As Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza claimed dozens of civilian lives over the weekend, destroying residences, media offices and infrastructure, Truthout spoke with Nour Alshaer, a student and activist currently living with her family in Gaza’s Al-Jonina neighborhood, which she said has been targeted by Israel, causing “massacres” of civilians.
Last week, Alshaer’s pregnant cousin was killed in an airstrike. While Alshaer herself remains “physically OK,” Alshaer said on Monday that her family in still not safe from Israeli airstrikes. A street going to the nearby Al Shifa hospital has been bombed, she said, making it impossible for ambulances to get there. At least 192 people, including 58 children, have been killed in Gaza, and Israeli forces have killed at least 13 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, according to reports.
In a video statement below and interview, Alshaer criticized Israel’s apartheid state and occupation of Palestine, and called on allies in the U.S. to step up and challenge more than $3 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel.
Mike Ludwig: Can you tell us what you’ve experienced in your neighborhood?
Nour Alshaer: So, basically, we’ve been just trapped our houses. We can’t leave because obviously we don’t have any shelters in the [Gaza] strip. So, the safest place for everyone is their house, which is not really safe because it can be bombed. And in the first day of Eid, which is supposed to be the fun holiday, like our Christmas, a massacre happened in my neighborhood. They started bombing places. The sound of the bombing was real loud, so we knew it was close. You know, we hear bombing sounds all the time, but we know if it’s closer, depending on the loudness.
So, it was really loud. We were really scared … not scared for ourselves, more for who it might’ve hit or who it might’ve killed, because obviously all the people in our neighborhood are the people we really care about. So, at the beginning, we knew it was the family with the same last name of my best friend’s family…. My friend made it, but her cousins didn’t, and also, my cousin is their son’s wife and she’s in the ICU. So, she is still in the ICU, we don’t know if she is going to make it through this. You can hear the tanks here, we don’t know where they’re bombing at, what they’re targeting, we don’t know who’s safe or not right now. And then, less than 20 minutes later, we also hear another scary sound of bombing, and we’re so scared trying to figure out who it might’ve hit — only to learn that it killed my cousin. She was, her name was Kholoud Alshaer and she was pregnant, and it also killed her daughter. And so we lost both my cousin and her daughter, and then the other cousin is still in the ICU, still under very dangerous conditions. And we hear tanks all the time, nonstop.
We don’t know what, where they’re hitting. Like we know it’s like, it’s targeting random places. And then the air forces, the air strikes are also targeting, like, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know what kind of explanation would actually explain this? Because both realities are really scary, because if it was, if it was them targeting really just randomly, then I could be a target at any second … or any of my loved people. And then if it wasn’t random, and if they actually meant to kill my cousin with her child like that, if they are actually meaning to kill all these children that have been killed, then it’s actually also very scary. So, both realities are really scary.
We’re not safe … and we have no place to go to. We’re just really trapped in our houses. And the electricity has been gone in my house, we’re using a solar system for energy. That’s why, like, we have electricity sometimes. I’m using the lights just for the interview, but we’re not using them in my house…. LED lights conserve power, so, we just use that power that we have to charge our phones and wi-fi and stuff like that. And then for food, we can’t leave our house and go shopping, obviously. So we’re lucky that we brought in a lot of food for Eid, because we were ready to celebrate. So, we’re using that food, but honestly, we don’t really have that much of an appetite. If we run out of that food we can’t go anywhere to bring more food. And then for water, we have a big tank in my house, but other families have smaller tanks where trucks have to go around the city every day and fill their houses, their tanks. So, they’re actually almost running out of water and because these trucks are also stopped. Life is basically stopped right now.
And, and as you said, there’s, it’s very unclear whether where the bombs landed was intentional or not. And that adds to the insecurity. Because you just don’t know where…
And their statements, the usual statements that they make, like “we’re just targeting the Hamas leaders.” I know for a fact that my cousin, my pregnant cousin with her child, were not Hamas leaders, and so many others like that too. We really don’t know, like there’s literally no explanation.
