By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
Following Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, the U.S. government rushed to evacuate its citizens from Israel. Flights to Europe were chartered from Tel Aviv. A Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Rhapsody of the Seas, was chartered, taking 2,500 people from Haifa to Cyprus. U.S. citizens, green card holders, their family members and others in the Gaza Strip, though, weren’t so lucky. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in northern Gaza heeded the warning of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to flee to southern Gaza, only to learn that Israel was bombing there as well. No place is safe in Gaza for the 2.3 million Palestinians trapped there.
“My mother was an old lady who was living safely in her home. She was displaced many times. Every time…the Israeli forces are threatening to bomb the house,” Narmin AbushaBAN, a Palestinian American in Detroit, explained on the Democracy Now! news hour. “She was paralyzed. She was on medications. Due to the air forces threatening to displace them many times…Even when they were in the south, in Khan Younis, they were threatened in the middle of the night to leave their house. They had to displace her again, until they reached Rafah. There, her health was getting worse and worse. She didn’t have the right medication, due to the Israeli forces preventing medical supplies from getting into Gaza. So she had to switch to another medication that did not help her at all. And she passed away.”
Rather than a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Narmin Abushaban’s mother got a hole in the ground. Abushaban still has twenty family members trapped in Gaza, who she has been unable to reach.
“My clients’ family members need immediate evacuation from Gaza to reunite with their families and to escape near-certain death due to Israel’s brutal war on Palestine,” Narmin’s attorney, Sophia Akbar, said on Democracy Now! “We need the U.S. government to create immigration pathways for Palestinians to come to the U.S. to escape deadly and inhumane conditions.”
Journalist Fadi Abu Shammalah works as the Outreach Associate in Gaza for the Washington, DC-based non-profit Just Vision. He applied for a J-1 exchange visitor visa for a fellowship in the US. In November, Fadi was able to cross into Egypt from Gaza, but his wife and three children were prevented. What followed were weeks of hell, while they moved from camp to camp for displaced Palestinians in Gaza.
“On December 6, while I don’t have connection with my wife and my kids, I knew that from the news that Israel bombed the Shaboura refugee camp, exactly where my family evacuated,” Fadi said on Democracy Now! from Cairo. “For two hours and a half, I was waiting any sign that my family are alive. I had to go through the news of WhatsApp thread to look for my kids’ photo. I had to look into the photos of the killed children, because I knew that there’s 20 women and kids were killed in this bombing. I had to open the photos and zoom in to determine if one of these photos is one of my kids.”
Sophia Akbar sees disparities in the treatment of Palestinians and other asylum seekers:
“Under the Uniting for Ukraine program, all requirements of having connections to green card holders and U.S. citizens were waived. So, Ukraine, about — over 270,000 Ukrainians were allowed to come to the United States under this program. As advocates on the ground right now serving our clients who have families in Gaza, we cannot even get U.S. citizens out. Our advocates had to sue the Biden administration just to get U.S. citizens evacuated.”
In a note to Democracy Now!, Reverend Seth Kaper-Dale of Interfaith-RISE, a New Jersey refugee aid agency, wrote, “When a conflict arises in the world…we’ll be asked by the federal government to receive an influx of refugees. Kabul fell, hundreds came here to our agency. The war between Ukraine and Russia started, 800 Ukrainians entered our program. We’ve received 1500+ Haitians. The earthquake in Turkey, immediately we saw an influx of dozens of Syrian refugee families. So why no Palestinian refugees?”
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Congressmember Pramila Jayapal of Seattle were joined by 100 colleagues, urging President Biden to expand TPS, Temporary Protected Status, for Palestinians already in the US, to prevent their potential deportation back to the killing fields of Gaza, or to Israeli military and settler violence in the West Bank.
Israel has killed over 20,000 Palestinians in Gaza since October 7th, 8,000 of them children. This “indiscriminate bombing,” as President Biden called it, has to stop now. Biden has the power to end it, with a simple Christmas phone call to Netanyahu.