We speak with two Palestinians in Gaza City about Israel’s devastating bombing campaign while blocking all food, water and fuel from entering the besieged territory. The U.N. reports that all of Gaza’s 13 hospitals are only partially operational due to a lack of fuel and medical supplies as the International Red Cross warns “hospitals are going to be turned into graveyards.” The territory’s only power plant has stopped operating due to a lack of fuel, yet Israeli authorities are vowing to continue the siege of Gaza until Hamas releases the over 100 hostages it seized during its unprecedented attack on Saturday. Yousef Hammash, working with the Norwegian Refugee Council, says humanitarian workers “cannot secure ourselves to start to deliver assistance for the others” and warns locals barely have time to think about political responses as resources run out. “Within days, we will have nothing in Gaza.” While U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha asks, “Why don’t they come here and listen to us?” He adds that “Gaza has been the largest open-air prison in the world,” but with the closure of the passage between Gaza and Egypt, “now it has become a prison cell with no window.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The International Red Cross has issued a dire warning about the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, saying, quote, “Hospitals are going to be turned into graveyards.” Israel is continuing its devastating bombing campaign while blocking all food, water and fuel from entering the besieged territory. An Israeli ground invasion appears imminent. Gaza’s only power plant has stopped operating due to a lack of fuel. According to the United Nations, all of Gaza’s 13 hospitals are only partially operational due to a lack of fuel and medical supplies.
Gaza’s Ministry of Health says at least 1,350 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began bombarding the territory after Saturday’s surprise attack by Hamas. Meanwhile, the death toll in Israel has topped 1,300, including at least 200 Israeli soldiers. According to authorities in Gaza, Israeli attacks have killed at least 326 Palestinian children. The dead also include at least seven Palestinian journalists, 11 staffers at the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency and four medics. Earlier today, an Israeli strike killed 18 Palestinians in the Nuseirat refugee camp.
Many children are now seeking refuge in the courtyard at al-Shifa Hospital, which is considered to be one of the only safe places in Gaza. Remas Abu Tabeekh is an 11-year-old Palestinian girl.
REMAS ABU TABEEKH: [translated] I have spent my 11 years in fear and anxiety. We left our home and stayed in the streets. There are planes. It’s all scary. They are bombing us. Even while we’re here, they are bombing us, and we’re scared.
MOHAMED HALAS: [translated] As a 15-year-old child, I’m displaced from my home and came here to al-Shifa Hospital. We’re sleeping in the hospital with nonstop bombing above us. I hope that the world will have mercy on us.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Mohamed Halas, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, speaking in the courtyard of the al-Shifa Hospital. Other Palestinians seeking refuge at the hospital called for the international community to help stop Israel’s bombardment.
TAYSEER HALAS: [translated] They slaughtered our children and destroyed our houses over our heads. And here we are, in the streets and hospitals. They’ve demolished all the houses on us and on the children and toddlers and women. And here we are, scattered. Let the world come and see how it is packed here. Dead bodies are stacked over each other, children and toddlers. No country is able to control Israel. Where is the United States? Where is the rest of the world? Let them say something. You don’t see how affected we are. We are homeless. We’re destroyed. It’s been five days with no food and water, and we don’t know where to go. Children are everywhere here and homeless. This is not right. Let the world support us. We are restless. We are poor people, the Palestinian people.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Israeli authorities are vowing to continue the siege of Gaza until Hamas releases the 150 or so hostages it seized during Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Saturday This is Yifat Zailer, an Israeli woman who fears six of her relatives, including a 9-month-old baby, were taken hostage.
