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“Displacement Has Been Weaponized”: Gaza Reporter Akram al-Satarri on Israeli Attack & Fleeing Rafah

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Over 450,000 Palestinians, many already internally displaced, have fled Rafah in the past week alone since Israel launched an offensive on the city. Another 100,000 have been forced to flee homes in the north of Gaza amid escalated bombing and ground attacks. Among the recently redisplaced is our guest, the Gaza-based journalist Akram al-Satarri, who joins us from a crowded shelter outside the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza. “Displacement has been weaponized,” al-Satarri says, citing the experiences of families who have been displaced as many as eight times since the start of Israel’s assault. “People are suffering. They are deprived of everything,” al-Satarri adds, due to Israel’s seizure and closure of the Rafah border crossing, preventing food, water, supplies or aid from reaching the famine-stricken population. “They are trying to prepare the Palestinians for full subjugation,” he continues. Life in Gaza is “unimaginable; however, Gazans are living it.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: More than half a million Palestinians — nearly a quarter of Gaza’s population — have been displaced over the past week alone, according to the United Nations. Over 450,000 people have fled Rafah since Israel launched an offensive on the city, with another 100,000 displaced in the north amidst escalated bombing and ground attacks.

Humanitarian organizations say they’re struggling to provide dwindling supplies of food, tents and blankets to the large numbers of newly displaced. In a social media post today, the U.N. refugee agency UNRWA said, quote, “People face constant exhaustion, hunger and fear. Nowhere is safe. An immediate #ceasefire is the only hope,” unquote. No food, aid or fuel has entered the two main border crossings in southern Gaza for the past week, since Israeli forces entered Rafah and took over the border crossing there. Some 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza are on the brink of starvation, and a full-blown famine is taking place in the north, according to the U.N. and the World Food Programme.

By some accounts, a number of hospitals are on the brink of having to shut down major departments due to a lack of fuel and supplies. Gaza’s Government Media Office says hospitals are no longer operating in the north, while in the south, the Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah has received an evacuation order from Israeli forces. Doctors and nurses are resisting that evacuation order because they don’t want to leave their patients.

This comes as Gaza’s Civil Defense teams are struggling to reach victims trapped under the rubble of bombed buildings as daily airstrikes continue. At a news conference today, a spokesperson for the Civil Defense said Israeli forces’ continued targeting of heavy equipment that its teams use to recover victims in the rubble, in addition to a severe fuel shortage, may soon bring rescue efforts to a total halt.

At least 82 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza over the last 24 hours. The death toll after seven months of Israel’s assault has now topped 35,000 Palestinians killed, including over 14,000 children. Nearly 80,000 people have been wounded.

For more on the latest, we go to Gaza to speak with journalist Akram al-Satarri. He’s joined us multiple times over the past several months from Rafah in the south, but today he’s joining us from outside the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza.

Akram, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain why you’ve moved from Rafah to Deir al-Balah. Talk about the situation with the hospitals and the number of people, nearly half a million, who are on the move once again.

AKRAM AL-SATARRI: Good morning, Amy. Good morning from Gaza. Good morning from Shuhada Al-Aqsa Hospital.

To start speaking about the situation, I would portray to you and all the viewers a situation that was taking place not far away from me. A few yards in the background, there were some mothers, sisters, daughters and grandmothers also weeping over the death of their dears. Not far away from me is the morgue of the hospital, where people come to claim the bodies of their dear ones. Some of them are lucky enough to find the bodies of their dears. Some others are not lucky enough to have that privilege.

In al-Nuseirat refugee camp, a house was targeted, was reduced to rubble. Thirty people were killed overnight. Some of them were retrieved. Some other people are still under the rubble of the houses that were destroyed. People are frantically trying to retrieve the bodies of their dears and of their relatives who went there. We saw the destruction. We saw the suffering. We saw the people frantically trying to retrieve the bodies of their dears. And one of them was happy to find the body of his relative. The house was sheltering an internally displaced family, a family that was displaced for around eight times, Amy, eight times in Gaza — one time from the Gaza north to Gaza City, one time from Gaza City to Gaza central area, another time from Gaza central area to Khan Younis area, and a third and a fourth time from Gaza area to Rafah area, and then from Rafah area to another area in Rafah that was deemed safe according to the prescription of the Israeli occupation forces.

