Palestinian American woman tries to save family in Gaza after her mom dies awaiting evacuation

We speak with Narmin Abushaban in Detroit whose mother died from lack of medical care while waiting to leave Gaza; she is working now to rescue the rest of her family members.


As the Biden administration faces accusations of being too slow to help Palestinian Americans and their families trapped in Gaza, we speak with Narmin Abushaban in Detroit whose mother died from lack of medical care while waiting to leave Gaza. She is working now to rescue the rest of her family members. This comes as calls grow for the U.S. to grant temporary protected status (TPS) to Palestinians already in the United States. We are also joined by civil rights attorney Sophia Akbar to discuss a lawsuit accusing the Biden administration of violating the constitutional rights of Palestinian Americans by withholding support for U.S. citizens, residents and their family members trapped in Gaza, despite having organized charter flights from Tel Aviv for Americans to leave Israel after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and having accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go right now to your lawyer — and we’ll try to fix the sound system to Cairo — Sophia Akbar. Sophia, can you talk about the situation that Fadi and a number of other people are in? Talk about what’s happening in the United States and how Palestinian Americans in the United States, trying to get their families out, and Palestinians who are trying to come into the United States from Gaza — talk about, with your experience as a civil rights attorney who’s been working with other attorneys and advocates to grant TPS to Palestinians here already, and what’s happening to, for example, your client, Fadi.

SOPHIA AKBAR: Thank you for having me, Ms. Goodman.

My clients’ family members need immediate evacuation from Gaza to reunite with their families and to escape near-certain death due to Israel’s brutal war on Palestine. We need the U.S. government to demand an immediate ceasefire from Israel and to stop U.S. taxpayer dollars to facilitate the genocide of the Palestinian people. We need the U.S. government to create immigration pathways for Palestinians to come to the U.S. to escape deadly and inhumane conditions.

We know that last week UNICEF declared Palestine to be the deadliest place for children in the entire world. In just the last 10 weeks, Israel has killed over 10,000 Palestinian children, and that’s not including the numbers that are trapped under the rubble, and has injured over 18,000 Palestinian children while they’re walking to school, playing outside, receiving medical treatment in hospitals, staying quietly in their homes or waving a white flag while crawling to them.

Both of my clients have children that have been affected by — children in their families that have been affected by this war. Fadi has three children, and we just found out this morning that they were able to evacuate from [sic] Egypt. But this has been —


SOPHIA AKBAR: a grueling process. I’m sorry?

AMY GOODMAN: Able to evacuate to Egypt?

SOPHIA AKBAR: That’s correct. They were able to evacuate just this morning. And prior to this, they were in a refugee camp that was bombed. There were 20 people that died in that bombing. And Fadi was frantically looking through pictures to make sure that his family members were not included in the dead. It has been a grueling process of waiting while Fadi has been separated from his family. And hopefully they will be reuniting in the next few hours. But Fadi still has 20 family members who are in Gaza. And my other client, who we’ll hear from, as well, Narmin, she has 20 nephews and nieces under the age of 21 who are in Gaza. And some are in the northern part of Gaza, where they rarely hear from them.

So, regarding efforts to grant temporary protected status, as you mentioned, Senator Durbin and Senator Jayapal wrote letters to the Biden administration demanding that temporary protected status be extended to Palestinians. I am also part of a collective of attorneys and advocates across the country, and we, along with the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, wrote a letter, as well, to the Biden administration demanding that TPS be extended to Palestinians. And we had over a hundred organizational signatories.

TPS is typically granted to countries that are undergoing armed conflict or an environmental disaster. In Palestine, there are no more buildings where people can work. There are no more schools for children to attend, to allow parents to work and for children to have a future. Even if we have a ceasefire tomorrow, the amount of destruction that Israel has unleashed onto Palestinians in Gaza has made life impossible. So temporary protected status would allow Palestinians who are already here in the United States extended status so that they do not have to return to a death sentence. But TPS is not enough. That only applies to Palestinians who are here. So what we really need is a humanitarian immigration pathway that would allow Palestinians who are in Gaza a pathway to come to the United States and find refuge here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Sophia, could —

SOPHIA AKBAR: You mentioned that — yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Sophia, could you talk about the difference between how the administration has been dealing, for instance, with those fleeing the war in Ukraine versus the Palestinians?

SOPHIA AKBAR: Absolutely. That is an extremely stark difference. Under the Uniting for Ukraine program, all requirements of having connections to green card holders and U.S. citizens were waived. So, Ukraine, about — over 270,000 Ukrainians were allowed to come to the United States under this program. And as advocates on the ground right now serving, you know, our clients who have families in Gaza, we cannot even get U.S. citizens out. Our advocates had to sue the Biden administration just to get U.S. citizens evacuated. And that didn’t even — that didn’t even prioritize the issue. We had to — my colleagues had to sue, you know, place two more lawsuits last week to evacuate U.S. citizens. And so, that’s not to say how the family members of U.S. citizens and green card holders are treated. And the Uniting for Ukraine program applied to people beyond that category, as well. So what we really need is a similar program, like Uniting for Ukraine, where Palestinians can have an immigration humanitarian pathway to come here and seek refuge.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what are the obstacles posed by the fact that the United States does not recognize Palestine as a foreign state when it comes to immigration issues?

