When Mohamed Shamiya, a 39-year-old Palestinian physician living in Las Vegas, woke up to news that his childhood best friend had been killed in an overnight airstrike in Gaza this week, he began crying uncontrollably and canceled all of his appointments for the day.
Like scores of other Palestinians scattered around the world, Shamiya has spent the last few weeks in a constant state of stress and turmoil, fearing for the lives of the friends and relatives he had grown up with in Gaza. The death of his former schoolmate and neighbor, Abdulrahman Abuamara—who was killed while sheltering with four family members in the pizzeria he owned—hit him hard.
“He’s the most pleasant person I have ever met,” Shamiya told The Daily Beast. “He’s very polite. He’s very calm. Very smart. He used to be one of the top students in our school.”
Abuamara, also 39, died Tuesday buried underneath the rubble of Italiano, a popular restaurant he opened in Gaza nine years ago. The apparent airstrike also killed his mother, father, and two brothers.
The family’s tragedy comes after a month of Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza, which has killed roughly 11,000 Palestinians, according to healthy ministry reports. The war began on Oct. 7, after Hamas launched a brutal attack on Israel, killing some 1,400 people and taking more than 200 men, women, and children hostage.
In local television interviews, Abuamara, the restaurant owner, spoke about why he opened Italiano despite his master’s degree in engineering from a university in Europe. After earning his degree in 2014, he returned to Gaza, but struggled to find a job. So he decided to put his experience working part-time under an Italian chef in Spain to good use.
“I had to find my own way to success. I had learned how to make Italian pizza, and I came back to Gaza and realized that there wasn’t authentic Italian pizza here,” he said, adding that although the blockade on Gaza presented some hurdles, “The reviews are great, and the customers keep coming back.”
“It’s not wrong to bring a new idea back here and to share another culture… I encourage young people to follow in our footsteps. If you can’t find existing work, try to innovate,” he said. “I feel proud. I feel like my ambitions are big, but that I have the resources to make it happen.”
The restaurant, as it turned out, was a big success—so much so that in 2019, they reopened in a new location, taking up a modern building with three floors. Abuamara’s brothers, Saleh and Abdullah, also got involved with the restaurant, which became a favorite among restaurant-goers in Gaza over the years.
Disaster struck Italiano on Nov. 7, with witnesses—neighbors of the restaurant—describing “a massive explosion” in the dead of night in interviews from the site with an Al-Jazeera camera crew.
“I still don’t know how I’m still alive. What happened was horrifying. And incredibly tragic,” one neighbor said of the explosion that flattened Italiano. “I found myself laying on the ground holding my two girls and my wife. Everything was upside-down. The carpet that was on the floor was on the ceiling. How? I don’t know. This was a civilian restaurant that belonged to brothers.”
Another witness who had helped with the rescue effort told Al-Jazeera that initially, “he had no idea where the blast came from” before stepping outside and realizing the restaurant had been destroyed.
“We knew it was full—full of people we know to be civilians, who are not involved in any organizations. We heard the voices of little kids, including a woman who was nine months pregnant,” he said, referring to the brothers’ children and Abuamara’s wife, who had survived the blast. “Eventually, we realized five people had been martyred.”
“The kids started saying their family members were on the other side, but after the blast, we couldn’t get to them because there were still airstrikes. We had to wait to get them in the morning. Because it was really dangerous.”
Video footage showed what was once a buzzy pizzeria reduced entirely to rubble. Although it was located in Gaza City, in the northern region of the enclave, where civilians have been ordered to evacuate by Israeli authorities—Shamiya said his friend believed that “no place is safe.”
“The last time I talked to him was two weeks ago during the war. And I mean, he was doing alright,” he said. “Like many people in Gaza, he didn’t see a point to evacuate… he just hoped to be safe.”
Tributes for the family have been rolling in ever since the tragedy, including from Abuamara’s sister, who was living abroad when the war broke out.
“Abdulrahman, my buddy, the youngest brother yet the one who makes our most important decisions. I will miss our conversations after midnight. You still had ideas and plans for the restaurant that you haven’t achieved yet. God knows how tired you and the other brothers were with the restaurant, preparing it and growing it. Oh, my darlings…” she wrote in a public Facebook post.
In a separate public tribute shared on social media, another close friend spoke of Abuamara ’s brother, Abdullah.
“What you all don’t know about Abdullah: his secret good deed. Whoever would enter the restaurant when he was there and couldn’t pay, got served anyway.”
In his own farewell to his friend, Shamaliyah wrote: “I swear to God, I have not seen anything but goodness, love, and charity from you,” he said, speaking of Abuamara.
“You were my best friend and companion. No words to express this wonderful friend and pal since childhood. Our last meeting and farewell was a year ago, but we will meet again in heaven, my friend.”