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Some Palestinian Americans say they're afraid to mourn their loved ones out loud


Palestinian Americans are grieving for loved ones in Gaza as Israel continues to bomb the area in response to a Hamas attack that killed more than 1,400 Israelis. The Palestinian death toll now tops 3,000. Hundreds more died today in a hospital bombing. It's not yet clear who is responsible. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., Palestinian Americans say they fear rising Islamophobia. And many of them are frustrated by U.S. support for Israel, while Israel's airstrikes contribute to a growing humanitarian crisis. NPR's Sandhya Dirks reports.

SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: If you ask Tariq Luthun how he's feeling, he'll tell you - devastated, terrified, dehumanized and erased.

TARIQ LUTHUN: I'm literally watching my family get bombed and then being gaslit to say, oh, they deserve it.

DIRKS: Luthun lives in Detroit. By day, he's a data engineer. By night, he's a poet and community organizer. He says people are conflating Palestinian civilians like his family with Hamas. Hamas controls Gaza, but there haven't been elections there in almost 20 years. And he says there's a false narrative that this all just started with Hamas' attack on Israel. This is the fifth conflict with Israel in 15 years.

LUTHUN: For more than half my life, I have only known a Gaza that was under attack.

DIRKS: But this war, he says, is so much worse. And Israel's complete siege of Gaza has halted food, medical supplies and fuel from getting in. Power and water have been cut off, and civilians can't get out. Luthun says it's not just worse for Palestinians there. It's worse here as well.

LUTHUN: I've never seen anti-Palestinian rhetoric this bad before.

DIRKS: On Sunday, a Palestinian American family was attacked by their landlord in the Chicago area. The mother was severely wounded. Her 6-year-old son was killed. The justice Department is investigating it as a hate crime. Hani Almadhoun is based in D.C. and works for a U.N. agency that provides relief for Palestinian refugees. He says rhetoric from some U.S. politicians made something like this inevitable.

HANI ALMADHOUN: They've stoked the fear in the hearts of Americans. They made us animals and beasts and barbarians. And the media ran with it.

DIRKS: He's afraid for his kids here in the U.S. He's afraid for his family in Gaza.

ALMADHOUN: I had my sister ask me to adopt her daughter if they get bombed and her daughter survives.

DIRKS: He says it's hard to hear President Biden say his administration stands with Israel without reservation. While Biden has urged Israel's prime minister to minimize civilian casualties, he said Israel has the right to defend itself and has not publicly condemned the siege of Gaza. In recent days, the president has emphasized that innocent Palestinians are being harmed, and U.S. officials say they are helping develop a plan to get aid into Gaza. But Almadhoun says it's too little, too late.

ALMADHOUN: Palestinians in Gaza are dead, and nobody seems to care.

DIRKS: In this toxic atmosphere, it can be scary to voice any criticism of Israel, says Rania Mustafa. She's the executive director of the Palestinian American Community Center, an advocacy group.

RANIA MUSTAFA: There is this huge rhetoric of speaking for Palestinians or against Israel is antisemitic. It is not.

DIRKS: Mustafa has been getting calls from across the country, people afraid to advocate for Palestinians in the moment they feel it's most needed, afraid they'll lose their jobs or be doxxed or be physically harmed.

MUSTAFA: I think this is, once again, another time where Palestinian Americans are being punished for being Palestinian.

DIRKS: She says many are afraid just to mourn their dead out loud. Sandhya Dirks, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sandhya Dirks
Sandhya Dirks is the race and equity reporter at KQED and the lead producer of On Our Watch, a new podcast from NPR and KQED about the shadow world of police discipline. She approaches race and equity not as a beat, but as a fundamental lens for all investigative and explanatory reporting.