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“I Always Imagine Myself Being Blown Up”: Journalist in Rafah on Dire Situation as Invasion Looms

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We speak with journalist Akram al-Satarri, reporting from Rafah, the southernmost part of Gaza bordering Egypt, where more than a million Palestinians are now packed together following forced relocations from elsewhere in the territory. Israel is threatening to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, which Israel had previously designated as a safe zone. Al-Satarri describes how hunger, thirst and other pressures are impacting the displaced population as the death toll continues to rise from Israel’s assault. “Every single time I walk one step in Gaza, I always imagine myself being blown up,” he says. “The killing is massive. The killing is thorough. And I think no one in Gaza is protected, no safe haven.”

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The raid on Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis comes as fears are mounting that Israel will act on its plans to launch a ground invasion into Rafah, the southernmost part of Gaza that Israel had previously declared a safe zone.

Over half of Gaza’s population, some 1.4 million people, including over 600,00 children, are crammed into Rafah after being displaced from their homes and driven south during Israel’s brutal assault. There are now massive tent encampments pushing up to the Egyptian border.

International pressure is mounting for Israel to call off its ground invasion. The U.N.’s top humanitarian official, Martin Griffiths, said that an assault on Rafah, quote, “could lead to a slaughter.”

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Rafah, where we’re joined by journalist Akram al-Satari.

Akram, welcome back to Democracy Now! We have just heard these chilling reports from inside Nasser Hospital right before Israel occupied it and the bombing of it. You’ve sent out a picture of some of the ammunition used by the Israeli military. Explain what happened inside and also what’s happening around you in Rafah.

AKRAM AL-SATARRI: Well, the situation continues to be extremely dire in the vicinity and inside Nasser medical complex. The Israeli occupation forces have been targeting the vicinity of the area, including some of the UNRWA shelters not far away from the hospital. They are destroying and they were destroying the walls of the hospital, the exterior wall of the hospital. They targeted the wards of the hospital. They’re in wards of the hospital. They targeted the surgery department in the hospital and injured at least one surgeon while he was inside the surgery department.

They asked people to leave the hospital, and when they were leaving the hospital, they shot them dead. They asked one guy, whose hands were tied, and he was sent to the people inside the hospital, to the internally displaced people, asking them to leave the hospital. And then, when he ended up speaking to the people and returning to the Israelis, because he was fearful from death, he was killed, and he was left on the ground.

Around 80 bodies are laid right in front of the outer gate of the Nasser Hospital, up to some 200 meters away from the hospital. Fear, death and shock are enclaving and encircling the people in that area. The Israeli occupation forces continue their operation, continue targeting Nasser Hospital, continue to ask people to leave, and then when they are leaving, they snipe them. There are some disturbing images and footage of the people — of the bodies of the people being eaten and devoured by the dogs and by the stray cats. People who were just communicating with their relatives were describing the horrors, and they were also documenting those horrors.

Israel continues to target the hospitals. They target Nasser Hospital, and they are still targeting Al-Amal Hospital not far away from Nasser Hospital, around one, 1.5, two, 2.5 kilometers, in Al-Amal neighborhood. And they continue the very same policy, the policy of targeting the medical complexes, targeting the medical personnel, targeting the patients, targeting the escorts, and spreading the fear and destruction in that area. Some of the people who were inside Khan Younis were rushing, were pulling the beds of their dears, some of them in the orthopedic department that was targeted, some of them in the general surgery department. And they were carrying or pulling the beds for around five or six or seven kilometers to reach Rafah.

As you can see, now the Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital, where I am located now, has been receiving numbers of the people who were inside Nasser Hospital and Al-Amal Hospital. They received them. They are trying to expand the bed capacity of the hospital. They are trying to accommodate to the influx of people who are fleeing from Nasser Hospital, who are fleeing for their safety, who are fleeing for their life. And they end up staying in tents like those, where sanitation is at question, where the quality of the medical care provision is at question, too, where the large number of people who are already staying inside the hospital prevent them from absorbing or accommodating any other additional number of people injured. The health system at large has been struggling.

The infrastructure of the whole city of Rafah cannot absorb or accommodate the large number of Palestinians inside Rafah. Around 1.2 million Palestinians were staying in Rafah. Now tens of thousands of them are leaving Rafah and heading towards Khan Younis and towards Gaza’s central area, with doubts of the continuous and with fear of the looming ground invasion that is likely to be a replication of everything that was done in Gaza in the north and everything that was done in Khan Younis.

People were hopeful that the ICJ, International Court of Justice, would bring them justice or would at least make Israel reconsider its tactics when it comes to protected objects, human objects, and health facilities, also journalists. But it looks like Israel is continuing the very same approach. It’s continuing the very same way of targeting. We were hopeful, as journalists, that Israel wouldn’t be targeting Nasser Hospital or Al-Amal Hospital. But, unfortunately, the targeting is still continuous.

And a large number of people, tens of thousands of people, who were stuck in Khan Younis, are now being targeted, either by the artillery fire or by the quadcopters or by the F-16 or by all the other means, and they are being killed, and they are being left — even the ones who are injured are being left to die on the ground. People were describing the atrocities they have been seeing. People have been crying over their dears, who were screaming for help, but they couldn’t help them. People are now crying over their dears who are still waiting in Khan Younis and cannot be reached, cannot be rescued, cannot be saved, and they are likely to lose their life, like many others who lost their life the very same way.

