Hawai‘i woman trapped in Gaza one step closer to coming home
November 1, 2023, 9:34 PM HST
* Updated November 2, 10:16 AM
Big Island brothers Miles and Glenn Okumura received the text message they’d anxiously been waiting for Wednesday morning.
It read in all capitalized letters: “ACROSS PALESTINE BORDER ON SHUTTLE TO EGYPTIAN BORDER.”
Their 71-year-old sister, Ramona, sent the message, after being trapped in Gaza, a Palestinian territory only 141 square miles in size, since the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.
She was one of only a few hundred individuals finally allowed to leave Gaza today after weeks of war, and only one of five American aid workers who crossed into Egypt to escape the area’s continued bombing while victims’ resources, such as food and water, are depleting.
Glenn Okumura, who lives in Pāhala, said his response to the message was a mix of caution and relief.
“When her ʻōkole hits the couch in her house, that’s when I’ll be very, very happy,” he said.
Miles Okumura, who lives in Honoka‘a, said when he received the text message he was “excited and overjoyed.”
“I was just really relieved. I knew we were working towards this day and was so excited when I saw her say they were on the move,” he said.
The two Okumura brothers, along with their other family members, have spent the past month speaking to news outlets and raising awareness about the ongoing conflict to help bring Ramona, and the over a million others who are suffering, many of whom are children, back to safety.
The latest reports, citing information from the Gaza Ministry of Health, say the number of people killed in Gaza since Oct. 7 has risen to 5,087. Previous reports from Big Island Now stated 1,400 Israelis and 5,700 Palestinians had been killed in the attack.
Ramona Okumura was in Gaza for a little more than a week when the deadly attack occurred. She is a retired prosthetics expert living in Seattle, Washing., and has been traveling frequently to Gaza since 2018 as part of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.
For the past five years, she has been using her mechanical and technical skills to teach locals in these war-zone areas how to create prosthetics for children who have lost limbs in the longtime violence of the region.
Along with the text message confirming his sister was one step closer to being home, Glenn Okumura said his family also received screenshots of her walking toward safety that were featured on a social media video.
“It was really a sigh of relief to actually see her in the short clips of her walking across,” he said.
Now, he’s hoping she can make it to a plane and back home soon.
“I’m very happy that it’s gone this far. Things are up in the air right now. We’re just waiting,” he said.
He also said that waiting is the hardest part.
“These are the kind of incidents where it happens to other people, or maybe you know somebody that it’s happened to but you don’t think it would happen to you,” he said.
He recalled a similar feeling when their uncle went fishing in Nāʻālehu and never came back.
“It really shakes you up,” he said.
Now he hopes his sister is in the final hours of her long journey home, and that eventually she will come to Pahala to visit, rest and reboot.
“She used to come to Hawai’i at least twice a year for quite a while,” he said. “She’d come to Pahala and come over and hide out for a couple weeks or more.”
Miles Okumura said they hadn’t heard from her as of 9 p.m. Wednesday, but expect her to be OK.
“I’m waiting to hear from here now,” he said. “I’m hoping for the best here.”
The last text the family received from Ramona Okumura was on Wednesday on her way to Cairo.
It read: “Luv to everyone who helped get me out. Pray for the people of Gaza who now don’t have us as shields from harm.”