Israeli forces conducted an overnight raid in the Gaza Strip and detained two American brothers, whose whereabouts are now unknown, their cousin told HuffPost.
Borak and Hashem Alagha, ages 18 and 20, were sleeping when Israeli forces raided their home in western Khan Younis, south of Gaza City, at around 5 a.m. Thursday, said cousin Yasmeen Elagha.
Soldiers allegedly assaulted the men’s mother and 14-year-old brother before blindfolding and tying up the women and children there. Soldiers then trashed their home and slashed vehicle tires before leaving with the Alagha brothers, their Canadian father, and an uncle who is mentally disabled, Elagha said. Soldiers also detained other members of her extended family in nearby homes, she added.
Elagha, who lives in Chicago, got a phone call from her aunt — the mother of the two detained men — late Thursday night.
“Tell the Americans to save my sons,” the men’s mother said through tears, according to Elagha.
“It is the worst news,” Elagha told HuffPost. “It is the thing that I have been dreading for months at this point. I have been waiting for the U.S. to act so that it doesn’t happen.”
The Alagha brothers are the second and third U.S. citizens said to be detained by Israeli forces this week. A Palestinian American woman, Samaher Esmail, was reportedly pulled from her bed and taken by Israeli soldiers who raided her home in the occupied West Bank. Esmail’s family has not been able to locate her since the incident. And earlier this month in the West Bank, an American teen named Tawfic Hafeth Abdeljabbar was shot and killed.
The U.S. State Department is aware of Esmail’s detention and the reporting on the Alagha brothers, department spokesperson Vedant Patel said at a press briefing Thursday, without commenting further.
“The Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas,” a department spokesperson told HuffPost, declining to comment further on Esmail or the Alagha brothers.
Yasmeen Elagha is pictured with her family in Gaza last year, including her cousins Hashem, second from left, and Borak, far right.
On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden called Israel’s military response in Gaza — launched after an Oct. 7 attack by the Hamas militant group reportedly killed around 1,200 people in Israel — “over the top.” Biden added that he was pushing for a “sustained pause” in fighting there.
His comments came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken departed Tel Aviv on Thursday, marking the end of a Middle East tour intended to de-escalate tensions.
But Elagha, a law student at Northwestern University, said that the White House’s attempts to evacuate and advocate for Palestinian Americans in the Gaza Strip have paled in comparison to what the administration has done to free hostages who were captured from Israel by Hamas.
“I feel betrayed. I feel helpless,” she said. “I feel like I am pleading and begging for the lives of my family, and it doesn’t seem like anyone cares.”
Since Israel’s bombardment of Gaza began, Elagha has called her representatives in Congress, as well as embassies in Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem, to push for the evacuation of her American cousins, to no avail. The only way to evacuate Gaza is through the Rafah crossing to Egypt, but most members of the Elagha family have not been able to get their names on the list of people approved to cross. Elagha’s grandparents were able to evacuate Gaza recently, traveling to the U.S. just three days before the raid on their family’s home.
According to the U.S., it has assisted nearly 1,600 individuals — including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and other eligible family members — with entry into Egypt from Gaza since Oct. 7.
But many in the U.S. — particularly Palestinian, Arab and Muslim Americans — have criticized Biden for not doing enough to evacuate their families and protect people in Gaza. Many members of those communities have vowed to not vote for him as he seeks reelection, and some leaders have declined to meet with administration officials attempting reconciliation with their communities.
The Alagha brothers, who were born in Chicago, are among fewer than 50 U.S. citizens known to still be trying to flee Gaza amid the war. Since Oct. 7, Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
Elagha said that no one from the White House has reached out to her.
“I wish that we could get any kind of indication that we matter, that our lives are not disposable, and that when we’re in danger, the U.S. government will be there to help,” she said.
“I am getting messages every day from my family, asking me, ‘When are the Americans coming?’”