People have been moving. People have been hopeful that they would survive, thinking that following the orders of the Israeli occupation forces would make them safe. However, they were shocked. And I don’t think they had the time that is enough for them to be shocked. They were targeted. They were killed. Most of them were retrieved, and many of them are still under the rubble.

That describes the exact situation in the Gaza Strip, the way people are living for the last seven months, the way displacement has been weaponized when it comes to dealing with the largest population of the Gaza Strip. People were killed. People are dead. People are displaced. People are losing their dears. People don’t have enough food. People are suffering to secure anything that has to do with a normal life in Gaza.

And those people are now described by Israel as people who were treated with dignity and that this war is the most civilized one on Earth in the history of the mankind. The things that we are seeing, the way we are being treated is far away from being a human way. People are treated as a herd of sheep that is being herded by a shepherd who has no mercy whatsoever and who is dictating whatever he wants or she wants, because they have the ultimate power to do things, and they have the ultimate power to destroy anything they want, with the most sophisticated technology they have been using. They have been very happy and proud about the artificial intelligence they have been using for the sake of just identifying who’s combatant, who’s noncombatant.

Unfortunately, the statistics from the ground explains how shocking the way people are being targeted. Mothers are killed with their sons. Fathers are killed with their daughters and sons, whole families wiped out, and even now in Rafah area, in the east, west, south now and north in Rafah. In the Gaza south area, in the Gaza north area, in the Gaza central area, nonstop bombardment. And people who were asked to leave Rafah are now in Gaza central area or in Khan Younis, and they are still seeing with their own eyes — I mean, again, the lucky ones who are surviving the bombardments are seeing with their own eyes that there is no safe haven in Gaza Strip. Death is the one major risk enveloping the lives of the people of Gaza.

However, starvation is one more equally important threat that the — and challenge that the Palestinians are seeing. Those people who have been living this displacement, destruction and fear for the last seven months are now struggling to secure water for their children — to start with the water, because water is the gift of life, and water is not available in Gaza. Water desalination plants were destroyed. I live in an area that is called Hamad City. There were four wells to serve the whole area, around 137 residential towers. Around 98 of those towers were destroyed by the Israeli occupation forces, including the four main facilities that have to do with the water desalination or water treatment. People are staying there. They have no water. They have to fetch the water. They have to go for around one kilometer or to two kilometers or to contact some suppliers, who find a great challenge in just getting water to the people because of the lack to fuel.

So, no infrastructure, no food supplies, no water supplies, no medical consumicals or medications allowed into the Gaza Strip. And people are left there to face that unconceivable situation, unconceivable situation when it comes to the access and protection. The whole population is not protected. And the whole population of 2.37 million Gazans are facing this critical problem of not being able to access anything decent, anything decent, neither the shelter nor the supplies of any kind. And they are left to do that, and the ones who are targeted are just killed. And others, tens of thousands of Gazans, are injured.

And the ones who are injured are unable to go to the hospitals, because hospitals are already out of services. The Kuwaiti Hospital was communicated with by the Israeli occupation forces. They asked them to leave the area. The area itself is part of the area that was asked to leave by the Israeli occupation forces. The situation continues to be very dire. People even with normal health diseases are not able to access the hospital, are not able to find proper medication for their wounds or for their diseases or for whatever things they need. And they end up facing that type of slow death, a slow death which means they don’t have access to food, they don’t have access to water, they don’t have access to supplies of any kind, and they are still suffering. And that speaks for the people in Gaza south, in Gaza north, in Gaza central area. People cannot get anything decent to help them survive. And they are afraid also of the major situation, the death. And as I’m talking to you now, you can hear the ambulance coming currently with more people who are injured because of the ongoing bombardment in Gaza central area, that is not witnessing major ground operations as described by the Israeli occupation forces.

