Gaza-born Osama Abu El Hosna has become a hero in Austria, his adopted home.
On 2 November, Osama witnessed an attack that caused huge shock in Vienna and beyond. Four people were shot dead by a gunman – reportedly an Islamic State sympathizer – who was himself killed by police.
Osama, 23, was just five meters away from one police officer who was wounded by the gunman. When he saw the officer on the ground, Osama ran over and dragged him beyond a concrete barrier so that he was no longer in the line of fire.
Osama removed his own shirt, using it to stanch the officer’s bleeding. Helped by two Turkish men, he then managed to bring the officer to an ambulance.
Osama’s quick response saved the officer’s life.
Although other officers tried to dissuade him, Osama insisted on remaining with the injured officer as the ambulance sped toward a hospital.
Osama – who works in a McDonald’s restaurant in Vienna’s Schwedenplatz area – believes that his childhood gave him the strength he needed that night.
“Gaza made us men,” he said. “I was not afraid when I was in the middle of the shooting and the danger [in Vienna]. We have lived through worse dangers than that.”
Osama was only 3 years old when the second intifada erupted in 2000. He grew up in Jabaliya, near Gaza City.
As a young boy, he often saw Israel’s military raiding the area.
He was still a child when Israel undertook a massive offensive against Gaza – codenamed Operation Cast Lead – in late 2008 and early 2009.
“It was terrifying,” he said. “I was in elementary school – in sixth grade – and I was going home from school [when the attack began]. I remember there were mothers outside their houses crying and looking for their children. When I got home, my mother took me in her arms. She would hug us every night because my brothers and I were so afraid. Every moment I felt that we were all going to die.”
Osama’s father, Khalid, left Gaza for Austria in 2010.
Osama remained in Gaza, living through another major Israeli attack in November 2012.
Without his father, “I felt insecure and very afraid,” Osama said. “I saw on TV how there were children whose parents had been killed. I felt a little relieved to know my father was alive and safe in Austria.”
In 2013, Osama, his mother and his three brothers emigrated to Austria, traveling there via Egypt.
Once he made it to Austria, Osama was reunited with his father.
But adapting to life in Vienna was not easy.
He had to endure a hostile political climate. Austria’s governments in recent years have included right-wing and far-right parties that have fought election campaigns on anti-refugee tickets and tightened immigration laws after coming to power.
On many occasions, Osama has received abuse – including from colleagues in a firm for which he worked – for having the same first name as Osama bin Laden.
Osama does not yet have Austrian citizenship. Fulfilling the criteria for citizenship is difficult.
Requirements include proficiency in German and providing proof of holding a steady job.
“I have felt a bit of stress,” Osama said. “But Austria is my country too. If you don’t like somewhere, you get out of it. I live here and I am doing my best to present a positive picture of Arabs and Muslims.”
Osama was awarded the Golden Police Medal for his role in rescuing the officer.
Khalid, his father, argues that Osama’s heroic deed has helped improve Austrians’ perception of refugees.
“The picture has changed so much,” said Khalid, 44. “The image of refugees is better. People realize that in seeking asylum and safety we are trying to preserve our humanity.”
Ola Mousa is an artist and writer from Gaza.