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“My Journey of Loss”: Gaza Twin on Death of Mom, 14 Relatives & Continuing to Flee Israeli Bombs

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Israeli forces began an escalated offensive in central Gaza today, with at least 75 people killed by airstrikes in the past 24 hours, as Israeli bombardment and shelling continue in the north and south, as well. “There is no safe place in Gaza,” says 19-year-old Helmi Hirez, who has been repeatedly displaced since October. Hirez was forced to flee from the north, where 14 members of his family were killed in an airstrike on his home in Gaza City. When he and his parents and siblings moved to Rafah, they were bombed and buried beneath the rubble, and his mother was killed. “Now we are just squeezed in the middle,” Hirez tells Democracy Now! as he recounts his story from where he is currently sheltering. “This is just my continuous journey of displacement from one place to another, my continuous journey of loss.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli forces began an escalated offensive on areas of central Gaza today, with airstrikes and ground forces moving into parts of Deir al-Balah, including the Bureij refugee camp. Al Jazeera reports at least 75 people have been killed in the past 24 hours in central Gaza, and the partially functioning hospitals in the area are struggling to cope with the surge in casualties.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops are continuing their offensive on Rafah in the south, where more than 1 million people have fled over the past few weeks, many of them heading back toward central Gaza. Airstrikes are also continuing in the north, as well. Over the past eight months, Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced over and over again, as they flee from one area to the next in a desperate search for safety.

Today we look at one young Palestinian story. He’s 19-year-old Helmi Hirez. He’s from Gaza City in northern Gaza. As Israel escalated its attacks on Gaza City, he fled south to Rafah with his parents and identical twin brother. A few days after they left, an Israeli airstrike hit their family home in Gaza City, killing 14 members of their family. Helmi spent three months sheltering in Rafah, until an airstrike slammed into the building next to where he was staying, burying him, his parents and his twin brother under the rubble. His mother was killed in that attack. Helmi then relocated yet again, this time to al-Mawasi, a coastal plot of land east of Khan Younis.

Helmi joins us now to tell his story. He’s joining us from Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, and there is a very long delay between when we ask the question and he’ll be able to answer it.

But, Helmi, welcome to Democracy Now! If you can start off by telling us your story? Talk about your journey from Gaza City and what has happened to your family all along the way.

HELMI HIREZ: OK. OK. Thank you, Amy, for having me.

Well, as you can see, I’m now in Deir al-Balah, in al-Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital. And it’s super crowded here, because several bombings have happened in the last two hours. The hospital is super crowded, and many injured people are here.

To start, I’m Helmi Hirez, 19 years old, from Gaza City, al-Rimal neighborhood, near Al-Shifa Hospital. Me and my family got out of Gaza on November 11th. After Al-Shifa Hospital and the entire Rimal neighborhood got invaded, we went into Rafah city, walking five kilometers on foot, while the Israeli army was pointing guns at us. And sometimes in this long road — I mean Salah al-Din Street road — sometimes we needed to jump over dead bodies just to don’t walk on them, dead bodies that were left intentionally to create this horrifying mental effect. After one week of our department from Gaza, our house in al-Rimal neighborhood got bombed with two rockets, exactly on November 18th, and 14 beloved family members were killed there. In that day, November 18th, Israel killed over than 1,000 Palestinians.

After that, we spent three months in Rafah city. And on February 12th, the building next to us got bombed. And we were in the center of Rafah city in two-floors building, and the building next to us was four-floors building. And the spaces between the houses in the center of Rafah city is sometimes less than one meter. So, when that building was bombed with four rockets, we got buried with the rubble. And I was able to get myself out of the rubble, and my twin brother and my father, and start digging over my mother. We dug over than one meter of rubble, and we got our mother breathing. And some guys took her to the hospital as fast as possible. And we kept digging over our sister. We got our sister awake, but not aware. She was vomiting blood. We went to a near house, and we hid there. And unfortunately, my mother suffered from internal bleeding, and she didn’t make it.

After that, we went to al-Mawasi area, living in a tent. After two months in al-Mawasi area, a near place in less than 200 meters — a near place in less than 200 meters where our camp was got bombed with two rockets also, and which destroyed our entire camp, killing over than four people, and it burned our tent. And we needed to buy a new one and to move to another area in al-Mawasi.

And this is just my continuous journey of displacement from one place to another, my continuous journey of loss from one place to another. We now live in al-Mawasi area, in less than two kilometers far from where the Israeli army exists. We are super worried. And all we are in al-Mawasi area are super worried that the Israeli army may come again to Khan Younis city or may invade al-Mawasi area. There is a lot of rumors about that. And whenever you walk in al-Mawasi, people are always looking towards the south, where the fire and the flames are coming out of Rafah city. And we can hear the sounds of the shelling and the bombing in Rafah city all day long and all night long.