So, the whole situation is dire, is extremely catastrophic, is aggravating into something extremely ugly, unacceptable and unbearable, is not justifiable according to the dictates of international humanitarian law nor the international law and the instruments that have to do with the dignity of the people, with the safe and sound access to resources at the times of conflict. People have been deprived. People have been deprived from that decent access for around 17 years now because of the strict blockade that has been imposed on the Gaza Strip. And now they are being targeted, they are being deprived, they are being displaced, and they don’t know what next is going to happen. They are afraid from death. They are afraid from hunger. They are afraid from the very lacking situation they have been living. And they don’t know what the future holds for them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Akram, Akram, I wanted to ask you — you mentioned northern Gaza. The Israelis had claimed that they had pacified the area. Many people have started to come back. Now they’re attacking again. What are you hearing about what’s happening in northern Gaza?

AKRAM AL-SATARRI: Northern Gaza has been seeing a large-scale ground operation. Israeli occupation forces declared that they have won the war in Gaza north. They declared that they have destroyed Hamas power. And now they’re coming back, apparently, to win again Hamas, up 'til some certain time when they will come back one third time to also win again. They came back to Gaza north. They targeted al-Zeitoun neighborhood. Al-Zeitoun neighborhood was declared as a clear area from Hamas like around three months ago. And now they're coming back there. They are conducting a major operation. They’re using three battalions in that fight, three brigades in that fight. And they have been attacking the infrastructure. The image that is coming from al-Zeitoun area shows very comprehensive and intensified bombardment. Whole blocks are in smoke. The horizon is filled with black smoke, which is indicative of the ongoing fires resulting from the ongoing bombardment.

And with that ongoing bombardment comes the ongoing death and destruction and injury resulted to the people. And people who are living there are also having this extremely serious problem of not having enough access to the ambulances, enough access to the hospitals, enough access to primary healthcare clinics. And the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the Palestinian Civil Defense, the UNRWA, the World Food Programme, all the international organizations have been voicing their concern over the safety of the people, over the safety of the people who might be injured and might end up dying because of the fact that, no, there is no vehicles to go and collect them and take them to the hospitals. The situation is extremely catastrophic, in the sense that the Civil Defense forces, the Civil Defense crews are not able to move their vehicles because of the fact that Gaza and Gaza terminals have been controlled and seized by the Israeli occupation forces for the last eight days. And before that, there was the Jewish Passover vacation, and there were 11 days of total disruption of the supplies into the Gaza Strip. And then, four days after that, these supplies were extremely slow.

So, people are suffering. They are deprived from everything. And the ones who are injured and the ones who are seeing now the ongoing fight or the ongoing destruction in al-Zeitoun area are asked to move to another area further inside Gaza City. And then that other area is targeted. We have been hearing the recent news about the bombardment and the tens of people killed in a bombardment or a strike that took their lives, and then another eight people, and then 10 people, and then five people, and then two people, and then three people and a mother, a child and her son.

So, it is extremely catastrophic. And people are moving, and they are hoping that they would survive, but, unfortunately, many of them are not surviving. They’re hoping to keep their shelter, but, unfortunately, they end up being killed in the shelter, that has been also reduced to rubble on their head. They are hopeful that they would be treated once they are injured; unfortunately, they cannot access any healthcare, and they have been left with that suffering for such a very long time now. And they are, unfortunately, expecting to see more of the same today and tomorrow and in the coming days, with no ceasefire reached and with the international community failing to do something that would change the dynamics when it comes to that kind of continuous escalation and conflict.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Akram, now that Israel has gained control of the Rafah crossing, as well, is there any — are any of the wounded or any people who want to leave Gaza able to do so, and also of the foreigners who are there?

AKRAM AL-SATARRI: No human being whatsoever is allowed to cross Rafah crossing or Kerem Shalom crossing. In the second day of that seizure of the border, a truck was summoned by the Israeli occupation forces for a transporter that is known and identified and recognized by the Israeli army. They went there. Ten people went there. Six of them were shot by the Israeli army. And the truck that was suppose to enter Gaza did not enter Gaza. So, it’s a full and complete closure of the border. No foreigners, no Gazans, no one is allowed to move from that area. And no supplies whatsoever have been entering that area ever since this whole process started in Rafah and Kerem Shalom area.