As to Rafah, Rafah is the place now for around, as I said, 1.2 million Palestinians. The area is underserved, no good infrastructure, no organized camping, no organized tents, no organized service of provision. And the pressure resulting from this massive number of people is overburdening the municipalities, is overburdening the civil defense, is overburdening the Ministry of Health and is overburdening the international organizations. The concern has been voiced by the UNRWA, by the World Food Programme, by the UNICEF, by the United Nations Development Programme. And they are all warning that any ground offensive targeting Rafah is going to result in a catastrophe, a catastrophe that is bigger and much, much more bigger than the one that took place in Gaza in the north and the one that is taking place right now in Khan Younis.

People in Gaza believe that no single international power is able now to bring an end to the ongoing misery that has been caused by the ongoing occupation and the indiscriminate — this indiscriminate targeting, as described by some of the Palestinians. Some of them are already on the beds recovering. Some of them are struggling for their life. And some of them are deprived from the very basic humanitarian need to food and water. Water is missing in Gaza. Food is missing in Gaza. And people have been struggling, not for their own food need, but, rather, for their children’s food need, for the elderly people’s food need. So, the situation is dire. And it continues to aggravate into something that is extremely life-threatening, that needs an imminent — that needs an imminent intervention for the sake of stopping any atrocities that are likely to happen and stopping the atrocities that are taking place now.

And I’m quoting many of the Gazans that I spoke to, many of the ones who are worried about their dears, many of the ones who are worried also about their own safety, many of the ones who are worried about the future and what it holds for them. They think it is about time that something happens. They think they have suffered enough. They think they have died enough. They think they have been hungry enough. They think they have been thirsty enough. They think they have been homeless enough. And this is the outcry not only of the 1.2 million Gazans who are staying in Rafah, but also of [inaudible] million Gazans who are in Gaza in the north, who are in [inaudible] in Khan Younis, and who are in Rafah. People have been deprived from the access to very basic, essential food supplies and water supplies. They have been struggling. They have been facing famine. They have been seeing children who are dying from the hunger. And this is an outcry from them to the whole world that this needs to stop. And the madness that is taking place in Gaza — and I’m again quoting the people who are talking to me — the madness needs to come to an end.

As I’m talking to you, the unmanned drones are hovering all around the Gaza Strip, day and night, continuous bombardment in different parts of Rafah, in different parts of Gaza Strip at large, and they continue to take the lives and hopes of the Palestinians. Palestinians who are living in Rafah and who are living in Gaza alike have been exhausting all the negative and positive coping mechanisms. The number of people who are injured is unconceivable. The number of people killed, and the way they are being killed, is also unconceivable. And people continue to suffer. And they expect that more suffering is coming, if the international community fails once again to protect them.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Akram al-Satarri, if you could — you, yourself, right now are standing outside a hospital. We can hear possibly a drone overhead. If you could describe the situation there? And you mentioned how people, Palestinians, there are lacking even the most basic essentials — food, water. Tell us what humanitarian aid is getting in, if any.

AKRAM AL-SATARRI: Well, I can describe the situation. I will have to describe the way I’m feeling about things and how things are unfolding. Every single time I walk one step in Gaza, I always imagine myself being blown up by an unmanned drone or by F-16 missile or by a quadcopter or by whatever weapon that is used by Israel. Every time I’m walking and every single home I pass by, I feel that this home might be targeted, and I might be ending up dying and killed under the rubble of that house, every single place I stay. I moved from my home six times. So I am homeless and displaced six times now. And I’m waiting what would happen in Rafah.

People in Rafah, as I told you, people are deprived from everything, even the very basic, essential things, the very essential things that are needed to lead a normal life or a seminormal life or a life of internally displaced people. Even the internally displaced people in Gaza are unique and different than any other internally displaced people all over the world. All over the world, people are receiving and accessing food and water supplies, according to the Sphere book. The Sphere book is a book that has been developed for the sake of just identifying the quantities that are needed and the calories that are needed for the people to stay alive at a time of famine or at a time of conflict, man-made or natural disaster. So, people are not even accessing that very limited — the threshold of food that is needed for the people in Gaza is not met, because the U.N. agencies that have been helping the Gazans are now tarnished, are now assaulted, are now attacked, and now the funding that is going to them is suspended.

So, people in Rafah and other areas have to do what they — what would they have to do to survive? Some of the people in the Gaza in the north had to do to use to food — to feed, of the animals, to ground it, the corn, to ground it, to make sure that they can bake some bread for their families. They don’t have rice. They don’t have water. They don’t have canned food. They don’t have anything.

