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Palestinians question why the many deaths in Gaza haven't sparked global outrage

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza has prompted widespread condemnation. Israel described it as an unintentional attack. The food charity, though, questions that conclusion and is demanding an independent investigation. Six of those killed, including one American, were not Palestinian. Hani Almadhoun watched the reports with horror over the loss of life. He's a Palestinian American who's lost some 140 members of his family in Gaza. But he also wonders why so many other killings in Gaza, including dozens of other aid workers, haven't sparked the same global outrage.

HANI ALMADHOUN: Many Palestinian Americans ask themselves this question. And I don't know, like, if the death of John is more valuable than the death of Majed. The death of James, or the death of, you know, Britney (ph) is more valuable than Safa, my sister-in-law. The reaction certainly leads a Palestinian and an Arab and a Muslim to say, like, well, you're not really treating people equally.

In fact, I'm hearing that there is an American who got killed in Gaza in November - that nobody knows her name. You know, her name is Renama Herulbusain (ph), and she is still trapped under the rubble. Nobody anywhere in D.C. knows this name, and this is an American person. So there is frustration as a human being - that you feel like your life don't carry the same weight as other lives.

FADEL: Almadhoun does fundraising in the United States for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA, the primary relief agency in Gaza. He works for UNRWA USA, a separate organization. The U.S. and other countries halted funding for the United Nations aid group in January after Israel accused 12 of its roughly 13,000 workers of taking part in the October 7 Hamas attacks. So far, the evidence of that allegation has not been shared publicly. Israel's accusations remain under investigation. And with Gaza on the brink of famine and relatively little aid getting in, UNRWA USA this week resumed funding, as have other countries.

ALMADHOUN: There is nobody else doing the work UNRWA was doing. It is the largest humanitarian actor inside Gaza as we speak.

FADEL: World Central Kitchen was trying to help fill some of that gap, but the attack on its convoy led the aid group to suspend operations in Gaza. And the incident raised questions about whether the Israeli military is working within the confines of international law.

ALMADHOUN: For Central Kitchen, obviously it's a tragedy. But there are equal tragedies that exist in Gaza right now.

FADEL: Also, what happened when those seven people were killed was World Central Kitchen left. And what they were doing is something that you and your family are also trying to do just individually. Your brother's running a soup kitchen in northern Gaza. How do you even make this work?

ALMADHOUN: We basically started this with the family two months ago and - you know, mainly funded through GoFundMe and friend of a friend. You know, we started to cook for our neighbors, and then all of a sudden, it became a thing where folks really needed this. My brother tells me he sees orphans show up without parents every day to get food.

FADEL: It's been six months this week that this war has been going on. What are you thinking in this moment?

ALMADHOUN: A friend of ours, Noor Abu Aytah, 5 years old, passed away from complications and lack of medical care. And it just breaks your heart. Look at this and say, like, where is the humanity? You know, you've asked me the question about the life of amazing humanitarians being lost, and the world is mourning. But we're not talking about the other folks who have different names. This is not the America that we recognize, but this is really the reality.

FADEL: What needs to happen right now, in your view, to get food, to get resources for people to be able to eat?

ALMADHOUN: Leila, I really want my family to be safe.

FADEL: Yeah.

ALMADHOUN: They're not, and they should not be on anybody's target list. Despite this, my brother, Majed, is no longer with us. My mom, my dad - they're not well. I live in America. I vote every election, and I feel unheard as a Palestinian Americans. And unfortunately, I continue to feel this way six months into this dire situation in Gaza. And at the end of the day, my family is still in the same dire situation that they were placed under since October 7. And I know that they're serving soup and food for people who have no means or resources. I want to see an end to this. And I work - I still engage with people that don't hear us right now, because, you know, a cease-fire or feeding a hungry child should not be a political statement.

FADEL: Hani Almadhoun, director of philanthropy of the United Nations Relief Work (ph) Agency USA National Committee and a Palestinian American who's working with his family to run a soup kitchen in northern Gaza. Thank you for your time.

ALMADHOUN: Thank you, Leila, for having me.

FADEL: Almadhoun told us about Rena Herulbusain (ph), a pregnant American. And he says her remains, along with the remains of her family, are still buried under rubble in Gaza. A spokesperson with the State Department told us they're aware of the reports of her and her family's deaths, but their ability to confirm information about Americans killed in Gaza is limited due to the fighting. For more perspectives, go to npr.org/mideastupdates. 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.