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“Beyond Our Imagination”: Journalist Describes Total Destruction, with Fellow Gazans Buried Alive

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We are joined in Cairo by Fadi Abu Shammalah, the head of Gaza’s General Union of Cultural Centers, who describes the inhumane conditions he was able to escape in Gaza. “Every city in the Gaza Strip is beyond our imagination,” says Abu Shammalah. He notes that in just the last 36 hours, at least 170 civilians were killed. “Witnesses say that the Israeli bulldozers buried the injured people in Kamal Adwan Hospital. They buried them while they are alive,” says Abu Shammalah. “They were still alive. They killed and they buried them.” He calls this a war on Palestinian civilians, meant to destroy as much of Gaza’s infrastructure as possible.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York, with Democracy Now!’s Juan González in Chicago.

As the humanitarian crisis in Gaza deepens, we turn now to Palestinians and Palestinian Americans who are trying to evacuate their family members to the United States. At least two Palestinian Americans have now filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration, saying its failure to help them violates their constitutional rights. This is Yasmen Elagha, who says she lost at least a hundred relatives in Gaza, including two American citizens.

YASMEEN ELAGHA: The only thing that I’m being told is that there is nothing further that the U.S. government can do, which I don’t believe all.

AMY GOODMAN: The lawsuit notes that after the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel, the U.S. government organized charter flights from Tel Aviv for Americans to leave Israel. So far, they say, the United States has not organized any flights to secure the exit of at least 900 U.S. citizens, residents and family members still in Gaza.

Al Jazeera reports more than a hundred staff members at the Department of Homeland Security signed an open letter to Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas denouncing the response to humanitarian crisis in Gaza so far, saying it should be, quote, “commensurate with past responses to humanitarian tragedies” and offer a humanitarian parole program to Palestinians like it did after conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine.

More than a hundred Democrats, led by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, have called on Biden to make Palestinians who are already in the U.S. eligible for temporary protected status, or TPS.

Today we’ll hear two stories, one a Palestinian American woman in Detroit whose mother died in Gaza. She was approved to evacuate but was still but waiting to get out. The daughter is desperately seeking the government’s help to evacuate the rest of her family. We’ll also be joined by her attorney, Sophia Akbar. But first, we go to Cairo, Egypt, with another one of Sophia’s clients, Fadi Abu Shammalah. He is Just Vision’s outreach associate in Gaza, executive director of Gaza’s General Union of Cultural Centers. We spoke to him last month, when he was still in Gaza, about his New York Times op-ed, “What More Must the Children of Gaza Suffer?” Well, he was able to leave Gaza and is joining us now as he works to be reunited with his wife and his three children, who are still in Gaza — Ali, Karam and Adam.

Fadi, welcome back to Democracy Now! In a moment, we’re going to talk about the legal case here. But if you can talk about what is happening in Gaza right now, what’s happening in Rafah, in Jabaliya? Talk about why you left Gaza and what you think needs to happen.

FADI ABU SHAMMALAH: Oh, thank you so much for having me for the second time. I wouldn’t do the — I wouldn’t do the same for me. But, yeah, again, thank you so much for having me in this interview.

I will start by telling the situation on the ground, not in Rafah city itself, like in every city in Gaza Strip, is beyond our imagination. Like, not all of the news really come out to us here. I’m talking with you from Cairo. And the situation on the ground itself, it’s more horrible than what you can see by your screens and TVs. I would say also a horrific number. Like, all I would say that 1.9 million of the Palestinian people are displaced, already displaced, their homes. They all, most of them, were pushed into the far south of Gaza Strip in a city called Rafah. In the last — sorry, in the last 36 hours only, 177 Palestinians, civilian Palestinians, were killed.

This war, I would call it the war against the civilian, the Palestinian civilian, in order only to kill. That’s it. This is the main goal. I would say that there’s two goals. The first one is to kill the civilians as much as they can, and the second goal is to destroy as much as they can. Gaza City itself is erased. You will be shocked when you — if you will send your cameras after, hopefully, this nightmare and this war will end. You will be shocked because of the numbers of the neighborhoods, that it’s completely, completely damaged.

The south — the north, sorry, the north of the Gaza Strip, no one knows about the north of Gaza Strip. Only there is two journalists, according to what I knew — according to what I know, that only there’s two journalists who are trying to cover the situation, the situation there. Like, they are killing people in tents. That’s what I hear also. Like, also, sorry, witnesses say that the Israeli bulldozers buried the injured people in Kamal Adwan Hospital. They buried them while they are alive. They were still alive. They killed and they buried them.

This is — we should find a word that can express more than the word of “genocide.” That’s what is going on there. Like, the medical situation is horrible. The humanitarian situation is horrible, the water itself, the food itself, the electricity, the number of the killed people, the number of the bombed homes over the head of its residents. At the end, no one knows when this war is going to end. But what I know for sure, that we were all devastated, that our all hearts is broken for the destruction —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Fadi, I wanted to ask you —

FADI ABU SHAMMALAH: — that’s happened, the cruel destruction that’s happening.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — about your decision to leave Gaza. And also, what is the situation with your wife and your three children? Could you talk about the obstacles of them not being able to get out? Fadi, could you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: Fadi, I’m going to put Juan’s question to you. For some reason, you’re not able to hear him. He’s talking about — he’s talking about your family and trying to get your family out. Can you describe —

FADI ABU SHAMMALAH: I don’t hear you, sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: I think the IFB has dropped, and we’re going to go back to you.

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