Sister of Honoka‘a community organizer stuck in Gaza amid conflict between Israel, Gaza Strip
Honoka‘a community organizer Miles Okumura is learning that promoting peace is more than just a lofty aspiration. After 15 years of work with the Peace Committee at Honoka‘a Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, Okumura has learned how peace can be a personal crisis.
His sister Ramona Okumura is in Gaza amid the most recent conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and she’s unable to leave without a ceasefire.
Ramona Okumura is a retired prothesis expert who now lives in Seattle. She frequently travels to Gaza, volunteering to help children who lost their limbs because of violence between Israel and Palestine. She has also trained medical staff there to provide artificial limbs using the most basic materials as the decades-long blockade makes it almost impossible to secure modern equipment and services.
The former Honoka‘a resident is staying in a small hotel, where she and another physician, Dr. Barbara Preston Zind, are the only guests remaining. The two of them are seen smiling in a recent photo, even though the hotel restaurant behind them is devoid of other guests.
Presently, they are waiting for visas which will allow them to cross the southern border into Egypt. Regardless, they are not going to make the 20-mile drive until there is assurance of a meaningful ceasefire.
In the meantime, they are concerned about the increasing bombardment which surrounds them night and day. During a recent interview with CNN, missile strikes interrupted Zind while on camera.
“Ramona says she feels relatively safe where they are staying because the Israelis and Hamas know that their hotel has historically housed Western medical staff, and they are only a couple of blocks away from a major hospital,” said Miles Okumura. “But there have been strikes on United Nations schools, which are sheltering refugees, and I am afraid that of the thousands of missiles and artillery shells, she is only one errant strike away from tragedy.”
Her nieces and nephews in Hawai‘i and on the mainland are working diligently to try and help Ramona Okumura by contacting the United Nations evacuation staff and connecting them with her. They are also using social media channels and personal appeals to share her plight and ask for assistance.
“Ramona’s birthday is today,” Miles said Wednesday. “We know her biggest wish is to be able to go home, so our ‘ohana is asking everyone to please contact your government representatives and ask them to lobby for a ceasefire. Encourage them to find a diplomatic solution to the cycle of oppression and violence.”