“Horrific”: Resident of Jabaliya Refugee Camp Speaks Out After Israeli Airstrikes Kill Over 50
Written by GRB on 01/11/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Massive Israeli airstrikes on Gaza’s largest refugee camp, Jabaliya, killed at least 50 Palestinians Tuesday and wounded over 150 others, sparking new outrage over Israel’s 26-day bombardment of the besieged territory. Israel bombed the refugee camp again today. Numerous residential buildings collapsed in Tuesday’s blast, trapping families under rubble. One engineer from Al Jazeera, Mohamed Abu Al-Qumsan, reportedly lost at least 18 members of his family, including his father and two of his sisters. A long line of dead bodies wrapped in white sheets were placed outside the Indonesian Hospital in the refugee camp, where doctors scrambled to treat survivors.
DR. SUAIB IDAIS: [translated] A large number of injured have come to us after the large explosion that shook the entire Jabaliya refugee camp. Hundreds of injuries, hundreds of martyrs. They were just sitting in their homes. They were targeted while they were in their homes. Children, all martyrs. Children, women, elderly. We have no idea what to do. There are injured everywhere. All the volunteers went down hand in hand just to help people.
AMY GOODMAN: Israeli officials acknowledged carrying out the airstrike on the refugee camp, describing it as a, quote, “wide-scale strike” targeting a Hamas commander accused of helping to orchestrate Hamas’s October 7th attack inside Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,400 people in Israel and the capture of over 220 hostages.
The attack on Jabaliya came as the United Nations and aid groups issued new dire warnings about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. James Elder of UNICEF said Gaza is becoming a “graveyard for children.”
JAMES ELDER: The numbers are appalling. Reportedly, now more than 3,450 children have been killed. Staggeringly, this number rises significantly every single day. Gaza has become a graveyard for children. It’s a living hell for everyone else. And yet the threats to children go beyond bombs and mortars. I want to speak briefly now on two of those: water and trauma. The more than 1 million children of Gaza have a critical water crisis. Gaza’s water production now, its capacity is at 5%, 5% of its daily output. So child deaths to dehydration, particularly infant deaths to dehydration, are a growing threat.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier today, the Rafah border crossing with Gaza was opened to allow dozens of Egyptian ambulances in to evacuate injured patients.
We go now to Gaza, where we’re joined by Yousef Hammash, advocacy officer in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council, who lives in the Gaza Strip with his wife and two children. He’s from the Jabaliya refugee camp but is joining us today from Khan Younis.
Yousef, thanks so much for joining us again. You grew up in, you were born in the Jabaliya refugee camp. Can you talk about the significance of what took place yesterday?
YOUSEF HAMMASH: So, yes, proudly, I’m born and raised in Jabaliya camp as a refugee. And Jabaliya camp was not a place that — for us to consider. It’s more than a place. And the place where they attacked is the center of the Jabaliya camp. It’s the heart of the camp. And everyone knows that Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Jabaliya camp is the most densely populated — the most densely populated place in Gaza. And so, people who doesn’t know how it’s Jabaliya camp, it’s a block of concrete. Houses are next to each other. And the widest street in Jabaliya camp is half a meter. And 90% of the houses are one roof. It’s one floor. And it’s one of the most crowded places on Earth.
The attack yesterday, the massive amount of casualties, it was, first of all, the massive bombardment, and also because it’s very populated place. And I don’t think, both, yeah, I mean, the Israelis really care about that, and they want to target someone. And I’m not sure about these accusations, who were they targeting, what’s going on there. But it’s a really horrific situation. And if you look to the images, what was going on, it’s really horror.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to the Israeli military saying they bombed — they aimed for the alleyways, not the buildings, and that they were going for one of the commanders of Hamas, and that people should have left, that they warned Palestinians to leave northern Gaza and go south?
YOUSEF HAMMASH: First of all, if they are pushing people to leave, where people should go, first of all? I was lucky because I have relatives in the south in Khan Younis. But thousands of people are in the streets or in UNRWA schools, and there is not enough place for anyone anymore in the south. And even there is no safe passage for people to move from the north toward the south. People cannot leave their houses without knowing where they are going. And this is one thing. If you live in Jabaliya, it means that you can handle your situation and keep up and with handling your needs in Jabaliya. If you are going to a new place without somewhere to go, and even doesn’t know where to go, how people will keep up when they are displaced? This is completely illegal, first of all. And you cannot push more than 1 million people to move in a few days. And until now, for example, since few days, even the roads have been cutted between — they split Gaza in two parts. How people are going to go from Jabaliya in the north or Gaza City towards the south? This is the first thing. And the other thing, I think the images and the amount of casualties can answer what the Israeli forces are saying.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play for you a clip of the IDF, Israeli Defense Forces, spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, who appeared on CNN, where he was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer.