YIFAT ZAILER: It all started Saturday morning, five days ago. Around 9:00 in the morning, we lost connection with my family that lives down south in kibbutz Nir Oz. … When the military finally entered the kibbutz and went through the houses to look for survivors, they didn’t find my aunt and uncle in their apartment, and they are considered missing, as well. So, this is the situation. Six members of my family right now are being held in Gaza. … Time is rushing. There’s a 9-months baby and a 3-year-old child, and my aunt has Parkinson’s disease. I want them back. We all want our family back.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Gaza, where we’re joined by two guests. Mosab Abu Toha is a Palestinian poet and author, columnist, teacher, founder of the Edward Said Library in Gaza. His recent piece for The Washington Post is headlined “In Gaza, no one can believe their eyes.” He’s the author of the award-winning book, Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza. And we’re joined by Yousef Hammash, an advocacy officer in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council, lives in the Gaza Strip with his wife and two kids. He recently posted his video showing the destruction of Gaza.
YOUSEF HAMMASH: This is where people in Gaza used to flee from the northern and eastern part seeking safety. This is Gaza City, the center of Gaza City, where people used to consider it safety. This is just to prove that there is no place safe in Gaza. Destruction is everywhere. Where the people can go? Where we should go?
AMY GOODMAN: That was Yousef Hammash, advocacy officer in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Yousef, let’s begin with you. Describe the situation. What does a total siege of Gaza mean right now? From the hospitals to the schoolyards where people are taking refuge, describe it for us.
YOUSEF HAMMASH: So, the siege, in general, is nothing new for Palestinians who lives in Gaza. We are under the siege for more than 17 years. Then add to that the cycles of violence, the nonending cycles of violence.
Especially this war, we cannot compare it with whatever we witnessed before, the massive bombardment that we see, destruction everywhere. If you want to cross from a place to another place, it’s like a maze now. We couldn’t recognize the areas when we move from a place to another place. Thousands of people are getting killed.
Almost one-third of the population had fled their houses, seeking shelter at UNRWA school, which is now over — it got overrun. It’s above their capacity. Now people are lucky to have some relatives live in some areas considered safe, but, I’m really sorry, I don’t think there is a safe place in Gaza. But sometimes people go in from a place when it’s getting bombardment, especially from the north and eastern part of Gaza, seeking more safety in the center of Gaza City.
The situation is unacceptable. You cannot imagine. Again, what we have seen in Gaza, in the streets, in the daily, people under this war, we never imagined it before. This is something — a new level of devastating war in Gaza.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yousef, could you describe, given that devastation and the number of people who have been injured and displaced, what is the condition of the medical facilities in Gaza? The Health Ministry has warned that the healthcare system has truly begun to collapse.
YOUSEF HAMMASH: So, the medical sector, in general, already had an issue because it hadn’t been upgraded since more than 17 years because of the siege and the blockade on Gaza. Now with the lack of electricity and the number of people who get injured, thousands of people injured, they are above the capacity of the hospitals. I was in Shifa Hospital, and I saw how they were treating, trying to provide medical treatment for injured people in the corridors in the hospital and the garden in front of the hospital, while it hosts also — people are also seeking shelter inside Shifa Hospital. Now with lacking electricity, this is affecting everything. This is — the entire process of the medical system is affected, while it’s already collapsing before. It’s a horrible situation. This is really horror. What we are seeing in Gaza now is really horror.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what have you heard from Hamas about releasing the hostages or taking any steps to change the situation?
YOUSEF HAMMASH: Unfortunately, until now, we didn’t see anything on the horizon, either from the local or the de facto or even from outside. We don’t see a real intervention from outside or inside. No one is, as Gazans — I’m a Gazan. I am a refugee from Jabaliya camp. I don’t have enough space in my head to think about the political situation and what they are doing now. All what we are thinking, trying to provide safety and shelter for our own children. We cannot provide our daily need without water, without electricity, no internet connection. To do this interview, I had to come from the northern part of Gaza, where I live, where I am hosted now because I had to flee my house, to Gaza City in a church to find internet just to have a space to deliver the message from Gaza. There is nothing in the horizon, either from inside or the outside, for a solution. And that’s what make us terrified. We cannot stay in this situation longer. With lack of everything in Gaza, within days we will have nothing in Gaza. Now we have no electricity, no water, no food. But then we will lack food and others.