AMY GOODMAN: Akram, this is going to be our last question. I just want to emphasize to people how rare it is to hear a reporter inside Gaza, so we thank you so much for this report. Now, you have moved out of Rafah. Is this the full ground invasion of Rafah that we’re witnessing? And also, can you comment on the Civil Defense group that held a news conference today saying that Israel is targeting their heavy machinery that helps to get people out of the rubble, that they are increasingly unable, also not having fuel, to save people from the rubble, where it’s expected over these months there are over 10,000 people, at least, buried, but continuing each day?

AKRAM AL-SATARRI: Reporting from Gaza — to start with, reporting from Gaza, Amy, is a great challenge for me and for every single reporter who’s in Gaza. We are part of this fight. We were made to be part of this fight by the Israeli occupation forces, although our job as journalists is to provide as accurate and sound image about the situation as we can. And we have been trying. We are humans, and we are Gazans, and we are suffering just like these other people. We have this problem with accessing food and water, with accessing supplies. And we are struggling. But we are willingly undertaking that responsibility, because this is a moral and national obligation, to start with.

And then, when it comes to the Palestinian Civil Defense, it’s not only the Palestinian Civil Defense heavy machinery that is being targeted. Also, the Gaza municipality heavy machinery is being divided, is being — sorry, is being targeted by incendiary materials. There were some reports for the last two months and a half of Israeli quadcopter pouring some incendiary materials over those heavy machinery and targeting and burying them. I think the way things are being done now is a way that would add ultimate objective of crippling all the humanitarian relief systems in Gaza, leaving people extremely vulnerable and exposed to bottlenecks because of that ongoing operation. And I think they are trying to prepare the Palestinians for full subjugation by doing that. We have been hearing about this issue in the Gaza north, Gaza City and also in the Gaza south, the way the Israeli occupation is dealing with the heavy machinery that is supposed to be doing the leveling work for the sake of just helping the people and also removing the rubble.

We have around 10,000 Gazans who are still under the rubble, who are still — their condition is unknown. Absolutely, they are dead, which makes the number, the true number, of people dead 45,000, not 35,000. Ten thousand people are still under the rubble. Some of them are under the rubble for seven months. Seven whole months, bodies are under the rubble. Very close friend of mine was also under the rubble for three months, three months and a half, he and his mother. And no heavy machinery, no excavators, no vehicles of any kind were allowed in to Khan Younis area. And he ended up being retrieved after three months and a half. This is one story of tens of thousands of stories of misery and fear, of no mercy over the life of the people, and also of an issue that has no consideration whatever for the lives of people and no treatment of people as humans. This is one critical issue.

The Palestinian Civil Defense is going to be here. Like, the podium is — they are just setting up the podium. They’re going to talk about the situation. They’re going to talk about their suffering. They’re going to talk about their hopes and expectations. And they’re going to make an appeal to the international community to try to do something. And unfortunately, the project that the international community, that has failed in the past to do anything, will fail just today to help the people who are under the rubble and to help the Gaza population that has been seeing horrors that were not mentioned or documented in the history of the mankind, a blockade on 2.37 [million] Gazans, suffering for 2.37 [million] Gazans, bombardment of whole built areas that left around 1.9 million Gazans without any shelter and left them exposed to the problems and to the health diseases and all kinds of things that are unimaginable; however, Gazans are living them.

AMY GOODMAN: Akram al-Satarri, I want to thank you so much for being with us. The noise is loud behind you, as you are in an increasingly packed Deir al-Balah, speaking to us in front of the Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza, usually reporting to us from Rafah, where hundreds of thousands — nearly half a million — Palestinians have moved from as Israel moves in.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by the president of Union Theological Seminary. Its Board of Trustees has voted to endorse a divestment plan from companies profiting from war in Palestine/Israel. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “If I Must Die,” performed by the Tunisian musician Emel. The song sets to music the poem by Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in December.

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