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“Catastrophic”: Gaza Aid Worker on “Horror” of Forced Relocations Amid Israel’s War on Southern Strip


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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

We begin today’s show in Gaza, as Israeli tanks are moving into the center of Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city, after days of intense shelling and airstrikes. Palestinian health officials say the death toll in Gaza has topped 16,200, including over 6,600 children. This is a resident of Khan Younis speaking after Israel bombed his home.

HAMDI TANIRA: [translated] There were 30 people inside the house. Twenty of them were children, children aged 15 days, 1 year, 3 years, 4 years. We set up a place for them to sleep throughout the bombardment. We put them to sleep. We went to sleep. All of a sudden, what happened to us, we don’t know. The fire hit us. And like you see, all of it collapsed on top of us. None of us made it out completely OK. Everybody is hurt. How and why, we don’t even understand what happened ourselves. We rushed to the hospitals to check on the children and came back this morning to check the house. Look at this. I swear, we don’t even know how we made it out alive.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Jan Egeland, the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, released a statement, saying, quote, “The pulverising of Gaza now ranks amongst the worst assaults on any civilian population in our time and age. Each day we see more dead children and new depths of suffering for the innocent people enduring this hell,” he said.

We’re joined now by Yousef Hammash, advocacy officer in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council. He’s joining us today from Rafah.

Yousef, thanks so much for being with us. If you can start off by talking about what’s happening right now, from Khan Younis, where you were, to Rafah, where you have fled now?

YOUSEF HAMMASH: Thanks for hosting me, Amy.

Unfortunately, after seven days of the humanitarian pause, we weren’t expecting that we will see this madness getting increased. The madness is getting bigger and bigger. And directly after the humanitarian pause, the bombing started mainly in the south, and the Israeli land operation started taking place in Khan Younis, and they turned Gaza into three pieces. While it used to be cut into two parts, now it’s three parts. So we have Gaza City and the middle area and Khan Younis and Rafah.

And as the ground operation started the eastern part of Khan Younis, and they asked the residents to flee to Rafah, that’s what forced us to flee for the third time now to Rafah. And hundred thousands of people had to do this, to take this choice to flee into Rafah and to build these small tents made by wooden sticks and plastic under this harsh weather. And it became really crazy situation suddenly. And we had to witness the same as we witnessed in the northern part of Gaza when the military operation — even the war started on 12th — after the war started on 12th of October, when they asked us to flee to the south. And we didn’t have other option, and we fled to the south to Khan Younis, and now we found ourselves doing it again. Hopefully, it’s going to be the last time.

Unfortunately, the humanitarian situation is catastrophic here. People are using anyplace as a shelter. People are living on sidewalks and streets and any empty area they found. They put anything to cover their heads, and they consider it as a shelter, without any means of protection. And it’s a horrible situation that I don’t think I have the ability to describe it. If you see it by your own eyes, you will be shocked. We never witnessed such horror. And you can see it in people’s face. They are in a miserable situation that doesn’t have any option to do. All what they do is looking for their safety, fleeing from a place to another place.

AMY GOODMAN: Yousef, it’s not usual in most situations where the journalists themselves are trying to save their own families and their own lives as you report on the entire situation. If you can track your own journey with your family? I think some 60 journalists, Gazan and Palestinian journalists, about that number, have been killed in these last weeks, including the head of the Gaza journalists’ association, so many cameramen and reporters. But if you can start with your journey where you left, first north, and then going home to Jabaliya, and go from there, and why in each situation the terror and the destruction that you left behind?

YOUSEF HAMMASH: So, at the beginning of the — on 7th October, I had to flee my house, because I lived in Beit Lahia, which is more near to the border, and usually, as in our previous experience from wars and escalation, it’s the first areas to be targeted. And I thought it’s better for me to take my children and my extended family to Jabaliya camp, which is the center of the north, and convincing myself that it’s going to be a bit more safe. And since the moment that I did this decision, I left everything behind. I didn’t care what I’m going to lose. I just was — I was looking for the safety of my family. The two, three days after the war, my house was targeted, and my parents’ house was targeted, and the other house with my brother was targeted.

And on the 12th of — we had to stay in my grandparents’ house in Jabaliya. On the 12th of October, we started to receive these phone calls from Israelis and settlers just threatening us and warning us about what’s coming. And then I had to decide to flee again from Jabaliya to the south, based on what they asked us. And again, our responsibility towards our children and our extended families forced us to take these options. We fled to Khan Younis without anything, literally. We had to start our new life. And I was lucky because I have some relatives there, so I had to — I managed to find a roof to cover my head.

