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“My Heart Is Still in Gaza”: Palestinian Scientist Flees Israeli Bombs, Begs World to Stop Genocide


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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Gaza, where the death toll from Israel’s 90-day bombardment has topped 22,600, with another 7,000 people reported missing and presumed dead. Health officials in Gaza say Israel killed at least 162 Palestinians over the last 24 hours as the IDF intensifies its attacks on refugee camps in central and south Gaza — areas deemed by Israel to be safe zones. Doctors in Gaza describe horrific conditions inside the few hospitals still open.

In a minute, we’ll be joined by a Palestinian man who just arrived in Britain after fleeing Gaza. Mohammed Ghalayini is an air quality scientist who spent nearly three months in Gaza, where he had been visiting family. He just returned to Manchester, England, Wednesday, where he has dual citizenship. This is Ghalayini speaking at the airport after his arrival in Britain.

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: After spending 65 days under Israel’s brutal bombing, I made what was to me an impossible choice, one that I’d been fearing since the beginning of the attacks, and that was to use the privilege of my British passport to leave Gaza. It’s a choice not available to the majority of Palestinians in Gaza, people who are currently suffering from malnutrition, severe dehydration and an overwhelming public health crisis, as Israel relentlessly and openly pursues a campaign to force all the people out of Gaza, be it by death or forced relocation to Egypt. I actually fear that I may never — we may never see our home again.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed Ghalayini, speaking after landing in Manchester Wednesday, joining us now from Manchester, also the co-founder of Amplify Gaza Stories, which works to share voices from Gaza.

Mohammed Ghalayini, you were in Gaza with your family. You fled first to Egypt on December 10th, and now you’re home in Manchester. Can you lay out what you saw? Can you talk about Israel’s bombardment of Gaza?

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: Hi, Amy. Thank you for having me on. Goodness, that’s quite a — quite a difficult question to answer comprehensively, but I’ll try. I guess — sorry, I just need to take a moment.

It’s — it was really hard to imagine things getting any worse on any particular day, but they did keep getting worse. I think that’s probably like one way to look at it. You know, I think we —

AMY GOODMAN: Can you start off by telling us where you were? We’ll just go through some of the facts.

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: Yeah, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: You had gone to Gaza to see your family. When did you go?

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: I traveled to Gaza on the 18th of September for an extended visit, both to see my family but also to look at moving back there for work. I’ve been out of Gaza for almost 20 years now. And, you know, the trip was going, I guess, as planned. On the morning of the 7th of October, I had got up quite early to go harvest olives with my cousins, and as I woke up, I saw rocket trails. That gave me the first tipoff that something was off. I guess as the rocket fire lasted into more than an hour, then it started becoming apparent how significant the day was. Then there was a bombing, an Israeli aerial bombardment, 50 meters from our apartment, that shattered all the glass there. And we, at that point, started taking the decision to leave the apartment, because it’s actually quite close to the beach, so not a great place to be.

And then began a succession of displacements, first to an apartment about a kilometer away, then to my father’s home and IVF center, then to a hotel in north Gaza that was supposedly a safe haven because of its — you know, shelters journalists and aid workers. I’ve since learned that that’s been destroyed, as has my father’s IVF center and home.

On the 13th of October, you know, with bombing happening all around us, we saw tower blocks, that housed thousands of people, being bombarded for 36 hours, and eventually they were brought down after this one-ton bombardment. There was, I mean, destruction everywhere that you looked, wherever you went.

And, yeah, on the 13th of October, Israel issued an order to the population of Gaza — an illegal order, I might add — telling people to leave, to go south of Wadi Gaza, the Gaza River. And, you know, it set a lot of people into a panic. And anyone that had an ability to leave, a lot of people left, and we were among them. It was a very, very difficult choice then, because it’s like an impossible choice or a false choice between, I guess, your safety and your home. And then, you know, if you consider the headlines that you were — you know, the headline about the bombardment in areas of Khan Younis in the south that were deemed as, in quote, “safe zones,” we found out, as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, that nowhere was actually safe in Gaza.

And I think that’s all part of this strategy of terrorizing Palestinians, sowing deliberate confusion, until people, like, at the end of their tether, because they have no access to water, scarce food and no access to healthcare. And people eventually are going to be asking themselves, “Well, where should we go?”

And, you know, I truly am of the belief, and I think there is — like, evidence suggests that Israel is trying to push Palestinians into the Sinai. They’ll deny it, and their supporters will deny it, but, ultimately, Israel is a master of creating facts on the ground and plausible deniability, I guess. And I can carry on, if you want, recounting our journey.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you something. You’re an air quality scientist. Can you talk about the air quality in Gaza with this massive level of bombardment?