AMY GOODMAN: Yousef Hammash, you have described the sound, the panic everywhere. Also, you are with the Norwegian Refugee Council, and you mentioned you came from the Jabaliya refugee camp, which was bombed. If you can describe, where was it bombed? How many casualties? And also, you’re with NRC. You have 52 staff members who live and work in Gaza. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, says a total of 12 of its workers have been killed. How can you all function?
YOUSEF HAMMASH: So, first of all, to come from Jabaliya to Gaza City to do this interview, it was literally a maze. Wherever, any street you go, and you will find destruction. Rubble is everywhere. You find people are trying to move from here and there. It’s a chaotic situation.
Regarding our work as humanitarians, even our staff, and, I believe, other partners in Gaza, we cannot secure ourselves to start to interfere. And our role as humanitarian organizations, the Norwegian Refugee Council, is to serve people who were forced displaced. Now we are trying to secure ourselves, which is rare. I don’t have an accurate number, but I think the majority of our staff had to flee their houses, along with a lot — most of our partners here in Gaza or the U.N. agencies. We cannot secure ourselves to interfere. This is one of the immediate things that we need, an access for us as humanitarians to deliver assistance for people who are really in dire need. Before this war, more than half of the population was already on humanitarian aid. We have one of the highest rates of unemployment rates on the planet. Add to that this cycle of violence, people who were displaced with nothing. We need to serve these people. We are trying to evaluate how to interfere remotely with our partners, but until now we cannot secure ourselves to start to deliver assistance for the others.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I’d like to bring in Mosab Abu Toha, who is also in Gaza, a Palestinian poet and author. He’s a columnist, teacher and founder of the Edward Said Library in Gaza. His recent piece for The Washington Post is headlined “In Gaza, no one can believe their eyes.” He is also the author of the award-winning book titled Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza. Mosab, welcome to Democracy Now! If you could describe the situation around you and speak specifically about the impact of what’s happening on children? You, yourself, have a 7-year-old daughter.
MOSAB ABU TOHA: Well, in fact, I have three kids. The youngest is three-and-a-half years old.
The situation hasn’t changed. It started, as everyone knows, six days ago. The bombing never stopped. What is different this time is that every hour you hear about the deaths of dozens of people. Just last night in a refugee camp, Al-Shati refugee camp, about 15 people were pulled from under the rubble of their houses, while they were sleeping inside, thinking that they were safe. I was born in that refugee camp. And now I live in Beit Lahia City, which is a city in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. And the bombing hasn’t stopped. I can see from my window plumes of smoke rising up in the sky, just covering every house that it crosses.
And the children, of course, are victims. I mean, everyone in Gaza is a victim of what’s happening and what has been happening in Palestine and in Gaza for so many years. But the children especially have been the main victims of these terroristic attacks, whether it’s the sound of the explosions, the lights of the explosions, the shaking of the houses, the scenes on Facebook of so many limbless and beheaded people who were pulled from under the rubble of their houses. Just today — I mean, last night, my son, who is 3 years old, was sleeping, and there was bad bombing in the area. And he woke up, and he said, “Who did that?” And he said, “Let it stop.” I mean, that was the first time he was asking me to do that, as if I was responsible for the bombing.
So, I have nothing to do as a father. I have nothing to do as a neighbor or as a son. We are helpless here. We have been helpless all our lives, while the United States, unfortunately, is always stepping in to support Israel. And instead of trying to understand why what is happening is happening and to change it and offer solutions, they are just adding more fuel to the fire.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you respond to President Biden? Antony Blinken just arrived in Tel Aviv and had a news — made a statement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who say that terrorism will not be accepted. You have people like the far-right minister Bezalel Smotrich, who said, “Palestinians have one of three options: only either to immigrate or accept a life of subjugation to Israelis, or die.” Can you respond to what has taken place and these statements?