WOLF BLITZER: But you know that there are a lot of refugees, a lot of innocent civilians, men, women and children, in that refugee camp, as well, right?
LT. COL. RICHARD HECHT: This is the tragedy of war, Wolf. I mean, we — as you know, we’ve been saying for days, move south. Civilians that are not involved with Hamas, please move south. We —
WOLF BLITZER: Yeah, I’m just trying to get a little bit more information. You knew there were civilians there. You knew there were refugees, all sorts of refugees. But you decided to still drop a bomb on that refugee camp attempting to kill this Hamas commander. By the way, was he killed?
LT. COL. RICHARD HECHT: I can’t confirm, yeah. There will be more updated. He, yes, we know that he was killed. About the civilians there, we’re doing everything we can to minimize.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can respond to the IDF Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht?
YOUSEF HAMMASH: I just need to understand what they did to minimize the loss, casualties, the loss of civilians. And asking people to leave is not a justification. This is not a justification to use this massive amount of bombardment targeting something. And even then, they cannot confirm it. And it’s a bit weird how world is looking to that and how they are trying to justify the killing of civilians. This is unacceptable, how to justify killings of that amount of civilians by saying that you ordered everyone to evacuate. First, even this is illegal to push — these people are forced to flee, and also, there is no place that people can go to.
And even here in Khan Younis, people who were displaced, people like me, we are facing tragedy to provide our daily need, like water and bread. And everything is challenging here because there is not enough space in the south to host all these hundreds of thousands of people who fled from Gaza and the north. People who decided to stay there, they don’t have any other solution. They don’t have any other options. And there is nothing on this planet can justify killing civilians.
AMY GOODMAN: You are in Khan Younis, Yousef Hammash, where you moved. Were you living in Jabaliya?
YOUSEF HAMMASH: I’m born and raised in Jabaliya camp. Yes, I live in Jabaliya.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about who lives there. Talk about the refugee camp, this largest refugee camp, how it was established.
YOUSEF HAMMASH: So, this northern — refugee camps all across Gaza have been established after the Nakba 1948 and then have been expanded more and more. It became small cities. It’s a block of concrete. It’s not like the other camps that we see on the planet, like what’s seen now in Khan Younis, for example. They had to designate another camp which is a tent camp. No, it’s a small city within the city, as the refugee camp. And it’s very densely populated. I know every corner there. I know the people who live there are refugees. And this is generations of refugees who are living in this refugee camp, who is getting expanded day by day because the amount of people are getting more and more, and there is no solutions also for refugees. So it became not a refugee camp. It became a small city within a city. This is how the camp. It’s different than other camps in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you moved with your family to other family in Khan Younis. After the Israeli military told people to move south, dropped thousands of pamphlets and said they would consider you terrorists if you didn’t, they bombed Khan Younis. Is that right? They bombed places in the south, where they said you should go.
YOUSEF HAMMASH: Even here in Khan Younis, it’s not safe. Yesterday, 50 meters away from us, they bombed a family. Eighteen members were killed. And it take us until the daylight to evacuate people who were killed, and most of them were children. There is no safe place all over Gaza. And that’s also another reason why people are not leaving. It’s not safe in the north. It’s not safe in the middle area. It’s not safe in the south also. All across Gaza Strip, the bombardment didn’t stop since the first day. So, this is another reason why people are not moving from the north, because it’s not different. Every day there is a lot of bombardment in Rafah, in Khan Younis, in Deir al-Balah, in the middle area, in Gaza City and the north. There is no difference wherever you are in Gaza City. You are always thinking when you are going to be the next target.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re there in Khan Younis. In an interview you did with Channel 4, you said it took you five hours to look for one liter of fuel in Khan Younis. If you can talk about why fuel is important? And respond to what the Israeli military is saying, why they’re not letting any fuel come in, which runs hospitals, of course, saving lives, the incubators that have premature babies in them, etc. What this fuel shortage looks like for you, not only you as a person, a Palestinian in Gaza, but as advocacy officer in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council, where you’re responsible for so many refugees?
