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US Palestinians Feel Helpless as Our Tax Dollars Fund Our Families’ Destruction

The Palestinians who are suffering and being killed in Gaza are our families. They are people we know and love.

A pro-Palestine protester stands outside the Hilton Hotel where President Biden attended a fundraiser in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 11, 2023.

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I am an OB/GYN physician and Palestinian American mother to a 7-month-old, Zaina. My husband Yahia and I are both from Gaza living in the diaspora in Chicago. We both can trace our families’ roots in Palestine for multiple generations dating back hundreds of years. So much of our love story and vows are built on being kids from the same hometown, and on our love and longing for where we are from. In the past two months, our shared dreams of reuniting with our land and families have turned into shared terror. We are bearing witness to our family, including our 12 nieces and nephews, trapped under a shower of Israeli and U.S. weaponry equivalent to more than two nuclear bombs. We are watching as Israel wipes Gaza off the map in what has been called an “unfolding genocide against the Palestinian people.”

Truthfully, I have a lot to say and nothing to say all at the same time. What more needs to be said than what has been said and what has been shown? How many more children do we have to see burned and dismembered by Israeli airstrikes? How much more apocalyptic can the headlines become? Patients trapped in besieged al-Shifa hospital screaming from thirst. Babies found decomposing in a forcibly evacuated hospital. Gaza is starving: a hunger war has started. Palestinians bombarded by Israel in the very places they were told to flee. The worst assault on any civilian population in our time. No safe place in Gaza. Gaza is a graveyard for children. Palestinian men executed by Israeli soldiers in front of their wives and children. The human toll of bombardment will soon pale in comparison to inevitable disease in Gaza.

We are running out of pleas and analogies to insist on the humanity of Palestinians, and frankly, it feels like we are running out of time. We have already suffered an indescribable loss. An estimated 18,000 Palestinians have already been killed in Gaza and 49,000 injured by earth-shattering Israeli airstrikes. Thousands are still unaccounted for under the rubble. Half of the victims are children. Evacuation orders and the bombardment of residential and civilian infrastructure have left almost 2 million people displaced internally.

Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment and inhumane siege on all essential goods has created an unrelenting state of emergency in Gaza for a population of Palestinian refugees it keeps sealed off from the rest of the world. Israel’s attacks have also shattered the entire chain of the emergency response system. Cell service, ambulances and hospitals have all been wiped out by Israeli airstrikes, leaving traumatized parents to carry wounded children through apocalyptic destruction, aimlessly screaming, “Where on earth should we go?”

Meanwhile, people living in condos in New York are interviewed to discuss their safety concerns… and somehow, in the most illogical way, those feelings are used to justify and explain a need for a thousand bombs to continue to be dropped daily on over 2 million trapped civilians a world away. I will never understand the rules of engagement in this world.

Every image I have seen is now a filter I impose on my husband, my daughter, my mom and my patients. I see my husband emaciated, digging through the rubble; my daughter burned and dusty, too hungry and too tired to cry, getting patched up on the floor of an emergency room. I see my small-boned mother walking in the brittle cold for hours with her ID held above her head — displaced again. I see my patients laboring under bombardment without anesthesia, and their babies suffocating without electricity to power their incubators.

The Palestinians trapped in Gaza, getting killed there, facing appalling human suffering, are not different from us. They are our families. They are people we know and love.

I see myself there. I question what I would do. Would I have the strength to stay in the hospital and care for the laboring patients? Would I be able to stomach it, or would I be a puddle unable to handle the avalanche of suffering? Would I have been killed when the maternity ward at al-Shifa was targeted? What would we be feeding my daughter? How would we calm her through all the terrifying sounds?

Honestly, I spend a lot of time in my imagination embodying that version of myself. I find a lot of Palestinians in the U.S. saying the same. People around us are so detached from all of this, making small talk about the holidays and the weather. Meanwhile, we are dizzy with grief. The dissonance between how we feel and what immediately surrounds us is a friction that’s only solved when we visit the version of us that could have also been trapped in Gaza. They could have been us. The Palestinians trapped in Gaza, getting killed there, facing appalling human suffering, are not different from us. They are our families. They are people we know and love.

I don’t have words to tell you how anxiety-inducing it is that our tax dollars are buying the bombs being dropped on our nieces, nephews, siblings, parents, grandparents. How can I describe the utter failure we feel that we cannot protect them?

How can I describe the disgust I feel when I hear what Israeli officials say about Palestinians? They call us “subhuman,” “human animals,” “ants,” “human shields,” “collateral damage,” “children of darkness.” They argue for the legitimacy to use nuclear force to bury Palestinians alive. We are panicked. We know they are priming you to accept the massacres of our families!

