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President Biden has brokered a deal with Israel and Egypt to allow humanitarian aid into the heavily bombed Gaza strip, but at least one American family seeking escape from Gaza says they feel abandoned by the administration.
Abood Okal, his wife and their one-year-old child traveled from Massachusetts to Palestine’s Gaza strip for a family reunion. What they thought would be a joyous occasion turned into a struggle for food, water, electricity and safety.
“We are extremely afraid for our lives as the ground invasion seems imminent with no place safe for us to go and no evacuation plan on the horizon,” Okal told CNN in a text message.
Days after Hamas launched nearly 3,000 rockets into Israel in a land and air invasion during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which has killed over 1,400 Israelis since Oct. 7, the U.S. began evacuating Americans from the country.
It’s the deadliest attack against Jews since the Jewish Holocaust, with over 250 people killed at a Jewish musical festival alone.
Nearly two weeks later, as Americans living in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza flee bombs and starvation, they haven’t been given the same opportunity to evacuate.
Gaza humanitarian aid crisis
Okal described navigating past missile attacks and bomb blasts to retrieve basic necessities for his family. The only way out of the strip is through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. Yet, so far no Palestinians or foreign nationals have been allowed through.
“The entire house shook, windows shattered and walls cracked,” Okal said. “My son was sleeping under a window. Wafa had to snatch him out, fearing glass would fall on him.”
The United Nations has called the humanitarian aid crisis in Gaza an “unprecedented catastrophe.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom denied that there was a humanitarian crisis, blaming Hamas for not allowing Palestinians to evacuate.
Notably, while Hamas’ victims in Israel have been widely broadcasted, images of bloodied bodies of Palestinian men, women and children have largely failed to make their way from social media to Western broadcast news outlets.
Terrorist attack in Israel leads to fears of regional war
On Oct. 7 Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, claiming retaliation for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
Since the British government led an international movement to establish a Jewish state in what was previously called Palestine in 1947, conflict has raged in the region.
The establishment of the state led to the forced removal of hundreds of thousands of Arab Palestinians in what they refer to as the “Nakba.” In the years since, wars between Israelis and other Arab nations resulted in increasing tensions.
For the last 13 years, following a 2006 battle with Hamas, Israel took control over all goods and services going in and out of the Gaza strip in a total blockade. Meanwhile, Palestinians in other areas of the occupied territories, such as the West Bank, face constant targeting from Israeli settlers emboldened by the country’s far-right administration.
In the surprise terrorist attack on Oct. 7, Hamas killed over 1,300 civilians and took up to 250 people hostage.
The response from Israel’s military and prime minister has crippled the over 2 million Palestinian residents of Gaza, an open-air internment camp where roughly half the residents are children.
Israel cut off food, water, electricity and humanitarian aid to Gaza as its iron dome continues to intercept rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Notably, Israel has begun to face steep criticism by the international community and protesters around the world as its over 6,000 bombings of Gaza over the last 12 days has demolished schools, hospitals and entire residential neighborhoods.
An airstrike that struck the al-Ahli hospital in Gaza on Tuesday killed hundreds of Palestinians, sparking international outrage. Israel blamed the strike on Hamas, and the U.S. supported their account of the events, though it remains disputed internationally.
As a result, over 3,700 Palestinians–Christians and Muslims–have been killed amid the bombings.
Meanwhile, Jewish and Muslim communities in the U.S. face heightened threats from hate groups.
With concerns about the reactions from surrounding Arab nations, President Biden took a trip to Israel on Wednesday. His unprecedented wartime trip to Israel represented a balancing act with U.S.’s main ally in the Middle East and the nations around it, according to Politico.
Israel to allow humanitarian aid, not evacuations
After Biden became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Israel during wartime on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would begin to allow humanitarian aid to Gaza through the Rafah crossing.
“You can’t look at what has happened here … and not scream out for justice,” Biden said in Tel-Aviv, comparing the Hamas attacks to 9/11.
“But I caution this: While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it,” he said. “After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. And while we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”
On Thursday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi agreed to open the border specifically for humanitarian aid.
Days ago, Israel demanded over a million Gaza residents move from the north to the crossing into Egypt, in a move international human rights organizations denounced as impossible.
Palestinians who arrived at the Rafah border crossing faced more bombings. Hamas and the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) accused each other of targeting the fleeing civilians.
Despite Biden’s message urging protection of Palestinian civilians, Americans in Gaza continue to feel trapped with little support from their government.
American family feels abandoned in Gaza
For the family from Massachusetts, every day trapped in Gaza without humanitarian aid remains a nightmare. Okal told CNN his sister tried to cross the Rafah border several times, but it wasn’t open.
“We are very concerned that there are no news or updates regarding the evacuation of American citizens in Gaza, despite talks about an agreement facilitated by President Joe Biden to allow aid into Gaza,” Okal told CNN.
Despite being in touch with the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and Jerusalem, the U.S. State Dept., and U.S. Congress-members, Okal said the Gaza humanitarian aid crisis remains a frustrating situation.
“We feel abandoned to fight on our own for our safety and the safety of our son, especially since President Biden didn’t seem to influence any of the parties to secure a safe passage for the hundreds of Americans stranded in Gaza or to even acknowledge our presence and the need to get us to safety,” Okal said.
By Thursday night Tel-Aviv time, humanitarian aid had still not reached Palestinians in Gaza. Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it would see its soldiers inside Gaza soon as threats of a ground invasion appear imminent.
In the U.S., a small clutch of progressive members of Congress have proposed a resolution calling for a ceasefire as Jewish-led protests in support of an immediate ceasefire have piled into the Capitol building.
On the international level, the United Nations 15-member Security Council voted on a resolution Wednesday which called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The U.S. used its veto power to block the resolution.
A day later, the UN proposed a resolution without the “ceasefire” language. Instead, it called for a “”humanitarian pause” on military action and the allowance of “humanitarian corridors” for civilians to travel safely out of Gaza.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield vetoed the resolution, saying it did not mention Israel’s right to self-defense.
Over 200 Israeli hostages remain in Gaza under Hamas control, the Israeli government said on Thursday.
Hostages and civilian casualties will be secondary to destroying Hamas, Economy Minister Nir Barakat told ABC News, “even if it takes a year.”
Editor’s Note: International Law requires the protection and consideration of civilians in any conflict, regardless of the causes of war.