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: Excuse me. So, I’ve got a cough now. And I think throughout my time in Gaza, I had a cough, and I think that coughs are quite common right now. And part of that is because of the number of respiratory irritants that are in the air because of the bombardment, so starting with the rubble from buildings that, when it’s bombed, are pulverized into fine particles, that every time there’s a gust of wind spread in the air and create an elevated level of particulate matter.

But then, it doesn’t stop at rubble from buildings and other explosive residue and what have you, because you also have — because of the lack of power right now, people are relying on alternative fuels to — so, for example, solid fuel for cooking is so common. So, you walk down any street, and it’s thick with smoke from countless fires that are being lit just to substitute for gas. And then add to that, because of the lack of transport fuel, people are fueling their cars with cooking oil, that, again, is not a good substitute for diesel, because it has like a higher — a worse emission profile that, again, causes untold public health harms. And I think those are the key air quality —

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed, can you —

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: — issues right now. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the Israeli so-called fire belts, the name of the rapid-succession strikes that destroy whole Gaza city blocks?

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: Yeah. It’s really something horrific to behold, because, you know, you just — you hear the whoosh of a jet, and then you hear the explosion, the results from, say, a one-ton bomb that’s laid down. And then you think, “OK, is that it?” And then you hear 10 more in quick succession that just, like, surround or saturate a neighborhood with bombardment. And people have nowhere to go.

So, for example, as I was saying, we were in this location in north Gaza next to the Mukhabarat towers in north Gaza by the beach, and these towers were subject to an almost 24-hour successive fire belt. Some people came to us — they came to seek shelter where we were. And they said, you know, “We couldn’t leave. We were pinned down by bombing all around us.”

And, you know, it’s this massive, indiscriminate use of explosive power in densely populated areas without any regard for civilian lives in those areas. And, you know, it’s very — it’s very cynical, because, you know, they — and I think, initially, an Israeli military spokesperson says, “We are seeking damage, not accuracy,” in their bombing. But then, at the same time, they keep saying, “Our strikes are very targeted, and our strikes are only focused on terrorist structure,” like, you know, that kind of tired terminology of terrorism that they use. And then, later on, we find out that more than 50% of the munitions dropped on Gaza were not smart, targeted bombs, but rather just — yeah, so it’s really hard, I mean, being in it, but also just being around it and hearing, knowing that every explosion is another family being killed and displaced and losing their home.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed —


AMY GOODMAN: On an Instagram post in early November, you said, “Really sad to hear that my dear Cousin Laila El-Haddad’s uncle’s family have been killed by the Israeli bombing of their home in Gaza city. I didn’t know them but feel your pain Laila!” you write. You said you “acknowledged their murder on an interview with BBC 5 Live just now and the presenter tried to mince words that they needed to verify.” Your response?

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: Again, the ultimate slight or cynical denial of the suffering of Palestinians. You know, on the one hand, we are expected to mourn and kind of acknowledge the death of Israelis — and, you know, as humanitarians, we do — and expected to accept the Israeli government’s narrative of that. But on the other hand, Palestinian suffering, Palestinian deaths, that are much more documented, are — each one is dissected and analyzed ad infinitum to deny, deny this, deny the genocide that is going on. And I will call it a genocide. I mean, it’s very — it’s just — it’s the ultimate in dehumanization, I’m sorry. Every time I report someone that I know or a relative that’s been killed by Israel, I’ll be asked, “But do you have proof that it was Israel? Do you have” — you know, we can’t verify that, surely, so we can’t mention it. It’s horrible.

AMY GOODMAN: Eighty members of your extended family have died in Gaza?

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: Yes. So, 15 of my mother’s cousins were killed in their home in Khan Younis in early October. Later in October, another 10 of my mother’s cousins, 20 of my father’s cousins, and others that I’ve almost, like, lost track or lost count. And it’s just, we — I mean, my coping strategy is, in some way, to try and not know. But obviously you can’t avoid it.

I think one of the most horrific incidents that really stood with us, though, was in late December. Well, on the 19th of December, we got the news that six of my cousins, along with their in-laws from the Hanan family, so the Ghalayini family and the Hanan family, who were sheltering in the home of the Hanan family in Gaza City, they had been surrounded by the IDF for a couple of days, and then the Israeli army went into the house. They separated the men from the women. So, like, in that process in itself, in being able to separate men from women, it is telling. It is telling in terms of the level of respect, or lack thereof. And then, 15 of the men in the home were shot by the Israeli army. And then they also threw explosives into the rooms that the women were sheltering in, and many of them were injured, as well. This has been documented by the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. It’s also been — a press statement was issued by the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

And the Israeli army has form when it comes to summary executions. They executed their hostages as they were walking towards them barechested, waving white flags. And, you know, I’m fearful for everyone I know that’s in Gaza, from either meeting an explosive death or a death by trigger-happy genocidal soldiers who are like drunk, obviously, on the power that they are wielding. And also —

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed, I wanted to get your response —

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: — kind of — yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — to Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, where you have dual citizenship, Tzipi Hotovely, who has openly embraced destroying the whole of Gaza. She made the comment during an interview on the London radio station LBC.

