Nafez Ali keeps up with his family in Gaza as often as he can. He has a group chat where he gets regular updates.
Sunday night at 1 a.m., he awoke to find out the mosque across the street from his family’s home had been bombed.
While he says they’re all OK, the explosion damaged the building where his family lives.
“Nobody is safe in Gaza. Nobody is safe. Nobody’s safe right now. They’re hitting everywhere,” Ali said.
Israel declared war on Hamas after Saturday’s surprise rocket attacks, kidnappings, and assaults on civilian targets.
CNBC reports the death toll stands at 900 Israelis killed and 687 Palestinians killed in retaliatory strikes.
Rabbi Rick Winer of Temple Beth Israel has been in regular communication with his congregation. So far, everyone they know is safe. Members of the temple will be holding a vigil to pray for peace and safety at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Practicing Jews would have spent Saturday “joyously” observing Simchat Torah, a day marking the end of the High Holy Day period, said Winer. The day before also marked the 50th anniversary of the end of Israel’s Yom Kippur war.
“People are very, very concerned,” Winer said. “There are quite a few members of the congregation with family and many, many of us with friends in Israel. We’re all very concerned about their safety. And, the reports coming out of Israel are very disturbing.”
No Rationale Justifies Terrorism: Rabbi Winer
As Israel gears up to respond to the sudden strike, the view of how this conflict began can depend on what side of the blockade one lives.
Ali says for Palestinians in Gaza, violence comes from people who have little in the way of opportunities.
“All these tactics from Hamas for the people, it came from frustration,” Ali said. “People wanted to do something. I can look across the fence and see my land that was occupied by the Israelis. And they’re eating from it and they’re living good lives. And across the fence, they’re living in poverty.”
But attacks were launched not only indiscriminately in the form of rocket strikes, but also targeting civilians, including a music festival, where gunmen opened fire.
“Terrorism is abhorrent,” Winer said. “There is no rationale for terrorism. It does not accomplish what anyone wishes for it to do. It needs to stop and it needs to be condemned by everyone.”
Israel Moved Ali’s Family to Refugee Camp in 1948
Ali came to the U.S. in the 1980s. Before 2006, when Israel put a blockade on the 140-square-mile enclave bordering Egypt, Ali made regular trips to see brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews.
His father owned land near the seaside city of Joffa, near Tel Aviv. But in 1948, when the state of Israel officially began, his family was sent to a refugee camp in Gaza.
Ali was born in that camp.
One of his brothers left Gaza to work in Saudi Arabia. That brother wanted Ali to get an education so he sent him to the U.S. But, Ali said he could not go back to living the way he did in Gaza.
“The whole day you work from 7 o’clock in the morning to 10 o’clock in the evening sometimes for $5, the whole day for $5, $10 a day,” Ali said.
Little Opportunity in Gaza
In 2006, Israel reinforced the blockade around Gaza. Palestinians are not allowed to leave Gaza on the Israeli side without a permit.
On the Egyptian side, travel is also strict, said Ali.
Despite having a high level of college graduates, the unemployment rate there is among the highest in the world.
The population of more than 2 million people fits into a region smaller than Fresno County. Egypt maintains a heavily-regulated border with Gaza.
The unemployment rate stands at 46.6%, according to Al Jazeera. For younger people, unemployment hovers around 70%. The country largely relies on funds from the United Nations, the U.S., and nonprofit groups since the blockade.
Water and energy come from Israel.
“It’s been four hours a day for the last 18 years,” Ali said.
Israel also limits fishermen going out into the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel’s Work Program for Gaza Residents
In March 2022, Israel opened up its work program, allowing up to 20,000 workers from Gaza to work in the agricultural and construction industries. Wages in Israel are much higher than in Gaza.
The Times of Israel reported one worker saying he could make 10 times what he does in Gaza.
But getting a work permit requires being crowded into a stadium, surrounded by people with guns, Ali said.
Even though Ali has dual citizenship, it wasn’t until recently that Israel would have allowed him to fly into Ben Gurion Airport.
Big Barriers to Medical Care for Gazans
There are public hospitals in Gaza, but they close early, said Ali. If you have money, you might be able to get a doctor after hours.
But if you need specialty treatment or surgery, you have to apply to go to a hospital in the West Bank, on the other side of Israel.
The Israeli government has to approve your travel, which can take days.
“This is the way in Gaza, it is very difficult to live,” Ali said.
Jewish Community Is ‘Always the Target’
Ali did not want to say what business he owns in Fresno out of fear of reprisal. Similarly, Winer was just as hesitant about giving information about his congregation.
Winer said Israelis and Jews live in constant fear of attack.
Even though the attacks caught Israel off-guard, attacks against them are nothing new.
“We may say that it comes out of the blue, but the Jewish community is always vigilant because we’re always the target,” Winer said.
Israelis need to always be vigilant because of how often they are targeted.
“It’s horrifying. It’s surprising to some extent, but it’s also not, because Hamas has always been bent on killing Israeli civilians,” Winer said.