Northwestern University law student Yasmeen Elagha, who filed a lawsuit against the US State Department seeking help to bring home her American relatives stranded in Gaza, said her two cousins living in the suburb of Lombard were kidnapped by Israeli soldiers during an early morning raid on their shelter on Thursday. In the town of Al Mawasi near Khan Younis.
Brothers Borak Alagha, 18, and Hashem Alagha, 20, are among fewer than 50 U.S. citizens known to have tried to leave Gaza as the death toll in the besieged region exceeds 27,000.
“My aunt called me… sobbing and her voice shaking. He said: They took Hashem, they took Borak, they took your uncle,” Elagha said Thursday, referring to a mentally ill uncle who was taken away with his cousins. “The soldiers knocked on the door at 5 a.m., stormed the house. … They took the women and children “They tied him up and pointed him at a wall in the corner. … They cut the car’s tires and took all the men hostage.”
Elagha said the soldiers raided the shelter, taking with them any electronic devices they could find. Elagha said that when Hashem heard footsteps approaching, he immediately hid his phone so his mother could call.
“Then they disappeared with the men; we have no idea where they were, we don’t know where they are right now,” Elagha said. “My aunt is panicking because now that the Israeli army has learned that there are civilians in the house, she thinks they will bomb them. Whereas in any other situation, knowledge of civilians in a house would mean the exact opposite. That’s why they fled their shelter ever since.
Borak and Hashem were born and raised in Lombard and moved to Gaza with their parents in 2011. They were studying engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza. The brothers are among three American citizens kidnapped by Israeli forces this week; At the same time, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region to broker a ceasefire and hostage release agreement with Israel and regional Arab leaders.
Elagha said the men of a neighboring household were also taken away, along with other adult male relatives of another Elagha household, about 20 men in total.
For months, Elagha had been pleading with US officials to secure the release of Borak and Hashem along with their immediate families; He had sued the State Department for not granting his Palestinian American family the same protections afforded to Israeli Americans under the Constitution, and he was calling on the government to take action. Evacuate Americans trapped in Gaza.
Israeli Americans were evacuated via charter flights and ships immediately after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. Elagha said family members living in Khan Younis tried to escape through the Rafah border gate several times, and all 10 of their members were deported in October. The family, whose ages ranged from 1 to 62, lost their lives in a single air attack on their home.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations on Thursday called on President Joe Biden’s administration to demand the release of the Alagha brothers and to rescue other Americans trapped or held hostage in Gaza by establishing a ceasefire.
“These American children have been kidnapped and held hostage from our backyard — right here in Lombard — by an unstable foreign army that we finance and defend, and there is no anger from our so-called leaders,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR-Chicago. Thursday. “Building political power locally to ensure our representatives put American interests ahead of special interest lobbies is no longer just an option, it is literally a matter of taking back this country for its people.”
CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said CAIR also sent a letter to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem requesting the immediate release of Samaher Esmail, a New Orleans grandmother who was kidnapped by Israeli forces on Monday.
Elagha said that US officials had previously approved the evacuation of his family, but they were unable to ensure their exit.
Immigration attorney Maria Kari said there is a critical disparity between efforts to return Israeli Americans to the United States and Palestinian Americans who are in the same (if not worse) situation.
“The President has been very vocal and has consistently prioritized the safe return of Israeli hostages. We ask President Biden to show the same level of urgency and determination to ensure the safe return of these young boys, ordinary young men unaffiliated with any group or party,” Kari said. “Like millions of others, they are caught up in conflicts that have nothing to do with them. .”
Kari said there’s a lot the president can do. In 2022, Biden signed an executive order authorizing the federal government to take action against a foreign government holding American citizens hostage.
The executive order directs the administration to “identify and recommend to the President options and strategies to facilitate the rescue of hostages or the return of wrongfully detained U.S. citizens” and “coordinate the development and implementation of policies, strategies, and procedures for the rescue.” the return of hostages or the extradition of unjustly detained United States citizens.
Kari said the language of the order deemed it “imperative” to take action to bring the hostages home.
“If you read the language, it doesn’t mean the president ‘may’ but rather ‘the president will take action to help the American hostages and work closely with the families,'” Kari said. “I believe the U.S. government will act quickly to protect the lives of these young men.”
Elagha explained that the Elagha, a family with thousands of members, were one of the original families of Khan Yunus and their roots date back to the 1500s during the Ottoman Empire. The family home, now in ruins, was located in the same area as Kalaat Berkûk, a 14th-century Ottoman fortress.
Borak and Hashem, along with their parents, siblings and grandparents, fled that home a few weeks ago and were living in a shelter with two bedrooms and one bathroom, shared by 30 other members of the community.
Food, water and places to sleep are running out. Elagha said she and her family in Oakbrook Terrace were clutching their phones, wondering when they would receive the worst possible news.
“We’re all devastated and angry because that’s exactly what we’ve been shouting about in the media for the last few months, which is what’s going to happen if the US government doesn’t get involved.” said Elagha. “The US government failed to intervene and what we knew would happen happened. And it gets worse from there.”
Israel’s military response to the October 7 attack displaced almost 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people. And according to a Report from the United Nations According to data from Gaza and other organizations, more than half a million people, that is, a quarter of the population, suffer from hunger in Gaza.
Elagha said he met with several government officials on Thursday, including representatives for Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, as well as an aide to Rep. Sean Casten, who represents Illinois’ 6th Congressional District, where he resides. Elagha said the talks didn’t amount to much.
A spokesperson from Durbin’s office said in a statement that the Tribune had received numerous requests, including from Elagha, seeking help for constituents and their loved ones caught in the crossfire of the crisis in Gaza.
“The Senator and his staff are doing everything they can to provide support and resources to help bring those in danger to safety,” Durbin’s spokesman said.
Casten, Duckworth, the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Associated Press contributed.