For Americans with family in Israel and Gaza, conflict strikes at home – and continues to do so
Palestinian volunteers and municipal workers clear the rubble of the Hanadi compound, recently destroyed by Israeli strikes, in Gaza’s Rimal district on May 25, 2021. Image: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP via Getty Images
Said Durrah’s family in Gaza are so used to living with Israeli airstrikes that their appeals during the conflict could be surreal.
“The way they talk about it is the way you and I would talk about preparing for the vacation.”
Durrah, a Palestinian-American who lives outside of Washington, DC, said they would talk about leaving bags full of passports and valuables by the door in the event of an evacuation. And they would try not to dwell on their fears, so as not to contribute to their children’s anxiety.
“How much do they want their emotions to be believed on this call, knowing that they are surrounded by their family?” Said Durrah.
Libby Lenkinski, who lives in Brooklyn, regularly called her sister, who has two young daughters, in Tel Aviv, who was the target of rocket barrages fired from Gaza.
“When I talk to them, I try to be a little normal, like, you know, what are you drawing and what are you doing? And let’s play a game of hide and seek on Zoom or whatever, ”she says. “But, you know, that doesn’t work… They feel what’s going on and they feel the tension.”
Many Americans with relatives in Israel or Gaza remained in constant contact with loved ones as the Palestinian militant group Hamas fired rockets at Israel and Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes on Gaza. The fighting has left more than 240 people dead in Gaza and 12 in Israel.
Despite the cessation of hostilities, fears and feelings about a conflict thousands of miles away are still high, and many on this side of the Atlantic feel it is only a matter of time before there is another escalation.
“The ceasefire is just the end of the imminent death threat,” said Deanna Othman, who has a large network of family members in Gaza through her husband.
“The biggest problem is, you know, the siege, the occupation in general, the displacement,” she adds. “And without, you know, a solution to all these problems, it becomes almost impossible for them to come back from something like this.”
Othman, who teaches English at a high school in suburban Chicago, has learned that his sister-in-law’s family home was razed to the ground in an Israeli airstrike – like hundreds of other buildings in Gaza. The family was safe: they had evacuated as shelling intensified nearby.
“As we experience this second hand, we feel a lot of guilt, as Palestinian-Americans,” she says, adding that she and her husband have spoken to relatives as often as internet and phone connections. irregularities allowed it.
“It’s really hard to know what to say. What are you supposed to say to someone who sees the bombs falling around them?”
Othman shared a video of the wreckage of the destroyed house on his Twitter account. “This is what our people are facing,” she wrote.
Othman is a board member of the Chicago Chapter of American Muslims for Palestine. But she says when she sees what her family is going through, she can feel helpless.
“Despite our best efforts, despite the number of thousands of people we take to the streets,” she said. “Sometimes it feels like it’s nothing when someone’s life is threatened.”
Durrah says one thing is different this time around: social media. He sees the videos of the destruction of Gaza and their celebrity amplification as a potential “game changer” for public opinion.
“When you see it in high definition,” he says, “it’s much easier to understand what a profession looks like”.
Lenkinski, who works for the New Israel Fund, a left-wing group she says is “staunchly” anti-occupation and works to build Arab-Jewish partnerships, is aware of the asymmetry of risks for residents of Israel and Gaza.
As concerned as she was for her own family, she knew they were protected by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, which prevented most Hamas rockets from reaching their targets. And they were never far from shelter.
“Palestinians in Gaza have no protection against the bombs thrown by Israel on their homes,” she said. “They have nowhere to run.”
But the conflict always took a toll on her family. Lenkinski says her sister had panic attacks and feared leaving the house and having to run to a bomb shelter with her two daughters.
The conflict even seized the dates of play of his niece.
“The first thing they talk about – these 8 year olds – is, ‘What did you do when you heard the sirens? Were you scared? ”, Lenkinski said. “That’s what they think. And it’s really devastating and horrible.”
David Shriberg, from Bloomington, Ind., Spent a lot of time on social media during the conflict, seeking updates on the situation as his daughter was in Israel on a trip to high school.
“When your child is in a war zone, it’s hard to think of anything else,” he says.
Prior to his departure for Israel, the main security concern was COVID-19. But as the fighting escalated, he felt “growing terror” over the thousands of rockets that Hamas and other militant groups fired at Israel.
As Shriberg and his wife spoke to his daughter about how things were feeling on the ground in Israel, her fears eased a bit.
“The roles changed a bit and our daughter was trying to reassure us,” he says.
But their conversations also touched on the discussion of the conflict that Shriberg was following on social media, some of which disturbed him.
“Clearly anti-Semitic things like Jews controlling the media, or all kinds of absurd memes. I see them come, I guess, under the guise of Palestinian rights,” he said. “I find this incredibly alarming.”
Shriberg says the death of civilians in Gaza is a tragedy. But he says Hamas’s military strategy deliberately put Israel in a “horrible position,” in which it could not defend itself without killing civilians.
Israel is important to him, he says, because there must be a safe place in the world for Jews.
Here in the United States, he says, the anti-Semitism he has seen online this month and the anti-Semitic violence of recent years is “soul crushing.”
“I see him invading our lives in a way he didn’t have before.”
The conflict and its aftermath are therefore not over for him, even though his daughter is back in the United States now. And it is not over for Durrah, Lenkinski or Othman, whose families in the Middle East are never far from their minds.
Copyright (c) 2021, NPR