Palestinian American’s family members ignored by Biden administration

People with suitcases stand at the Rafah crossing

Some brokers are demanding up to $10,000 per person to evacuate Gaza, according to reports.

Ahmed Ibrahim APA images

A Palestinian American nurse in Chicago says his elected representatives are failing to help evacuate his immediate family members out of Gaza.

Faced with his parents and sisters’ deteriorating safety, Mohammed Ghraiz is now being forced, like many other Palestinians with family in Gaza, to raise money to pay brokers who can evacuate them.

Ghraiz, who immigrated to the US in 2012, used to work at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

He is also one of the founders of Camps Breakerz, a breakdance crew in Gaza.

For nearly 20 years, Camps Breakerz organized breakdance classes for children in the Nuseirat refugee camp. The group still performs for traumatized and displaced children in overcrowded shelters.

Ghraiz told The Electronic Intifada that his relatives had to leave their home in Nuseirat last week amid relentless Israeli bombing.

His parents and sisters are now in Rafah, an overcrowded area in the south where Israel has pushed more than half of Gaza’s entire population.

Ghraiz’s parents are elderly and have health problems. His mother is diabetic and has cataracts, and one of his sisters is her full-time caretaker.

His mother’s name was added to the list of approved evacuees in November, Ghraiz said, but his father’s name was not.

Neither of his sisters’ names have been added, so he has been trying to press his local member of Congress and both Illinois senators to intervene.

But Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi has been unhelpful, he said, telling him that the US State Department is holding up the process and they are unable to do much.

The office for Senator Tammy Duckworth told him that his mother is cleared to exit Gaza, but not his father, and is offering no reason why.

Senator Dick Durbin’s office, he said, told him that they are merely looking into it.

Ghraiz’s representative and senators have not replied to The Electronic Intifada’s requests for comment.

“I want immediate action from my government, from the people that I voted for, or would consider voting for,” Ghraiz said.

His sister has arrhythmia – an irregular heartbeat – and she is afraid that she will have a heart attack if she cannot leave for medical treatment, he said.

Before the bombing started in October, Ghraiz’s sister had obtained permission to travel to Jerusalem for surgery. She has been waiting to evacuate to the US or Egypt for treatment.

Even though the US State Department announced in November that it was expanding its policy of assisting the evacuation of US citizens to also include parents and unmarried siblings who are under 21, the agency has routinely ignored emergency appeals from Palestinians with American passports.

Ghraiz’s sisters are both married and over 21. But he said that he’s asked his representatives to push the State Department to make any exception they can, because of his parents’ and sister’s health.

Receiving medical treatment in the US, he said, “would be better [for my sister], but it might take a long time. So I need my family to be in a safe zone now. That’s why I’m trying to push the [US government] to get my family out, and make some exceptions for my siblings’ situation.”

Last resort

A man dances in front of ancient ruins

Mohammed Ghraiz breakdances in Jordan in 2011. (Courtesy of Mohammed Ghraiz)

Ghraiz recently set up a GoFundMe campaign to try and raise at least $50,000 to evacuate his parents, sisters and their children.

This is becoming an increasingly common last resort for many Palestinians. But it is also extremely expensive and unreliable.

Some brokers are demanding up to $10,000 in bribes per person “to help them exit the territory through Egypt,” according to The Guardian.

The UK newspaper interviewed a US citizen from Gaza, who was told “he would need to raise $85,000 to get 11 family members out of the territory, including five children under three.”

The source explained to The Guardian that he was “only considering this option because the US government is not responding to me.”

Like Ghraiz, the US citizen had spent the past three months “appealing to the US State Department taskforce to put his diabetic father on the exit list.”

“I’m in this situation because the US doesn’t want to help its own citizens,” the source told The Guardian.

Ensuring the safety of Palestinians shouldn’t be determined by the success of crowdfunding campaigns, Ghraiz said.

“I’m a US citizen, and I expect my government to help me in times like this,” he asserted.

He noted the double standard applied by the US government to help its non-Palestinian citizens.

In October, the US State Department worked swiftly to charter planes to evacuate Americans and their family members from Israel.

“I would like to believe that people from my country would be provided the same service,” Ghraiz said.

The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) recently filed an Amicus brief to a US District Court highlighting the US government’s denial of “any evacuation services” to its citizens, residents and their families in Gaza.

“In stark contrast, the State Department reportedly made 5,600 seats available by air and sea for Americans wanting to leave Israel within the first week of October 7th,” the ADC notes.

The legal brief supports an earlier federal complaint against US President Joe Biden and his senior officials, charging them with failure to prevent, and their complicity in, Israel’s ongoing genocide.

It outlines the harm that Palestinian Americans are experiencing as they or their family members remain trapped inside Gaza while US weapons continue to destroy their neighborhoods.

In his limited communications with lawmakers, Ghraiz said that they have been unwilling or unable to pressure the State Department on his behalf.

US State Department violating rights

Faced with an increasingly dire situation for their families, Palestinians in the US are assessing their legal options against the Biden administration’s inaction.

Last month, Yasmeen Elagha, who is also based in Chicago, sued the Biden administration over the US’ failure to approve the immediate evacuation of her family members from Gaza.

The US State Department, Elagha’s lawsuit claims, is actively denying her family equal protection under the Constitution.

The lawsuit “seeks a court order requiring the Biden administration to get their relatives’ names on the exit list, and ‘use all resources at their disposal’ to evacuate all US citizens from Gaza,” according to CBS News.

In November, residents of the San Francisco Bay Area sued the US government over similar charges in the case of their grandmother in Gaza.

Ghraiz says that he and his family are obviously conflicted about evacuating. Gaza is their home.

“My parents don’t want to leave,” he told The Electronic Intifada. But they are running out of options, along with food, water and medical support.

“My sister said, ‘There is no future here, there is no school [for my kids], just the sound of drones non-stop for months, and the sounds of bombs.’”


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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).