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A Gaza Twin’s Desperate Fight for Survival

ColumnJune 06, 2024
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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

Gaza, the most densely-populated place on Earth, described as “the world’s largest open-air prison,” has become a hellish cauldron of human suffering. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are entering their ninth month of an unprecedented military onslaught that has killed over 36,500 people, including at least 15,000 children – believed to be a gross underestimate. Israel, with its constantly replenished arsenal of US arms, has defied the international community and the World Court, intensifying rather than halting its ground invasion of Rafah. The civilian slaughter predicted by many to follow a Rafah invasion is now happening, day and night, by land, sea and air, relayed to the rest of the world through social media posts when internet is available and via the remaining journalists able to transmit from Gaza. Israel has barred international reporters from entering.

All 2.3 million Palestinians trapped in what the International Court of Justice has deemed a plausible genocide have a story to tell. This week, one remarkable 19 year old, Helmi Hirez, talked about his desperation on the Democracy Now! news hour. Helmi spoke amidst the chaos of Deir Al Balah in the Gaza Strip:

“I’m Helmi Hirez, 19 years old… Me and my family got out of Gaza City on November 11th. After Al-Shifa Hospital and the entire Rimal neighborhood got invaded, we went into Rafah city, walking on foot, while the Israeli army was pointing guns at us. Sometimes we needed to jump over dead bodies…bodies left intentionally to create this horrifying mental effect. After one week of our departure, our house got bombed with two rockets, on November 18th, and 14 beloved family members were killed there. On that day, Israel killed over 1,000 Palestinians.”

As Helmi spoke from a crowded street not far from the barely functioning al-Aqsa Hospital, a shrouded body was unloaded from a vehicle and carried away. A stream of people passed by, many carrying empty containers in a perpetual search for food and water. Helmi remained focused:

“We spent three months in Rafah city. On February 12th, the building next to us got bombed…with four rockets. We got buried with the rubble. 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 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 for our sister. We got our sister awake. She was vomiting blood. We went to a nearby 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 place less than 200 meters from our camp was bombed with two rockets, which destroyed our entire camp.”

Helmi was talking about Israel’s bombing of the tent camp in Rafah that killed over 45 people, just two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to immediately stop its assault on Rafah. CNN reported US weapons made by Boeing were used in the attack.

Helmi has set up a GoFundMe page titled, “Help a Twin in Gaza who lost their Mother & Home.” It bears a photo of him and his twin brother at their high school graduation last year, on either side of their late mother, all three with beaming smiles. Helmi and Mohammed were born in 2004, two years before Israel imposed its siege on Gaza. They have lived their entire lives under occupation, with significant Israeli assaults on Gaza occurring every couple of years – an Israeli military strategy often referred to as “mowing the lawn.”

Now, at nineteen, Helmi and his remaining family members are fighting for survival.

“This is 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, less than two kilometers from the Israeli army… 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. We can hear the sounds of the shelling and the bombing all day and all night long.

We really don’t know where we can go. It’s very hard to know where the safe place is.”

In a grim punctuation to Helmi Hirez’s words, the following day, Israeli forces struck a school–turned-shelter run by UNRWA, the United Nations Palestinian relief organization, in Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza. Six-thousand were sheltering there; thirty-five people were killed, including women and children. CNN again confirmed a US weapon was used.

Helmi Hirez has much to offer the world. The world owes him a permanent ceasefire, an end to the weapons flow to the Israeli military and to the occupation that has dominated his young life.

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