We really don’t know where we can go. It’s very hard to know where the safe place is. I mean, we’re now in a green area, and you can hear the bombing every 10 or 15 minutes. In al-Mawasi, we’re in a green area also, and you can hear the bombing all day long, and you can be targeted in any minute. We now live in a tent, which is super hard for me and my family. Because al-Mawasi and Rafah city has kind of a desert climate, because we are near to Sinai Desert, it is super hot. And living in a tent is exactly like living in an oven. Sometimes, in some hours in the day, like 1 p.m., you need to get out of the tent so you can be able to breathe. You get out of the tent, sitting in the sun, just so you can be able to breathe. Cooking on fire and all of these hard life conditions isn’t suitable, isn’t working for us. Me and my twin brother are programmers, and we would never experience this kind of hard lifestyle.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Helmi —

HELMI HIREZ: Well, I also want to talk about that I started a campaign to help my family. Can you hear me?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Helmi, I wanted to ask you — you were a — first of all, condolences again for the loss of so many members of your family. Before the war, you and your twin brother were students. Could you talk to us about what you were studying and what your hopes were for your own future before the war?

HELMI HIREZ: Yes. Yes. I’m a computer engineering student, and my brother is an AI engineering student. I learned programming since the age of 10 years old. And I have worked for so many projects and so many companies. I got pro in the field, and I learned so many skills. And my brother is a brilliant AI engineer. He developed so many great inventions. In coronavirus crisis, he developed a system so all the malls and all the public places can identify by camera if this person is wearing a mask or not, allow him to enter the building or not, and to limit the disease transportation. And it actually helped a lot in Gaza City. Most public places in Gaza City took his invention and used it.

I was talking also about that I started a campaign to help my family, because my father was working in Israel before the war. He has permission to work in Tel Aviv. And when this war started, he lost his job. And after three months, we lost our mother, who was a digital marketing agent, so we lost our sole source of income. And we suffered a lot to provide the needed things for our family. So I started a GoFundMe campaign in hopes to help us, like, hold the living experiences of the war, and, after that, at least to rent an apartment and to help me and my brother to our college tuitions to finish our education, after we lost all of our sources of income.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about your FundMe page, donate to help a twin. We’re showing a photograph right now — we’ve been showing it — of you and your identical twin brother Mohammed. You’re both, what, AI-tech twins, because you’re known for working on AI. But I also wanted to comment on the noise behind you. Our radio audience cannot see this, but we have seen dead bodies behind you wrapped in shrouds, because the place you are right now, right nearby, these attacks have taken place, just in the last 24 hours, so there’s a lot of chaos behind you. But we think it’s worth working hard to hear what you have to say, given your incredible journey. And again, our condolences on the loss of so many of your family members, including your mother. I’m wondering, Helmi, if you can tell us more about your mother, the picture of you and your brother in your graduation gowns with your mom, with that lovely smile, and what her aspirations were for you, and where you plan to go to now, given that the place you have moved to for, I don’t know how many times, is now the site of Israeli bombing.

HELMI HIREZ: Yes. About the picture, this picture was taken last year in my high school graduation in my last year in high school. The person on the left is me, Helmi. My name in Arabic means “my dream.” My mother named me. The person in the middle is my mother, Ibtisam, which means “smile.” And she always smiled. And the person on the left is my identical twin brother Mohammed.

We don’t really know where we can go right now, because there is no safe place in Gaza. I mean, we went to Rafah city. Since the day one of the war, they told us, they throw from the plane, they throw papers from the plane saying, “Go to Rafah city. Go to this specific area.” And they drew it on the map. We went there since the beginning of the war. And eventually, they got orders to get out of this area. So, we didn’t know where to go. Especially in this time of the war, people don’t know where to go. They are afraid from going to Deir al-Balah, and because the Israeli army didn’t invade Deir al-Balah before, so they may invade it now. They don’t know where to go. They can’t go to al-Mawasi. I mean, it’s very close to Rafah city, where the Israeli army exists. And they may invade it from this area. Now we’re just squeezed in the middle.

And, I mean, you can see the place I’m in right now. Every single second, you can see an ambulance coming here. And I’m still under shock, because just two minutes before this interview starts, I saw a shattered dead body. And it was a super horrifying scene. I still can’t, like, process that. After all I went through, I still can’t process seeing this kind of destructive.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Helmi, what would you — if you could reach out and tell the rest of the world, the people outside of Gaza, what you’re hoping the world can do to assist you and the other Palestinians in Gaza right now?

HELMI HIREZ: Well, they can raise their voices to ask for the stop of the genocide that is happening in Gaza. And I can’t find any other word that describes what is happening other than “genocide.” They can donate to help the people of Gaza and donate to help build in Gaza all over again, where the destruction in Gaza has removed the entire city, just make it sands over sands. Two days ago, I was in Khan Younis city. And, well, as far as your eye can see, it is only sands. The city does not exist anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: Helmi Hirez, we want to thank you so much for —

HELMI HIREZ: For me personally, you can help me by donating to my GoFundMe and my campaign to help my family.

AMY GOODMAN: Helmi, thank you so much for joining us in this extremely difficult, difficult time. We can’t say enough how much we send our condolences to your entire family. Helmi Hirez is a 19-year-old Palestinian, originally from Gaza City, 14 members of his family killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, just after he, his mom and his dad, his twin brother and sister left and went to Rafah, where they were then struck in an airstrike, struck into the rubble, his mother killed. We will continue to follow Helmi’s story and bring you more later.

Next up, the board of directors at the Columbia Law Review shuts down the law review’s website after student editors published an article by a Palestinian legal scholar on establishing Nakba as a formal legal concept. Stay with us.

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Next story from this daily show

“Toward Nakba as a Legal Concept”: Meet the Palestinian Lawyer Censored by Columbia and Harvard

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