SOPHIA AKBAR: That’s absolutely a challenge, and it is something that we had to address in our efforts to request TPS. And we have seen that the United States has offered temporary protected status to territories, so that is something that we included in our letter, in our request. But, absolutely, it is a challenge. And, you know, ultimately, without a solution that grants Palestinians freedom, there is no immigration solution that will properly address this problem. Even if we allow Palestinians to come here, to open our borders to them, we have no way of assuring them that when they want to go back, that they will be allowed to return. Palestinians and Native Americans are the only groups of people in the entire world where their return to their land and their property is not governed by them. And that has to change.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Narmin Abushaban into this conversation, Sophia, another of your clients. Narmin, thanks so much for being with us. You’re a Palestinian American attempting to expedite your request to rescue your siblings and their families from Gaza. We’re speaking to you in Detroit. First, our deep condolences on the loss of your mother. Can you talk about what happened to her and what your situation is?

NARMIN ABUSHABAN: Hi. Good morning. I just want to thank you for having me here to share my story about my mother, even though there are like no words that can describe what happened.

My mother is an old lady who was living safely in her home. She was displaced many times. Every time they get displaced, they move to another house, they are threatened to bomb the — the Israeli forces are threatening them to bomb the house. So my brothers had to displace her. She’s paralyzed. She’s on medications. And due to the air forces threatening them to displace many times — they were in the north — they had to go to the south. Even when they were in the south, in Khan Younis, they were threatened in the middle of the night to leave their house. They had to displace her again, until they reached to Rafah. And there, her health was getting worse and worse, until she didn’t have the medication, the right medication, due to the Israeli forces. They prevented the medical supplies to get into Gaza. So she had to switch to another medication that did not help her at all. And she passed away, Allah yerhama.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Narmin, how has it been possible for you even to communicate with family members in Gaza to assess their situation and their state?

NARMIN ABUSHABAN: It’s really hard for me to communicate with them. I had to have my phone, international calls to be able to call them. Nowadays it’s not working. It was working before, but now it’s not working at all. They have to go to the hospital to get some internet connection so they can talk to me. They send me — like in specific times of the day, like in the middle of the night, I have to keep my eyes open so I can see when they can text me or when they can send me a WhatsApp, like, message to see if they’re OK or not.

But my siblings that are in the north, I have no communication at all. My brother, I haven’t been hearing from him for two weeks now. And he’s in the healthcare, and the Israeli forces are targeting all the healthcare professions. And all I know, that they surrounded the houses there, and they’re shooting on people. But I don’t know anything about my brother and his family, that are like more than 10 kids and grandkids.

AMY GOODMAN: Narmin, have you been speaking with your senator, with Dick Durbin? And what has been the response?

NARMIN ABUSHABAN: I have been — actually, I did send emails, but I didn’t get any reply. I filed the crisis intake. I put all my siblings, my mother. And I’ve been emailing them, telling them about her situation and my siblings’ situation. But I didn’t get any answer. They’ve been saying that they’re not in the category. They don’t fall in the category to get them: only immediate family. And they are immediate family. Like, what do they consider immediate family?

After my mother’s death, like two days after, I got an email that they put my mother’s name on the list to be evacuated. So I had to send them again that she’s dead, it’s too late. They told me that they’re going to put my siblings’ names on the Rafah crossing. They even sent me the names that they will put them and that they send them to Rafah crossing. But still, it’s been like three weeks, and I haven’t heard anything.

And I don’t want to lose my siblings as I lost my uncle, as you know. Like, my uncle, his entire family were bombed by the Israeli forces, by the airstrike. And my uncle is an old man. He was in his home playing with his grandchildren. His wife was feeding her grandchild. They bombed the house on top of them. They were under the rubble for one week. They could not get there. Nobody could get in there to help them until the air forces, the Israeli soldiers left. They wouldn’t allow anybody to get in there.

So I don’t want to lose my brothers and my sisters. Every day I hear like bombing and striking people and targeting hospitals, civilians. I want to reunite with my siblings. I don’t want to lose them the way I lost my mother. I just want them to evacuate. If they don’t stop the genocide, they don’t stop it at all, so they even can’t sleep. There are children. There are women. There are like all of them, they’re always scared. They can’t sleep. So, if they don’t stop the genocide, this is the only thing I can do. I can, like, ask for your help, for the Department of State to help me evacuate my siblings.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking to Narmin Abushaban, Palestinian American, talking to us from Detroit. She’s already lost her mother, her uncle, attempting to have her request expedited to rescue her siblings and their families from Gaza.


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