YOUSEF HAMMASH: So, unfortunately, even as humanitarian actors, we cannot do our own, because there is no difference between anyone here. Everyone is under the same circumstances. Fuel is very important because there is no electricity at all. Even when we have one week — one time per week, we have water from the municipality because they have schedule for each area. We need the fuel to push the water from the municipality lines up to the houses. That’s why everything is challenging. And it’s a matter — it’s a layer of complexities. If you have water, you need fuel to push it to the house. To find water, you need to find a way to get it. And it’s almost impossible. Five hours, and I was lucky to did it. Since three days, we are trying to find another liter, and I couldn’t make it. I was lucky because I found someone who’s a friend of mine, and his car was having some fuel. Now, unfortunately, since three days, we don’t have fuel. Today we have the water again that’s from the municipality lines. And unfortunately, we couldn’t push it to the house. So we have had to fill small gallons, and we had to create lines of us inside the house to hand each other, to push, to get — to carry the water to the house tanks. Everything is challenging. And day by day, everything becomes more impossible. And it’s layers above layer of complexities and needs. We don’t have electricity. We don’t have fuel. We don’t have water. And we are lacking everything. We don’t have access for our basic needs.
And unfortunately, we don’t see that effort to push to allow for fuel, for other basic needs for Palestinians. Even these trucks that came in on a daily basis, the maximum amount of trucks reached 50 trucks per day. Before this war started, Gaza was having more than 500 trucks per day, without that amount of need from the war. So, it’s really unacceptable how the world is behaving toward that. It’s not a victory that they succeeded to manage to get these trucks to come. This is not a victory for anyone. This is a drop in the ocean of needs.
AMY GOODMAN: Yousef Hammash, they cut off communication again. We didn’t even know if we’d be able to talk to you. But now the electricity, at least where you are, is back on. Can you talk about the significance of this cutting off of cellphone and electricity, that also happened over the weekend, what it means for you? And also, what’s happening at Rafah today?
YOUSEF HAMMASH: So, this is the second time —
AMY GOODMAN: But first start with, yes, the cutoff.
YOUSEF HAMMASH: So, this is the second time that — so, this is the second time that they isolated us from the rest of the planet. We didn’t have access to phone calls, internet or even radio stations. So, literally, we didn’t know what was happening in the next city. We were completely isolated inside our houses. And here to find internet, I think there is a lot of chaos around me, because I need to go to a cafe where there is — at least they have generator, they have some electricity, so I can have access to internet to have this interview with you. Everything is challenging. And being isolated from the rest of the world, we wasn’t knowing what’s happening in the north or in Gaza City or anywhere else in Gaza. We were just completely in a blackout. I don’t know how it’s acceptable to do this to us. And I don’t think we are — we are very good people in coping. We have a very good coping mechanism. But we cannot cope with this. We didn’t have communication. It’s lacking us from everything.
And this is very dangerous, especially for the emergency situations. You cannot call an ambulance. When they did it a few days ago, it was for two days, 36 hours. People who were trying to get an ambulance after an attack, or even if they have a medical situation inside the house, they had to go to the hospital, informing them, and bring them back with them to the house to take someone who is, for example, very sick, or even if they were injured from an attack. It’s an impossible situation without connection. And this is the second time we see it. This time, it was around 14 hours. And let’s hope — because we cannot find alternatives, let’s hope they are not going to keep continuing doing that, because this is not only affecting us as people who have become more isolated, it’s affecting the emergency situation, the emergency response from the medical teams and civil affairs teams. It’s really dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: How old are your children, Yousef? Yousef, you’re frozen. How old are your children?
YOUSEF HAMMASH: So, I have two children. Ilya is 5 years old, and Ahmed, two-and-a-half. And hopefully, we will manage to stay alive during this chaos and madness, and they can see a brighter future. And because — my son Ahmed is 2 years old. He have witnessed a lot. My 5-years-old daughter witnessed more than a lot for a child to witness from this madness around us. And I feel, again — I keep saying that to myself, and I can tell you clearly, I feel guilty because I brought my children in this place. I feel responsible towards my children, and I regret having them in this chaotic situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Yousef Hammash, I want to thank you so much for being with us, advocacy officer in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council, born in the Jabaliya refugee camp. We have 30 seconds. Your final message — we are based here in the United States — to the U.S. government, to the American population, and also globally around the world?
YOUSEF HAMMASH: I think the world needs to react and to act seriously stopping this madness. I think it’s more than enough for us to suffer and to see what we are seeing currently. World need to extend and hold their responsibilities toward us as a human being. It’s more than enough since the first day. Now we’re stopping — we have already stopped calculating days, because it’s all similar, all its amount of bombardment and horror nights. The world needs to stand and hold their responsibilities toward us as human beings.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, Yousef Hammash, for making the effort, despite all of these difficulties to speak to us today. Again, Yousef Hammash is the —
YOUSEF HAMMASH: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: — advocacy officer in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council, grew up, was born in the Jabaliya refugee camp, the largest refugee camp in Gaza.
When we come back, we’ll be joined by Craig Mokhiber, top U.N. official in New York, who’s resigned, saying the U.N. is failing to stop what he calls a “genocide” unfolding in Gaza. Back in a minute.
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