yousef, 21, said when describing his relationship with Abood. Yousef was regularly responsible for a confident, energetic and often ornery Abood.

That responsibility and the way Abood leaned on Yousef to navigate life in an unknown country formed a close relationship between the two.

Yousef’s friends would joke that Abood was his son.


Yousef recalled the two walking to the car after buying a toy at the mall when a plane roared overhead. Abood reflexively ducked, cowering in fear.

Yousef asked him what was wrong.

The 11-year-old thought the plane was about to conduct an airstrike on the mall.


The Great March of Return protests — where Abood lost his leg — began March 30, decrying the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip.

As of Nov. 20, more than 170 people have been killed by Israeli forces at the protests, according to The New York Times. Roughly 6,000 others have been shot with live bullets by Israeli forces, many, like Abood, in the leg.

In the same time period, one Israeli soldier was killed and six others were wounded.

A spokesperson for the Israeli military told The New York Times they are confronting “violent attacks along our security fence.”


“He told me he thought, ‘I wish I could have just died then,’” said Hanadi Mujahed, recounting what Abood shared with her about how he felt when his leg was amputated. Handai was Abood’s teacher at the Yunus Emre Muslim Community Center in Youngstown, Ohio, where he attended school.

She often talked to him about his life in Gaza during the time they spent together.

“He didn’t even know his leg was going to be cut off,” Hanadi said. “His mom told me he thought he was just going to go to sleep so they could stitch him again, and when he woke up, his leg was gone.”

Before Abood was able to move well on his prosthetic leg, he told Hanadi he just wanted to go home, fight for his country and die in the war.

But as time went on, his outlook changed. Proud of what he could do with the prosthesis, he no longer felt limited.

He could run and jump. He could play soccer.

The prosthesis shaped his new dream: to someday return to the U.S. and bring his family with him.


Outside Yanke Bionics in Canton, Ohio, Abood pulled back and swung his right arm, slapping Yousef’s palm as hard as he could. Both recoiled upon impact, shaking their stinging hands, laughing in the parking lot.

Minutes earlier, Abood had left one of his last prosthesis appointments. The technicians working on his leg asked Abood questions about the fit and feel of the prosthesis as Yousef translated into Arabic. They watched as Abood demonstrated his growing ability to walk and run, nodding in approval, making notes about minor adjustments.

Initially set to return home by himself, Abood’s trip was delayed. Instead, he would return home with another family. That way he wouldn’t have to make the long trip and pass through border checkpoints alone.


Abood rubbed his eyes as he withdrew from Noor Bahhur’s embrace. She became like a sister to him during the final few weeks of his time in the U.S., when he lived with the Bahhur family.

Wiping tears away, he followed her father, Khalid, out the door, through the garage and into the large, white SUV that would carry them to the airport.

“There were no awkward moments, no introductory period,” Noor said. “For a boy who’s 11, who lost his leg, he never had a dull moment. I’ve never seen him without a smile — even though he’s thousands of miles away from his family.”


He wore a red and white wristband as he weighed himself on the baggage scale at the airport. On the wristband, his name, flight number and destination were written — a safety measure in case Abood got lost during his layover because he didn’t speak English.

“The best thing about him coming here was that he learned how to be a kid,” Khalid said as he watched Abood play on the scale. “He came here as an adult.”

At the gate, Khalid gave Abood his documents and passport, reviewing what to do with each. He would meet up with another family returning to Palestine during his layover in New Jersey, and from there, he would return to Gaza.

The two hugged at the gate and said their goodbyes. Tired and unsure, Abood bent down to pick up his crutches.

With the empty jet bridge in front of him, he stopped and took a short glance out the window, watching the tiny snowflakes fall. An airport employee took one of his bags and opened the glass door for him.

Abood pulled his eyes away, tucked the worn crutches under his arm and stepped onto the jet ramp.

A few steps from the plane entrance, he paused and quietly looked back one last time.

Then he stepped out of sight.