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The teenager stands in the middle of a hospital ward, his tank top covered in blood. His cheek is bandaged. One hand is wrapped in gauze, and in the other, he holds up his U.S. passport.
“Where is this state that should protect me?” asks Yousof Abushaban, 18, in a video recorded at a Gaza hospital this week and posted on Instagram. “Look at me, I was bombed.”
Yousof is one of at least 400 Americans trapped in Gaza as Israel mounts a siege of the enclave, cutting off supplies of food, water, fuel and medicine to more than 2 million people amid a relentless aerial bombardment.
As the conditions in Gaza grow increasingly dire, Americans are caught.
Israel shut down its crossings with Gaza after an unprecedented attack by Hamas, which controls the enclave, and a ground offensive by Israeli forces is expected soon.
Egypt’s priority, meanwhile, is moving humanitarian aid into Gaza from its border with the enclave, not getting foreign nationals out.
On Wednesday, following a visit to Israel, President Biden told reporters that he was “hopeful we can get some Americans out” of Gaza, without providing further detail.
For Yousof’s family, such hopes were too late. His younger sister, Joud, 14, was killed in the airstrike that damaged the family’s home in Gaza City, said Yousof’s cousin Bahgat Aboushaban, who lives in Michigan.
Yousof’s father, Abedalazeez, who is blind, was seriously injured in the bombing. Doctors have said they are not sure they can perform the surgeries necessary to save his arm, said Bahgat, who is receiving updates from other members of the family.
Yousof was born in Michigan and is the only American citizen in his immediate family, his cousin said. His father studied at Western Michigan University and worked in the state for several years.
In another video recorded at the hospital, Yousof said he felt abandoned by the U.S. government. “What did we do to deserve this?” he said. “We’re civilians, everyone here is a civilian.”
In addition to the hundreds of Americans who were in Gaza when the war broke out, there are also an unknown number of U.S. citizens among the 200 hostages captured by Hamas during its brutal attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Two American hostages, Judith and Natalie Raanan, a mother and daughter from Illinois, were released Friday.
The Palestinian Americans trapped in Gaza are growing increasingly desperate. Many of them left the United States for what they thought would be a brief trip only to find themselves in the middle of a war.
In late September, Hesham Kaoud, 55, traveled to Gaza with three of his brothers and his 20-year-old nephew Ameer. All five are American citizens; Ameer had never been outside the United States before. They were supposed to stay for two weeks and were looking forward to spending time at the beach, said Hesham’s wife, Haifa.
Each morning, Haifa gets her 8-year-old daughter ready for school at their home outside Dallas. Then she waits for the call that will prove her husband is still alive. When Hesham calls, she asks him whether he is eating and sleeping; she tells him to stay safe.
On Wednesday, Hesham told her there had been an airstrike near the house where he and his brothers are staying. Hesham said he was scared that he might not see his children again. Haifa, 53, told him to just hang on. “I keep waiting and hoping,” she said. “He has to come back home. All his life is here.”
Americans remain stuck in Gaza as U.S. evacuation deal falters
Like many other Americans in Gaza, Hesham and his family have moved toward the south of the enclave, both because of evacuation directives from Israel and to be closer to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. Over the past week, the State Department has told U.S. citizens in Gaza at least twice that the crossing might open, potentially allowing them to leave. But it has remained closed.
Yousof — the American teenager who was injured — also went to Rafah, his cousin said, staying there for days. When the crossing did not open, his family returned home to Gaza City.
A spokesperson for the State Department said that it could not comment on individual cases due to privacy considerations and added that it is providing U.S. citizens with the best information it has in “an incredibly difficult and fluid situation.”
Biden said Friday that he received a “commitment” from Israel and Egypt that the Rafah crossing from Gaza will open, possibly in the following 24 to 48 hours, and an initial aid convoy of 20 trucks will be allowed to enter.
“If Rafah gate is open to allow humanitarian aid to go in, we will be trying to get out the American citizens who are in Gaza who want to leave,” Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman, said at a briefing Thursday.
But the negotiations are fraught. Israel, Egypt and the United Nations are finalizing a process for verifying that trucks going into Gaza contain only humanitarian supplies. Egypt also wants assurances that Israel will not bomb the crossing, experts say.
Americans and other foreign nationals have become “a bargaining chip, simply because Israel, which is the occupying force, is not delivering what is required to be delivered,” said Amr Hamzawy, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington and a former member of Egypt’s parliament.
For American family trapped in Gaza as bombs fall, there’s no way out
Abood Okal, 36, and Wafaa Abuzayda, 29, live outside Boston. The couple has been trapped in Gaza with their 1-year-old son Yousef since the war began. They’ve moved south to be closer to the Rafah crossing, but Israel has continued to launch airstrikes in the area. They’ve resorted to drinking salty water on occasion and are running out of cooking fuel.
“We are extremely afraid for our lives,” Okal said Wednesday afternoon, minutes after an airstrike hit so nearby that the windows shattered in the house where they are staying. There is “no place safe for us to go and no evacuation plan on the horizon.”
Sarah Dadouch in Beirut and Karen DeYoung and Michael Birnbaum in Washington contributed to this report.