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A letter to President Biden from a grieving Palestinian

Dear President Biden,

On Thursday morning, October 26, I woke up to the news of yet another massacre in Gaza.

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This time, Israel killed members of my own extended family. The crime scene was Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern part of the Gaza Strip – note, not in the north, but the south, where people were supposed to be safe, according to the Israeli army. An entire residential quarter of the camp where I was born and raised was ruthlessly bombarded and reduced to rubble by apartheid Israel.

People there experienced it as an earthquake. A brutal, man-made earthquake. It ended the journey on earth for 47 souls who have now returned to God. Of them, 36 were direct family and the remainder were people taking shelter in their homes, seeking illusory safety.

Mr Biden, two and a half years ago in a speech at the White House on the occasion of the conviction in the George Floyd trial, you spoke about the common purpose of people who rose up to say that Black Lives Matter, people who cried: “Enough. Enough. Enough of these senseless killings.”

But today, as members of my family are murdered, you refuse to even acknowledge that these senseless killings are happening. Instead, you offer words of encouragement to Israel. Today you say: “More. More. More of these senseless killings.”

And Israel is happy to grant your wish.

When a member of their community is mercilessly killed by the American militarised police forces, Black Americans honour their victims by saying their names out loud. As the Israeli forces – who are kindred in spirit and in arms to their American counterparts – kill my people now, I also want to honour them by saying their names.

Today, Mr Biden, we mourn the loss of my granduncle Nayif Abu Shammala, aged 79, alongside his wife, Fathiya, 76 – both survivors of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that took place in 1948 to make way for the creation of Israel.

Their village, Beit Daras, about 30km (nearly 20 miles) north of Gaza, was ethnically cleansed and destroyed along with 530 other Palestinian towns and villages. Fathiya and Nayif, like many of the 750,000 refugees of the Nakba, sought refuge in Khan Younis refugee camp, which was supposed to be only temporary until their return home.

Nayif and Fathiya are no longer with us, Mr Biden. They died before they could exercise their UN-guaranteed right to return to their land.

Among the victims of the bombardment were also their three daughters: Aisha, the cutest, most cheerful face in Khan Younis; her sister Dawlat, one of the most beautiful women in my family who had just come back from the United Arab Emirates to visit her family; and Umaima, the youngest sister, along with her daughter Malak. They came to the family home seeking shelter from the constant bombardment.

Four of Nayif and Fathiya’s sons were also killed: Hassan, Mahmoud, Mohammed and Zuhair along with their wives, Fadia, Nima and Easha. Zuhair’s wife survived only because she had gone to another family in the camp to offer condolences for their dead. Among the murdered were also Hassan’s three children: Mohammed, Ismail, and Salma. Nayif and Fatiya’s surviving son, Ibrahim, lost his eldest son, Nayif, named after his grandfather.

Members of the Qedeih family and Allaham family who had also sought shelter in my granduncle’s house were also killed.

As if this was not enough, Mr Biden, the home of my grandaunt was also bombed. Her name was Um Said. She was 92 years old, a survivor of the Nakba, also hailing from Beit Daras.

She lived in her home in Khan Younis with her daughter Najat. Both now find their resting place under the rubble. People tried to pull their bodies out but could not. The adjacent homes of her two sons, Marwan and Asaad, and her daughter Muna were also bombed.

Marwan survived but his wife, Suhaila, and four children – Mohammed, Mahmoud, Aya and Shahd – were killed. Muna also died along with her two sons, Amjad and Mohammed. Asaad; his wife, Imtiyaz; and his son Abdelrahman, a fourth-year medical student, are also gone.

Asaad’s home was wiped out along with his small grocery shop. This was a favourite place for my own son, Aziz, to visit when we would go back to visit our homeland. Asaad was known throughout Khan Younis camp as a gentle soul who sold goods for little money. He kept a thick ledger but often forgot to collect the debts and simply forgave them. Today, Asaad’s beautiful smile, his kindness, his family and his shop have all been taken from us.

When the bombing occurred, many relatives and neighbours were in Asaad’s shop to buy necessities and use its solar energy unit, which he had bought to help people charge their phones and batteries for free. Among the murdered are also Akram, Riman, Beirut, Imad, Niema and others whose names I cannot recall.

Mr Biden, do you believe that the pain of an Israeli mother hurts more than the pain of a Palestinian mother? Is the life of an Israeli child more valuable than the life of a Palestinian child? This is the only explanation that I can find for what you are doing now – encouraging the mass killing of children in Gaza.

When I speak of children, I am referring to real, human children with their own unique faces, names, laughter and dreams. Israel has taken the lives of more than 4,000 children, including babies, with your complicity, Mr Biden; 4,000 beautiful souls have been taken from us.

Among them is my sister’s granddaughter, Julia Abu Hussein, who was just three years old. My nephew Amjad and his wife Rawan took Julia along with my sister Samia’s family to Khan Younis in search of safety. It took them three days to make the journey from their home in the north of Gaza – a trip that would normally take less than 30 minutes. They listened to the Israeli army’s calls to evacuate. But they found no safety.

When the bombardment began, Rawan took Julia into her arms and rushed to the kitchen with the rest of the family. The sheer force of the Israeli bombs damaged our home and shattered the windows. Several pieces of shrapnel got into the house through the broken windows, killing Julia in her mother’s arms and badly injuring her aunt Nagham.

So, Mr Biden, here is a child whose life was taken by the violence of the war machine you wholeheartedly support. Can you imagine that? Can you truly comprehend the magnitude of this and other tragedies? Or are you still intent on questioning whether Israel is guilty of the mass killing of Palestinians?

As I hear of relatives and friends killed every day in Gaza, I struggle to find new ways of describing death – gone, taken, under the rubble, their souls in heaven. Meanwhile, the media is telling me that they either are not dead or that they are dead, but they are terrorists.

Last summer when I visited Gaza, Um Said kindly gave me her embroidered dress. She insisted that I take it back to Canada with me. I am grateful that I did. Today, Um Said also remains under the rubble of her home. Her embroidered dress is all that I have left to remember her by.

Mr Biden, when the history of what is going on today is written, I am confident that you will go down in it as the man who encouraged and enabled the Israeli genocide against the Palestinian people. You will be remembered as a man whose government actively partook in war crimes.

But more importantly, Mr President, as a man who professes his faith in God, what do you say to Him in your prayers to justify the blood on your hands?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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