OPEN LETTER: By Ghada Ageel
Dear President Biden,
I am writing to you for the second time. I first wrote to you on November 4 after 47 members of my community, including 36 from my own family, were murdered in a single attack by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). The massacre occurred in Khan Younis refugee camp, located in the southern region of the Gaza Strip, where people were supposed to be safe, as claimed by your ally, Israel.
I am uncertain if my first letter reached you or if your media team made you aware of its contents. Either way, you have not changed your position. Your unequivocal support for Israel, including through large weapons transfers, means that many more such massacres have been committed with your help since then.
Since writing that letter, I have lost another 220 members of my own family.
Just a month ago, on January 31, my father’s cousin, Khaled Ammar, 40, who was displaced in Khan Younis, was killed alongside his entire family when the place they were staying in was shelled by an Israeli tank. Khaled’s wife, Majdoleen, 38, their four daughters, Malak, 17, Sarah, 16, Aya, 9, and Rafeef, 7, and their two sons, Osama, 14, and Anas, 2, all perished in the attack.
Among the victims were also Khaled’s disabled brother Mohammed, 42, and their mother Fathiya, 60. Their bodies remained unburied for over a week. Khaled’s surviving brother, Bilal, 35, made repeated calls for assistance to the Palestinian Red Cross Society, but they could not dispatch a rescue team to look for survivors because the IOF did not grant them permission.
Majdoleen and her two young daughters, Rafeef and Aya, came to see me last summer when I visited Gaza. I still remember Rafeef trying to ride the bike of my youngest niece, Rasha. I still remember them racing down the street, eating the candy they had bought from the shop of my cousin, Asaad. Their laughter still echoes in my ears.
But today, Mr President, there is no Aya, no Rafeef, no Asaad, who was also killed by the IOF along with his wife, children, mom, two sisters, sister-in-law and their children. There are no roads, no homes, no shops, no laughter. Only echoes of devastation and the deafening silence of loss.
Reduced to rubble
Today, the residential area of Khan Younis refugee camp I grew up in is reduced to rubble. Tens of thousands of refugees, including all surviving members of my extended family, are now displaced to al Mawasi and Rafah. They are living in tents. They are not faring well, Mr President.
I have not heard from them in a while, as Israel has cut off communication. On February 10, my nephew, Aziz, 23, walked three kilometres despite the danger to reach the edge of Rafah to use the internet. He told me that death has passed by them many times but spared them for now. They are hungry, thirsty, and cold.
There is no power, no sanitation, no medication, no communications, or any services available to them, despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that Israel has to ensure the delivery of aid to Gaza.
If people do survive the Israeli bombs, they may not survive wounds sustained in the Israeli bombardment and the explosion of communicable and non-communicable diseases. The health care system has collapsed under the Israeli onslaught.
In February, the IOF laid a siege on Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the second-largest in the Gaza Strip. There were 300 medical staff trapped in the hospital alongside 450 patients and about 10,000 internally displaced persons seeking refuge within or in the hospital’s vicinity.
For days, the IOF would not let a rescue team from the World Health Organisation (WHO) evacuate patients and staff or deliver much-needed food, medical supplies and fuel. Throughout this time, the medical staff demonstrated remarkable courage and dedication to their patients, trying to keep them alive in the face of the Israeli attacks. Dr Amira Al Assouli, who rushed under Israeli fire to aid one of the wounded in the hospital courtyard is one bright example.
Countless people who sought shelter in the hospital premises were killed or wounded; some of these murders were recorded on camera.
Messenger shot dead
On February 13, the IOF sent a young man named Jamal Abu Al Ola, whom Israeli soldiers had detained and tortured, to the hospital to tell the Palestinians sheltering there to leave. Wearing a white PPE garment and with his hands bound, he delivered the message and then — as instructed — headed towards the gate of the hospital, but was shot dead. His execution was documented by a journalist at the hospital and released to the public.
Will you order an investigation, Mr President? Will you demand that those responsible for the killing of Jamal and the many others at Nasser Hospital be punished or will you accept the IOF’s version of events again?
On February 15, the IOF raided the hospital, expelling thousands of people amid heavy bombardment and forcibly disappearing hundreds — at least 70 of them medical workers. This continues a pattern started in Gaza City. When the IOF raided Al Shifa Hospital, it detained some of its staff, among them, Dr Mohammed Abu Salmiya, the hospital director, who remains in Israeli jail. The excuse then, as now, is that they were hunting for a Hamas command centre — a false narrative, you, Mr President, readily embraced.
During the raid of Nasser Hospital, the cutting off of electricity and oxygen resulted in the deaths of at least eight patients. When a WHO team was finally allowed to enter the hospital, its staffers described it as “a place of death”. After the evacuation of hundreds of patients, some 25 medical staffers stayed behind to care for the remaining 120 patients in the hospital without a secured supply of food, water or medications.
Among the regular patients of Nasser Hospital was my relative, Inshirah, who suffered from kidney failure and required dialysis every week. She lived in the Al Qararah area, east of Khan Younis.
When the IOF bombed her area, she moved to a camp for displaced people. When the IOF attacked the camp, she moved to Hay al Amal. When the latter was bombed, her children decided to move her to the vicinity of Nasser Hospital.
As the conditions at the hospital deteriorated, the frequency of her dialysis sessions was reduced to once every 2 weeks and then to once every 3 weeks, causing her significant suffering. When the IOF besieged the hospital, Inshirah was forced to leave. Then we lost contact with her and her children. We do not know if she has survived.
Health death sentence
The vast majority of chronically ill people like Inshirah cannot access proper health care after Israel’s systematic destruction of Gaza’s health care system. This is a death sentence for them. Destroying a health care system is a war crime, did you know that, Mr President?
Mr President, 2.3 million people in Gaza are living in a concentration camp. They are starved and killed relentlessly. They are bombed in their homes, on the streets, while collecting water, while sleeping in their tents, while receiving aid, and even while cooking. In Gaza, people tell me that drinking water costs blood, a loaf of bread is dipped in blood, and moving from place to place means bleeding.
Even the act of seeking food to feed your children can kill you — as happened to many parents on February 28. Some 112 Palestinians were murdered by the IOF as they tried to get flour to feed themselves and their families.
Their deaths are painfully real. As were the deaths of small babies like Anas, children like Aya, mothers like Majdoleen, and the elderly like Fathiya. There are among the more than 30,000 that have been recorded in the official death toll; many more thousands have perished but are recorded as “missing”.
Some 13,000 of the murdered are children. Many are now dying of starvation. Israel is killing 6 children an hour. Each of these children had a name, a story, and a dream that is never to be fulfilled. Do the children of Gaza not deserve life, Mr President?
The Palestinians are among the most educated nations in the entire Middle East. They are a very curious people. Their most burning question they all have today is, “why”? Why do the Palestinian people have to endure genocide at the hands of your ally, carried out with your weapons and money, while you refuse to call for a ceasefire?
Can you tell us why, Mr President?