Photo that broke 1,000 hearts: A mother killed by Israel, a son’s farewell

Barely out of boyhood, Shehab has to contend with losing his mother, the linchpin of his life.

Rafah, Gaza Strip – Shehab, 19, stands looking uncertainly at the camera, as if unsure if it will hurt him or whether he wants to share his pain.

“My name is Shehab Omar Abu al-Hanud,” he begins. “My mother died. Her name is Ghada Youssef Ahmed Abu al-Hanud.”

He is very slim and barely out of boyhood, with sparse facial hair, uneven teeth, and a prominent Adam’s apple that he has yet to grow into. His gaze wavers as he delivers the line that is the reason for this interview.

Translation: The Last Farewell

A photo and video of Shehab clinging to the shrouded body of his mother on a hospital bed in Rafah, oblivious to the blood seeping through the shroud, last Monday had ricocheted around social media.

He spent more than an hour holding her tight, not responding to anyone, not stirring at all in his deep shock.

Thousands were moved by the sight of his loss and pain, titling it The Last Farewell. It was quickly rendered as a painting and video of his desperate embrace set to heartbreaking music.

Ahmed curled up, holding the shrouded bloodied body of his mother
The photo of Shehab Omar Abu al-Hanud unable to let go of his mother’s shrouded body broke hearts everywhere [Ahmed Abdullah Mohsen/Al Jazeera]


Shehab’s hair is well-cut and neat, as are his clothes – he was well taken care of by his mother, Ghada.

It is apparent that he is trying to be “grown-up” and control his emotions, but that effort starts to show right away as he begins to tell the story of losing his mother.

That he is very attached to her is just as apparent, even before he tells Al Jazeera what she means to him and the entire family.

“She was everything to me,” he said. “She was my mother and my sister and my friend. Life without her has no meaning.

Ramadan is coming … without my mother. Then Eid … without my mother. Nobody can feel what I’m going through.

“I have a right to have a mother … a right to live with my mother.”

Shehab Omar Abu al-Hanud stands with destruction behind him, holding back his tears
Shehab Omar Abu al-Hanud stood amid the destruction to speak to Al Jazeera about the death of his mother [Screengrab/Sanad/Al Jazeera]

Ghada, he said, was “an angel in human form” who was always there to help people who needed her, content to help them silently without demanding any credit.

That this angel was taken from them is still beyond Shehab’s comprehension, and it is small consolation for him to submit to God’s will and remind himself that God chooses the good.

His effort to hold back his tears falters as he speaks to Al Jazeera, his hazel eyes filling and clearing as he blinks them away.


Ghada was the only person killed in the building where 45 people were sheltering that night.

Until shortly before the attack, she had been staying with her parents in Tal as-Sultan, but she had come back to Rafah to be with her children and husband.

The four of them were asleep in one room, parents on the bed and Shehab and his younger brother on a mattress on the floor.

Shehab had not gone to sleep yet and was awake and scrolling through his phone when the first strike happened, landing behind the house to hit the mosque there.

Everyone got up, rushing out of the room. But his mother paused: she wanted to put on her isdal prayer robe to cover herself before she left the house.

Shehab walking around, looking downcast
Shehab Omar Abu al-Hanud is still in shock over what is now a ‘life without meaning’ after the death of his mother, Ghada Youssef Ahmed Abu al-Hanud [Screengrab/Sanad/Al Jazeera]

She did not even have enough time to pull the robe over her head before another strike hit and debris rained down on everyone.

It seemed like she had disappeared, and Shehab’s instant of hope that she had gotten out was quickly dashed and they found Ghada under a wardrobe that had fallen on top of her.

“We kept calling her name, begging her to talk to us but she wasn’t able to respond. She was very badly injured,” Shehab said.

His father lifted Ghada onto his shoulder to get her to the hospital, but they made sure to stop at the door to cover her with the robe as she had been trying to do.

The hospital was overflowing with injured people, but they were finally able to get a stretcher to take her to the tent where injured people were being treated.

A man reacts next to the bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes
A man reacts next to the bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes at Abu Yousef Al-Najjar hospital in Rafah on February 12, 2024 [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

There, the doctor in charge took one look at her and told them there was no hope and that she should be moved to the tent where deceased people’s bodies were. Ghada was still breathing, but the doctor had seemingly made the painful decision to save what resources the hospital had for someone more likely to survive.

The family fought back, protesting and pushing until the doctor relented, ordered her moved back to the treatment tent and put her on intravenous fluids and oxygen. She managed to stay alive a further 40 minutes, looking at her family as if she had lots of things she wished she could say.

Praying over her, holding her close and whispering in her ear, Shehab stayed with his mother until “she left, her soul went to God’s mercy”.


The Abu al-Hanuds used to live on Shuhada Street in Gaza City.

The fighting had pushed them to the Nuseirat refugee camp, then on to Rafah.

Initially, when they were in Nuseirat, they had hoped they could head back to Shuhada Street, but the situation remained terrifying and they heard that everyone was to keep moving south.

So, they headed to Rafah.

Shehab’s face twists when he recalls that they had been told that Rafah would be a safe area.

“They even hit the mosque, with no warning,” he says in his innocent anger.

Source: Al Jazeera