Courtesy of the Alarayshi Family
Photo: Courtesy of the Alarayshi Family
On October 5, Zakaria and Laila Alarayshi left their home in Livonia, Michigan, to visit family in Gaza City for a couple of weeks. Then just two days later, Hamas invaded Israel and Israel fired back. The ensuing siege of the Gaza Strip has killed thousands and left millions more stranded without power, food, or water. The Alarayshis and several hundred other American citizens remain trapped.
“There is no more water to drink. We have to drink salt water,” Zakaria said in a tearful video made Wednesday morning from southern Gaza, near the closed border with Egypt, where he is sheltering with his wife. Already racked by diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol, he said his health is failing. The terror of airstrikes prevents him from sleeping. He was finally able to use a solar charger to power his cell phone but fears sending messages might get him killed, though he calls his grandchildren in the U.S. every night and cries. When left with his own thoughts, he can only think, “I’m going to be dying next minute.”
The Alarayshis immigrated over 20 years ago to the U.S., where Zakaria started his own business and he and his wife raised nine children. The visit to see two of their adult children and seven grandchildren was the couple’s first trip to Gaza in years. When Israel started pounding Gaza City, the whole family first took shelter with neighbors — just before their original home in Gaza was destroyed.
Shortly after the Israeli military warned millions of civilians to evacuate the northern half of Gaza, the Alarayshi family fled south toward the Rafah crossing into Egypt. Zakaria and Laila attempted to cross four times, waiting hours at the border before being denied passage each time.
It seemed like Egypt would open the border and allow Americans and other foreign nationals to leave Gaza, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the tentative agreement disintegrated over the weekend: Egyptian officials stipulated that they would only agree if Israel allowed food, water, and medical supplies into Gaza. (Zakaria said his family has all but run out of food.) On Wednesday morning during a trip to Israel, President Biden said that Israel dropped its opposition to allowing humanitarian relief for Gaza through Egypt.
While Americans have not been allowed to leave Gaza, thousands have been evacuated from Israel — a fact that the U.S.-based Arab American Civil Rights League says is a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. The group sued the U.S. government on behalf of the Alarayshis late last week, demanding the U.S. “initiate evacuation efforts and secure the safety and well-being of its citizens on equal terms to other non-combatants in the same war zone.”
On Wednesday, the 12th day trapped in Gaza, Alarayshi appealed directly to the president.
“I voted for President Biden,” Alarayshi said in his video message. “He is my president. He has to get me out from here. It’s so bad. Life here is so bad. I can’t handle it.”