And I wasn’t expecting that we will live this horror again, and we had to take this option again for the third time to go to Rafah. But, unfortunately, in Rafah we don’t have that option to have a roof to cover our heads. And since two days, I’m trying, surfing around Rafah, looking for anyplace to shelter my family. And unfortunately, until now, I didn’t succeed to find a place. Today I had to go to build a tent for my family, finding a safe place, as they call it, in al-Mawasi area, that’s going to be much safe there. And we follow what’s the instruction that — what we receive. And I had to do the same as the other hundred thousands of other people in Gaza who had to take that option also. So, I had to build a tent. I don’t know how we will manage to fit in it, but this is the option that we have.

But especially the two days when the military operation started in Khan Younis, the horror that we saw from the bombardment, the nonstopping bombardment — I was calculating for the timing between each missile was eight seconds, imagining we were living in an earthquake, Amy. And that’s what’s, again, always putting us in a situation in front of our children that we are useless to protect them. We cannot even provide protection for our children and our — my sisters, for example. I felt very useless in front of them because I cannot do anything for them. So we had to take that option, convincing ourselves again that we will be safe. I am pretty sure there is no place safe in Gaza. But we’ll do as much as — I will take whatever it takes. I will do it to protect my family.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you’re not a journalist. You’re an aid worker. You are an advocacy officer in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council. But your descriptions of what is happening there are so critical. How do you do your work and the other 50 or so Norwegian Refugee Council workers do their work in Gaza as they’re being forced to flee? And are you trying to get now over the border from Rafah into Egypt?

YOUSEF HAMMASH: Yeah, Amy, we are trying to do our best, because this is our role, and this is why we are here. But, unfortunately, we are in the same situation like everyone is here. During the humanitarian pause, we were assessing the situation, trying to do distribution plan, because we are trying to help as much as we can people in need. The majority of — the entire population in Gaza are in need. So, you have to understand the situation in general. Half of the population before 7th October was relying on humanitarian aid. Imagining adding this catastrophic situation to the need of people. The entire population in Gaza is in need. And if you combine us all as humanitarian actors, we cannot cover the need that we are having here.

We used these seven days to manage to have our trucks entered through Rafah and to do our distribution plan and trying to assist as much as we can. But then we found ourselves in the circle of violence again. And unfortunately, even in front of the situation now, we are useless. We cannot protect ourselves even as humanitarian workers. There is no protection for any of us. We are all in Gaza under the same circumstances. We are trying, but the situation is preventing us. And trust me, many of my colleagues are — had to sleep in the streets —

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what —

YOUSEF HAMMASH: Sorry. Go ahead, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what kind of aid is getting through and isn’t getting through, and what it means when you have something like 1.8 million, 1.9 million Palestinians, out of — what? — 2.3 million, who are on the run, who are internally displaced?

YOUSEF HAMMASH: Honestly, Amy, what all of us as humanitarian actors can do is like a drop in the ocean of needs here. And we keep asking for allowing more and more trucks of aid to enter, but it’s too political, and everyone understands the situation now. They allow only — there is not even an accurate number for how many trucks per day we can get through Rafah. It’s too political situation, what’s bringing us to understand it. Trust me, in the past few days, we were chasing our trucks. We were trying to find solution how to get it through Rafah, manage — store it in some place, then trying to distribute it as fast as we can, because we understand it’s nothing comparing to the need. So we are trying to do our best. Even if it was few people that we can assist and help, it is something. But even to reach that small something is not easy. It’s almost impossible because of the situation that we are living in. The amount of aid that’s coming to Gaza is literally —

AMY GOODMAN: Yousef Hammash — 

YOUSEF HAMMASH: — not tangible and is not affecting the need. It’s not really affecting the amount of need that we are having in Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Yousef Hammash, advocacy officer in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council. He fled Khan Younis earlier this week, joining us now from Rafah. He was in Beit Lahia originally, fled to the Jabaliya refugee camp, then to Khan Younis, then to Rafah near the border crossing with Egypt.

Coming up, Democracy Now! questions — attempts to question the head of the UAE state oil company, who is presiding over the U.N. climate summit. Stay with us.

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