In the heart of the ongoing war on Gaza, a family from Livonia, Michigan, has found themselves trapped for the last 12 days. Zakaria Alarayshi and his wife, Laila, residents of Livonia for the past 23 years, had embarked on a visit to their homeland just days before the crisis erupted. They now remain stranded, unable to return to safety.
The Alarayshis, along with hundreds of other United States citizens, find themselves trapped in the Gaza Strip, where the ongoing war has claimed thousands of lives and leveled entire neighborhoods. Despite their plans for a short visit to see family, they remain stranded as the situation deteriorates.
The Alarayshis have made repeated attempts to leave Gaza via the Rafah border, but their efforts were thwarted when the IDF bombed the border twice during Zakaria’s presence. The second attempt took them just 15 minutes away from the Egyptian border before it suffered the same fate. Forced to seek shelter with around 30-40 people in a single home for safety, they face the daily trauma of living under relentless airstrikes.
“We never slept at night,” Zakaria Alarayshi said of the harrowing experience. “Every second, not every minute, you imagine the bomb falling on you and on your house and on your people. Every house is hosting three or four families. I left my house when the crisis began, and later they destroyed it. I went to my brother-in-law’s. The house next to theirs was bombed. I cannot even tell you. We died of fear while we were still alive. We were confused and huddled together. It was death, death. You feel like you’ve died from the impact and the fear. I am a grown man, and I cried from the fear. Imagine what the children are going through.”
The Alarayshi family, along with the support of the Arab American Civil Rights League and the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Defense. The lawsuit, which alleges a violation of the Fifth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, seeks evacuation support for citizens trapped in Gaza equal to what those in Israel receive.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are the named defendants in the lawsuit, which challenges the constitutionality of the U.S. Government’s actions. It contends that U.S. citizens in Gaza, considered non-combatants, face grave danger due to ongoing military action, and thus should receive equal protection.
While thousands of Americans have been safely evacuated from Israel, the U.S.-based Arab American Civil Rights League claims that failing to provide the same assistance to citizens trapped in Gaza is a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. The group argues that the U.S. government should initiate evacuation efforts to ensure the safety of its citizens on equal terms, regardless of their location in the war zone.
The Gaza crisis, marked by deteriorating conditions and escalating violence, has exposed American citizens to severe risks, including the Alarayshi family. The ACRL has actively engaged with legislatures, officials and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D- Detroit), who has been a reliable source of information from the State Department. Despite their efforts, the ACRL has faced limited responses from the State Department and embassy, with communications largely consisting of boilerplate messages and a lack of information about evacuation procedures.
The ACRL has also actively engaged with various media outlets and social media platforms to raise awareness about the plight of the Alarayshi family and other U.S. citizens trapped in Gaza.
Mariam Charara, executive director of the ACRL, shared a heart-wrenching message received from Zakaria Alarayshi:
“They just hit the house next to us,” he said. “We are scared. We can’t go to the bathroom; we can’t go anywhere. We don’t have electricity, we’re without water, there’s nothing. I think we are going to die before we leave.”
Alarayshi, who voted for President Biden in the 2020 election, hopes that the lawsuit will encourage the president to treat all Americans equally, irrespective of their location on the Gaza-Israel border. He emphasized the need for Biden to address the situation and provide aid to all Americans, regardless of their heritage.
“I voted for President Biden to be treated as an American citizen, not a second-class American citizen,” he said. “President Biden should take care of everyone.”
Nabih Ayad, a lawyer and founder of the ACRL, underscored the U.S. government’s duty to protect its citizens abroad, emphasizing that evacuating U.S. citizens in Gaza, regardless of their Palestinian descent, is essential. He pointed out that the U.S. government can exert influence over allies Israel and Egypt, both of which border Gaza, to facilitate evacuations.
Ayad and additional counsel for the Alarayshi family will continue their efforts in federal court to secure a concrete plan of action from the Biden administration for evacuations.
In addition to its legal actions, the ACRL has established a hotline to assist other U.S. citizens trapped in Gaza. Recent reports suggest that several more U.S. citizens, from across the world, have been unable to evacuate. These circumstances indicate the possibility of additional lawsuits in the near future.
– Hotline for U.S. citizens stranded in Gaza: Call 888-806-3822 (888-806-EVAC)