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Israel turned off the lights, cut the phone lines, and shut off the internet to Gaza on Friday night, plunging the region into darkness and isolation before launching a ground invasion. Only those inside know what’s happening there.
At the end of last week, I reached out to a source of mine from previous reporting, knowing that he was raised in Gaza, and I asked him how his family was managing in the face of the bombing campaign. He told me that so far, seven relatives on his father’s side, and 30 on his mother’s, had been killed. Those are numbers that we have no ability to comprehend. I told him that if he was able to, he was welcome to join our podcast Deconstructed and tell their stories. After thinking about it for a few days, he decided to do it, and we spoke on Thursday evening, the night before he lost all contact with his family.
I first interviewed Maram for research I was doing for my new book on the Squad, the left, and their yearslong fight with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee over Israel–Palestine. That reporting turned into this feature published in the fall of 2022 on the distorting role of AIPAC and a related super PAC, Democratic Majority for Israel, in shaping and constraining the bounds of allowable discourse in Democratic primaries.
This week, that fight ratcheted up to unprecedented levels of animosity when nine Democrats voted against a resolution that condemned Hamas and defended Israel’s response, but which said nothing about Palestinian civilian lives lost. Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, the Squad’s chief antagonist in the House, called them “despicable” in response. And President Joe Biden shockingly cast doubt on civilian casualty statistics put out by hospitals in Gaza because they run through the Ministry of Health, which is itself run by Hamas. In response, Hamas posted a public list of the names, ages, and ID numbers of 6,746 people who’ve died amid the bombing campaign. The list includes 2,664 children.
I’ve seen some people cast doubt on the reliability of the list, but Maram provided us a list of his relatives who’d been killed that was created before Hamas put its own data out, and those names all appear on the Ministry of Health list. (We did find one duplicate on the list, not a relative of Maram’s, a 14-year-old boy who appears twice on it. That’s why I say it’s a list of 6,746 people and not the number you’ve seen in public reporting, 6,747.) I asked Maram what he made of Biden’s dismissal of the accuracy of the numbers, and he said he agreed with Biden, but in the other direction: It’s not possible that the hospitals are capturing the extent of the slaughter, he said, because many of the people he knows who have died in bombings have not been able to get to a hospital or a morgue.
Deliberately leaving Palestinian lives out of a congressional resolution, or suggesting that the numbers from Gaza can’t be trusted because Hamas runs the Ministry of Health, rigs those numbers. In fact, it likely makes the situation on the ground considerably worse, giving the Israel Defense Forces a sense of impunity that comes from dismissing the deaths as a Hamas conspiracy or fake news.
You can find my interview with Maram at this link or anywhere you listen to podcasts — just search for “Deconstructed.” And please share with anybody you think does not yet grasp the scale of what’s happening. It can’t stay hidden forever. Below is a brief excerpt of our conversation.
Maram Al-Dada: It’s a total of 46. Yesterday, when you texted me about this interview, my uncle’s house was bombed. My aunt’s house was bombed. My cousin’s house was bombed. I mean, yesterday, it was a very tough time. We really thought, like, that’s it. The whole family will go.
Ryan Grim: I saw news of Khan Yunis being bombed over the last couple of days, and I thought of you and your family each time.
Maram Al-Dada: I mean, I was talking to my uncle when I was trying to get him to join this interview. He was telling me like, “We will die in this war, like all of us will die, but we don’t know when.” … I mean, I’ll tell you a little story. Yesterday, I was calling him, I was talking to him. He goes like, “Today, a bomb fell in our street. A guy’s leg was cut off in front of everyone, and we were trying to just help him, waiting for an ambulance and there was just no ambulance. There’s no, no 911, ambulance. The health care system’s collapsed, and he just kept bleeding and people just, at the end, just put him in a car and they just drove him away trying to take him to the hospital. I don’t know what happened after that.”
And then another story: He goes, “There’s no food.” My cousin, my cousin called, my aunt called my uncle, she goes — that was before their house was bombed — she goes, “Do you have food? Do you have any bread?” And he said, “Let me try to see who has bread. We don’t have any.” So they tried calling around and they found there’s one little bakery in our town that still has bread, and they called and were like, “Can you please keep a bag of bread for us?”
So he called my aunt back and he goes like, “Oh, ask Ahmed, my cousin, to go and pick it up.” Ahmed calls my uncle back, and I was with him on the phone, and he tells him, “I can’t go, I can’t leave, it’s the street.” Our street, called Gamal Abdel Nasser, you can go check it out, that street is just blocked because the buildings are collapsed. “I can’t just cross to the other side.” So I was like, wow, so it’s just a slow death, just waiting to die. There’s no food, they get water now four hours a day, no electricity. It’s horrifying. What’s happening is literally slow death.
Correction: November 1, 2023
A previous version of this article misidentified the location where Maram Al-Dada was born. He was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Gaza.