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Metro Detroit groups pushing US to do more to help American citizens trapped in Gaza

Lisa Alarayshi, center, with one of her daughters, and husband Yahya to her left. Yahya Alarayshi's parents are trapped in Gaza after going there last month to visit family.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Lisa Alarayshi, center, with one of her daughters, and husband Yahya to her left. Yahya Alarayshi's parents are trapped in Gaza after going there last month to visit family.

The U.S. government is not doing nearly enough to evacuate American citizens trapped in Gaza, according to one Metro Detroit group dedicated to helping them escape.

The Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL) and other groups have filed a federal lawsuit against top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in an attempt to compel them to act.

The ACRL’s Executive Director, Mariam Charara, said the group has been in close contact with one U.S. citizen's family currently in Gaza, a Palestinian-American couple from Livonia. She called the situation there “absolutely inhumane and devastating.”

“The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. And we've made it our mission to facilitate the safe return of U.S. citizens stuck in Gaza,” Charara said.

Charara said one message they received from the family will remain “etched in my heart.”

“They just hit the house next to us,” the message 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.”

The ACRL estimates that at least 600 U.S. citizens, and perhaps up to as many as 2,000, are currently trapped in Gaza.

The Associate Press reports Israel has bombarded Gaza with airstrikes for days and has threatened a ground invasion in response to Hamas’ attack in Israel last weekend that killed 1,300. The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday that over 2,200 people have been killed in the besieged territory in the last several days, including 724 children and 458 women. With a looming humanitarian crisis, that number is expected to rise.

The ACRL reports that the couple from Livonia was told to evacuate, but have received conflicting or unhelpful information from the U.S. Embassy in Israel and other officials about how to do that.

Today in Detroit, the couple’s son, Yahya Alarayshi, said his parents left for Gaza in late September to visit family for a month. He said that on the advice of American officials, they at one point headed for Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, where they expected to receive safe passage. Instead, Alarayshi said they waited there for a whole day, only to be told that “the border is not going to open, so you can go home.”

Charara said the U.S. government has a “moral obligation” to do what it can to evacuate its own citizens trapped in a war zone. “This mission extends beyond boundaries, transcends political lines, and stands as a testament to our shared community,” she said.

Alarayshi’s wife, Lisa, added that her in-laws shouldn’t have to suffer because of their faith and national origin. She said that when becoming U.S. citizens, they pledged an oath to the United States, renouncing their loyalty to any other country.

What’s happening to them now “is not right,” Lisa Alarayshi said. “We should save everyone that is ours. You don't leave people behind.”

The ACRL has set up an aid hotline for people with U.S. citizen family members trapped in Gaza. It can be reached at 888-806-3822.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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