My sweet sister-in-law, who is seven months pregnant, was forced to walk what has been described as a death march for two hours with her 2-year-old son to reach the south of Gaza under the threat of Israeli tanks and snipers

I don’t have words to tell you how angry I feel watching Israelis steal one of the most beautiful Palestinian songs, “Dammi Falastini,” meaning “my blood is Palestinian.” Mohammed Assaf, the original singer, is an emblem of Palestinian ingenuity and excellence. He was a teen from Gaza who escaped the siege and won “Arab Idol” with a song celebrating being Palestinian. For all the heartache being Palestinian has brought us in this life, my god, it has also given us so much pride. “Dammi Falastini” captures this in all its complexity. The psychological warfare of watching Israelis steal that song and sing “Dammi Israeli” while Palestinian homes are turned to rubble and our very existence is threatened is indescribable.

Watching Israeli doctors demand that their government bomb any and every hospital in Gaza brought yet another indescribable anger. How cheap is Palestinian blood to them? How flagrant their anti-Palestinian racism is. These doctors may treat the small percentage of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship in their hospitals, yet they simultaneously feel totally emboldened to call for the death of critically ill patients in Gaza and the heroic doctors who refuse to leave their sides. Every doctor who signed that petition should lose their license to practice medicine.

As a new mom, I don’t know how to express my empathy and rage on behalf of all pregnant Palestinian women. There are approximately 70,000 pregnant women in Gaza today, like my sweet sister-in-law who is seven months pregnant; she was forced to walk what has been described as a death march for two hours with her 2-year-old son to reach the south of Gaza under the threat of Israeli tanks and snipers, random strip searches and executions in broad daylight.

Once she reached Khan Yunis, she sheltered in an apartment complex lobby. The conditions there were so crowded that men were sleeping standing up. That building was targeted in airstrikes twice in her first week there, and then the people in it received notice they were being forced to move again towards Rafah, also on foot. My sister-in-law survived all of it. “I am still feeling the baby move.” She said to me, “A little reminder of the persistence of life despite so much death.”

How can I express the helplessness I feel as an OB when I think about the 7,000 women who are due this month; my husband’s cousin among them.

She was trapped in north Gaza and delivered her baby last week under bombardment without any doctors present, or anesthesia, alone, with the light of an iPhone. Can you imagine her fear? Know this: Her lack of medical care was not for a lack of doctors in Gaza. It was not for a lack of modern medicine. Palestinians in Gaza are an educated people with many physicians among them who have trained all over the world and are recognized as high-level scientists and researchers in their fields. It is expressly Israel’s assault on Palestinian physicians, its forced evacuation of hospitals in Gaza, and its siege on supplies and fuel that caused this suffering.

My husband’s cousin was trapped in north Gaza and delivered her baby last week under bombardment without any doctors present, or anesthesia, alone, with the light of an iPhone. Can you imagine her fear?

My husband’s cousin later sent out a message announcing the new arrival of her baby girl: “A girl as beautiful as the moon. May her arrival be a light of goodness for us and everyone,” the message read.

I can’t tell you how much it broke and healed our hearts all at once when my mother-in-law, despite having no phone service or internet, sent my husband his first birthday message this year after enlisting help through five degrees of separation to find a person who had an internet connection. The message read: “Your mother wishes you a happy birthday.”

“This is the Palestinian mother,” my husband said in receiving that message, “They have enough humanity to eclipse any amount of despair forced on us.”

I can’t tell you how much it breaks our hearts that the conditions have gotten so dire that the whole family wants out of Gaza now. Most Palestinians live in Gaza as refugees due to the arbitrary division of Palestine to create Israel. They live besieged by Israel with fewer human rights, less freedom, and less agency and security than any one reading this would accept for themselves or their families. The main redeeming circumstance of all of this is the pride of being Palestinian and having a home in Palestine, despite decades of facing a behemoth state that seeks to expel us, while it actively denies our existence and illegally annexes our lands and resources at any cost. Having a home in Gaza is not just a residence, but an act of resilience and resistance.

The stories are getting more awful and words more meaningless every day. It’s all indescribable. We are trying everything we can to help our families leave. We are desperate to help them escape this unimaginable terror and know the privilege of a mundane life.

What we are living is a collective trauma that is palpably changing the architecture of Palestinian DNA. Our epigenome will forever carry the images of every massacre in Gaza, every displaced family and every starving child of these past months. What we are seeing is an intentional assault on Palestinian society and is a continuation of the Nakba — the catastrophic mass killing and displacement of Palestinians into ever-shrinking ghettos. It is happening now, as we speak, in Gaza and the West Bank.

This is not our chosen narrative. It is not an inevitable condition of our humanity. We must intervene. Let this be the swan song of Israeli occupation and apartheid. We must rebuild a society that is based on equality, freedom and human rights for all living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

I insist that it is the greatest honor of my life to be Palestinian, to be from Gaza — the land of pride and dignity. To know our narrative in our own words is important: We are a people who love life and who insist on finding a way to live it. We just need a chance to survive.

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