TZIPI HOTOVELY: One of the things we realized, that every school, every mosque, every second house has an access to tunnel. So, this is — and, of course, ammunition.

IAIN DALE: But that’s an argument for destroying the whole of Gaza, every single building in it.

TZIPI HOTOVELY: So, do you have another solution how to destroy the underground tunnel city, that this is the place where the terrorists hide?

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the Israeli ambassador to the U.K. Can you first respond to Tzipi Hotovely?

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: Of course. Tzipi Hotovely needs to be expelled from the United Kingdom. She is a purveyor of fake news that is a way of manufacturing consent for Israel’s genocidal actions. And the U.K. government needs to expel her as a diplomat. She is a propagandist, not a diplomat. And, you know, she is someone that is, you know, making the case for Israel to continue with this impunity in its war crimes. And it’s all fake news, with no proof. But, like, in the end, if you have a position of power and access to the media, then it doesn’t — you’re often unchecked and unquestioned.

Unfortunately, not all media — I mean, I’m glad the presenter challenged her, but I don’t think — I don’t know how far the challenge went in that piece. And ultimately, ultimately, there’s a lot of bad, bad journalism going on. And I guess this is like one of the reasons why this is so important to have like independent media like Democracy Now! and also like independent voices on social media kind of making sure that the checks and balances when it comes to political statements and propaganda are in place.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed, I want to ask you a last question. If you could talk about your decision — when you left Gaza, you stayed in Cairo to try to readjust, almost afraid to come home to Manchester. Can you talk about that transition, what you face now, what you’re calling for?

MOHAMMED GHALAYINI: I mean, so, my heart is still in Gaza. I did not want to leave Gaza, because I knew — when I was in Gaza, I knew that I could — I was there, I was present in the moment, and the only struggle that I was facing was that of surviving and telling our story. And now, I guess, outside Gaza, it’s a much — in some ways, it’s, obviously, I’m glad to be physically safe, but at the same time, I have like a very, very heavy weight of responsibility to keep honoring and amplifying the voices of, like, my country, people in Gaza, and making sure that we keep up the political pressure to make sure, you know, that, first of all, there’s a ceasefire and that Israel and its allies are held accountable. And so, I’m so glad that South Africa has brought this case at the International Court for Justice. And, you know, I think this would not have been possible without the voices of millions of supporters of Palestine protesting, and protesting in very, very difficult conditions, like a political climate that is so hostile, that accuses you of antisemitism, even though it’s the last thing that people are doing by criticizing Israel. And I think it’s so important to keep up that pressure, and I’m adding my voice to that.

And if I may, maybe just for a moment, speak of Amplify Gaza Stories, an initiative that I set up with friends and campaigners in Manchester, where, you know, we, like, ultimately wanted to — obviously, you know that there’s a narrative that’s predominant in terms of putting the Israeli narrative in front of the Palestinian narrative. And we felt there was always space for getting more Palestinian voices out there. And so we did this by — I took testimony. I interviewed people in Gaza. And we translated it and got it either published on social media or on — pushed it to other platforms. And it’s something that we’re continuing, along with like a network of contacts in Gaza, to make sure that the Palestinian voices are heard. And it’s a two-way thing, as well, because we’re also working on practical solidarity. So, for example, we have a — at the moment we’re raising money on a crowdfunder to support families cooking hot meals for their immediate communities. So it’s kind of about ensuring that they have the means for resilience, because I think right now one part of Israel’s strategy is battering down the resilience of Palestinians, so that people are so battered and broken that they can’t, like, resist through their existence. And that’s what we’re trying to do to help them with that.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s so much more to talk about, Mohammed, but we have to end here. Mohammed Ghalayini is a British Palestinian air quality scientist, spent nearly three months in Gaza, has just recently returned to Manchester, England. He returned on Wednesday, co-founder of Amplify Gaza Stories.

Coming up, hundreds of Jewish activists and their allies shut down the California state Capitol in Sacramento Wednesday to demand a ceasefire in Gaza. We’ll speak with one of them, a former IDF soldier, a descendant of Holocaust survivors. Back in 20 seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: “Rajieen,” “We Will Return,” by 25 artists from the Middle East and North Africa. The proceeds from the song will be donated to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.

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