MOSAB ABU TOHA: Well, this is not very shocking to me. In fact, if Mr. Blinken could visit Tel Aviv and stay with the Israelis there, I’m so sorry to say that the Palestinian president cannot come to Gaza and visit us, because Israel would deny him permit. So there is a big difference between the supporters of Israel, the powers that are supporting Israel, and whoever wants to support the Palestinians, whether in Gaza or in the West Bank. I mean, why don’t they come here and listen to us? I have never heard of any president coming to Gaza and talking to us as people, the way that they come to Israel. And they are not only talking to them. They are providing them with assets. They are providing them with weapons. And they are trying these weapons on us.
And we have no option. I mean, where do we immigrate? We have been — we were born on this land. My parents were born on this land. My grandparents were born on this land. My great-grandparents were born here. But if you ask anyone in Israel, most of them would tell you that their grandparents were born somewhere else. And even I only have a Palestinian passport, which is really not very helpful when I leave Gaza — if I could leave Gaza. I mean, I remember one time when I went to the United States for the first time in 2019, I gave my passport to the officer at the airport, and they said, “Oh, your passport is expired.” And they were reading the wrong date, because in Arabic the dates are written from right to left, opposed to the English way of writing the dates from left or right. I panicked, in fact. He couldn’t read. He couldn’t read that this is a Palestinian passport. This is from an Arab country. It’s different from Europe and the United States. So, where do we go? And Netanyahu, on the second day of the escalation, asked the Palestinians in Gaza to leave. He said, “Leave now.” But where do we leave, and why should we leave? We have nowhere else to go.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Mosab, earlier today, Palestinian officials said that Secretary of State Blinken will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday — that is to say, tomorrow. Could you respond to that and what you think might come out of that meeting?
MOSAB ABU TOHA: Well, unfortunately, President Mahmoud Abbas couldn’t help with the situation in Gaza. I mean, if you want to help the Palestinians, you should come to Gaza — I mean, not necessarily these days. You could come, send any officials to the Gaza Strip and listen to our desires, listen to our basic needs. I don’t want you just to say, “I’m going to meet President Mahmoud Abbas,” with all due respect. He is the president of the Palestinian Authority. I think they are just meeting him because they want to show the world that we are meeting with Netanyahu and we are meeting with the Palestinian president. But this is not about — this is not going to save our lives.
Meeting with Netanyahu, I know they are supporting him economically, politically, militarily. But if he is going to meet with President Mahmoud Abbas, what is he going to tell him? Is he going to support him, send food trucks, medicine trucks to the Gaza Strip? Israel did threaten the Egyptians that if they are going to send any trucks into the Gaza Strip, they were going to bomb the trucks. And they did bomb the Rafah border crossing area, which led to Egypt shutting down the border crossing. And I did say in one time that Gaza has been the largest open air-prison in the world. Now it has become, with the closure of the two border crossings, between Gaza and Rafah — Egypt, sorry, and Gaza and Israel, now it has become a prison cell with no window.
AMY GOODMAN: Yousef, we have less than a minute to go. If you can talk about what needs to happen right now? The government media office has just released a statement warning the delay in response to the relief appeal is turning the besieged enclave into a mass grave.
YOUSEF HAMMASH: To be done immediately, we need to stop all of this massacres happening around us. And we need a longer-term solution. We cannot keep finding ourselves in this cycle of violence. I can keep calculating for an hour what I witnessed from the escalations, 2012, 2008, 2014, 2021, and I can keep calculating even the small escalation between them. We need a longer-term solution. The international community and the world leaders should stand ahead their responsibilities, ensuring a longer-term solution for Palestinians who live in Gaza. It start by immediate stop for this war and then lifting the blockade and finding a longer-term solution for us. This is unacceptable. We cannot keep finding ourselves — they made us feel be useless in front of our children. I agree with my neighbors, but it’s — what we are going through is traumatizing us, and I really believe we need years to recover from what’s going on now. This has to stop immediately.
AMY GOODMAN: Yousef Hammash is advocacy officer in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council. Mosab Abu Toha is a Palestinian poet and author. We’ll link to his new piece in The Washington Post, “In Gaza, no one can believe their eyes.”
Coming up, we go to Tel Aviv to speak to a leading Israeli human rights attorney. Back in 30 seconds.