And they have been calling for the world to stop that. And they have been even — the very emotional thing about that is that everything that is happening, including the most and profoundly shocking things, are happening live on air. People are just documenting their death. People are documenting their suffering. People are documenting their hunger. People are documenting their thirst. People are documenting their injury. People even documenting the hospitals when they are being raided and stormed in by the Israeli occupation forces. And the whole world — they have a feeling that the whole world is watching and that it’s not doing anything. And that feeling of helplessness is another way to kill the Palestinians. So, if they’re killed once, they are killed twice — once by the ongoing bombardment that has been taking place, that has been documented, and the second time by not offering the fitting homage for those people by serving justice and by stopping aggression, like was said by the many people that I talked to.

The situation is extremely dire. You will never be able to imagine the things that are happening, when you’re walking down the streets; when you see small children out crying for food; when you see lining up hundreds of people for a very limited one pot of rice or one pot of food, and they are struggling to get some of that to bring back to their families; when you see small children staying unaccompanied because they lost their whole family; when you see one man who buried his whole family and who’s walking down the street, like, losing his mind because he lost all that he dreamt would grow up with him, which is his children — he lost his wife, he lost his father, he lost his mother, he lost his house, he lost any hope in life that he can clutch to. I saw many people talking to themselves down the streets. I saw many people crying because they have no one to cry to. They have no shoulder to cry over. They have no one to look after them. They have no one to console them. They have no one even to offer them some kind word to look after them. And they are going to — and they are driven insane because of that. Situation is unconceivable. It has affected all aspects of life of Gazans. And it continues to affect them. And it has destroyed many lives, and it continues to destroy life. And it is likely to destroy any hope that Gaza would survive. And I think this is the plan, to break Gaza and to make Gaza uninhabitable and to destroy any possibility for Gazans to relive or to rebuild or to just retake their life again.

AMY GOODMAN: Gaza now has the highest percentage of people facing acute food insecurity anywhere in the world. Finally, Akram al-Satarri, as we watch you on the ground there in Rafah — and we thank you and your cameraman — we understand the very serious risks you face. I’m wondering if you question whether even to wear the vest you are wearing that says “press,” in light of the latest news just this week, bringing to possibly over 120 the number of Gaza-based journalists killed. The Israeli drones struck a pair of Al Jazeera journalists on Tuesday, seriously injuring correspondent Ismail Abu Omar — he’s had his leg amputated — and his cameraman, Ahmad Matar. They’re in European Hospital. Then you have yesterday, Palestinian journalist Mutaz Al-Ghafari killed in Gaza City in an Israeli airstrike that also killed his wife and his child. Did you know these reporters? How are you protecting yourself?

AKRAM AL-SATARRI: Well, as a matter fact, Ahmad Matar is a friend of mine. The last time I shook hands with him was three days ago. He shook my hand. But, unfortunately, he has no hand now, because his hand and his arm was amputated, and he’s struggling for his life right now. He’s one of my neighbors. He’s one of my friends. I know him very well. He’s such a very nice and kind person. I know also Ismail Abu Omar, the one who’s struggling for his life now because of unexpected hemorrhage because of his injury. I know many other journalists who were targeted and killed because of the Israeli ongoing bombardment. I know they have lives. I know they have families. I know they have a career that should be protected, according to Geneva Conventions. And I know they were targeted and killed despite the fact that they are protected.

And I know also that it’s not only the journalists who were killed. There are also some humanitarian aid people who were killed. There were also some UNRWA people who were working to serve the population that is displaced, and they were killed also. I know many other people who were caring for other people, and they ended up being killed. The killing is massive. The killing is thorough. And I think no one in Gaza is protected, no safe haven. And I think there is — every single person in Gaza now lacks that sense of safety and security. And we all understand that we are going to be suspended killed people, and we know it’s just a matter of time when Israel will reach any one of us and would kill any one of us, either our dreams or ourselves or our families or our friends or our acquaintances.

This is the situation. It is as dire as it sounds. But it’s different when it’s felt. It’s different when it’s about the people you know. It’s different when about the people you love. It’s different when about the people who shake their hands, smile — shake your hands, smile at your face, say “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” or even “Good night.” It’s the personal stories of the people that makes us sometimes at the verge of collapse and breaking.

But we understand that we have a mission to fulfill, which is to communicate the voice of the voiceless in Gaza, which is to show the real suffering the people has been enduring — they have been enduring, without no guilt that have been committed by them. It’s a story of a whole population. It’s not just Ismail or Ahmad. It’s not just Akram or any other one. It’s a story of a whole nation that has been under considerable fear and horror because of discriminate fire. And it’s the duty of the world to continue to work towards ceasing the fire and ending this atrocity now, because I think the consciousness of the world has been stained by the ongoing atrocities. And I think the ones who were killed, the ones who were guiltless, the ones who were hoping that they would survive and build their life and continue growing and loving their friends, and ended up killing, I think they deserve a fitting homage, which is serving justice and ending this ongoing aggression and enhancing and bringing about a ceasefire.

AMY GOODMAN: Akram al-Satarri, I want to thank you so much for being with us. I can’t believe what we are talking about now, as you’re risking your life to bring us this report. Akram is a Gaza-based journalist, joining us from Rafah in southern Gaza.

Next up, we speak with the former head of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth. Stay with us.

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Next story from this daily show

Kenneth Roth: Only Joe Biden Has Power to Stop “Massive Bloodshed” of a Rafah Invasion

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