In the United States, I’m not sure if people always understand the difference between Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem, for example. Can you just explain a little bit about why it’s so difficult for you to leave Gaza?
I know that so many people just don’t have a very clear, a good understanding of what the Gaza strip is like…. The Gaza strip is only like 365 square kilometers with a population of more than 2 million. So, it’s one of the most densely populated [areas] of the world. But then there is a siege, like the Gaza strip is blockaded, or we call it an apartheid system, that started in 2007. So, since then there are only two borders that we can enter or leave the strip through, one through Israel and one through the Egyptian government.
So [we are] literally under the mercy of both governments. If they say no, then it’s a no, we’re not leaving or entering. A lot of people under extreme conditions, like needing treatment for cancer — because we obviously do not have any treatment for cancer inside the strip — are sometimes refused the permit to go to West Bank, to hospitals in the West Bank, through the Israeli border, to get treatment sometimes. Sometimes if Israel is being merciful, they would give them the permit for some time, but usually not with our family members. Children have to go there and get treatment for cancer without their parents.
We also have to depend economically on Israeli products…. In the past five days, they’ve been bombing [Palestinian-owned] factories, they have been bombing offices, media offices, residential towers and streets. So, they’re only making us more miserable than we were before, so we only stay under their mercy economically. We’re not allowed to have our own airport. Our own airport was bombed three times, every time we tried to rebuild it, so we kind of lost hope there.
And then the West Bank is really just another area … if we’re able to go there, if we’re able to get the permit — also only under extreme conditions — we can go visit. People in the West Bank live in areas A, B and C. So, that’s a different story of apartheid, but they’re also Palestinian citizens, they have their Palestinian nationality. And then there are people in East Jerusalem and that’s where Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood is at, and that’s where annexation is happening. Israel is trying to make more settlements there and expand their settlement projects there, both in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, actually.
And then there [are] also Palestinians in the lands of — we call them lands of 1948. And these are the people who stayed there and were given the Israeli citizenship and are treated as second-class citizens. So, it’s also an apartheid system there.
So, in your Instagram post, you made an appeal to your non-Arab friends for political action. When we think about Sheikh Jarrah and the settlers there, and also the fact that it’s very difficult to leave Gaza, that there’s this deep structural racism that we see in this situation that led possibly to this violence. Can you speak to that a little bit?
I’m a student at a university in Virginia, but I’m actually in Gaza right now — I came back for the pandemic last May, and I took the year off. I just find it really heartbreaking that my American friends are being a part of this, whether they ask for it or not, because their government is funding and supporting Israel under the guise of self-defense, killing my family, my people through the tax money of the American citizens. And I have American friends and I just didn’t want them to sit in silence about that because the U.S. is being complicit about what’s happening here, and [U.S. officials] keep calling it self-defense, but this is not self-defense.
As human beings, the easiest feeling you could have is sadness and anger at murders of children. And I just find it so overwhelming that people in the U.S. find it so hard — so hard — to condemn the killing of Palestinian children — making them, our children, less than human, less than children. I don’t understand the concept, and it’s killing me, and I’m just calling all my friends to actually take an action and help stop the funding [of the killing] of the children because no decent human being would be okay justifying the murder of children. No.
Right. And, Israel does call it self-defense, our own president called it self-defense. And there are plenty of people here who disagree with that, but what do you see Israel’s actions as? As punishment? As structural racism?
It’s aggression, it’s occupation, it’s settler colonialism, it’s ethnic cleansing. It’s the removal of the Palestinian identity. It’s them trying to call for a country of their own over a population that’s been living there since before 1948, before the whole occupation started. So that’s where it is. It is racism. It’s [Israelis] thinking of themselves as higher, as people who are more deserving of the land of the Holy land…. And that’s not acceptable.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.