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Tug of War

CNN reporters take us on-the-ground in Israel to document the escalating conflict and what it means for the rest of the world.

A frayed rope is about to split in two

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30 Minutes to Flee Gaza City
Tug of War
Nov 17, 2023

Note: This episode contains graphic descriptions of war. 

Thousands of Palestinians have been urged to flee to southern Gaza as Israeli troops continue their ground operation against Hamas. One Palestinian journalist, Rami Abu Jamous, filmed his family’s journey from Gaza City with his phone in one hand and his two-year old in the other. CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh walks us through Jamous’ dangerous on-foot trek to the Al-Shifa hospital, as Israeli drones ring in the background and neighbors cry out for deceased loved ones.

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Episode Transcript
David Rind (host):
00:00:02
Earlier this week, paper leaflets started dropping out of the skies over parts of southern Gaza. On these pieces of paper were instructions telling people to evacuate and head towards shelters. They were dropped over four communities near the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, a sign that the Israel Defense Forces could be expanding its ground operation as it retaliates for the deadly Hamas terror attacks on October 7th. Remember, Israel dropped similar leaflets before it began its ground operation in northern parts of Gaza. Many people there did pick up and head south. But now that these calls for evacuation are filling up more of the strip, where else is there to go?
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:00:44
You have Abu Ahmad just wailing and saying we shouldn't have left. I told you, my son, we should have just stayed at home.
David Rind (host):
00:00:54
Today, one family's treacherous journey south and why the echoes of history reverberating louder than ever. From CNN, this is Tug of War. I'm David Rind. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has been reporting on conflict in the Middle East for years. She's been closely tracking the plight of Palestinians in this war. I caught up with her on Friday. You've been reporting on what life in Gaza is like right now from afar, of course, because international journalists have not been allowed into Gaza without Israeli escort. But tell me about this video you obtained.
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:01:29
You know, David, I've been covering war and conflict for more than 20 years now. And the situation in Gaza right now, this catastrophic situation, I have to say, has been one of the hardest things I've ever covered, because you have so many people, so many children who are suffering right now. But we don't have access to them to tell their stories. And it's been the brave Palestinian journalists who've lost so much and are risking so much to get the video and the stories out of Gaza to the world. And one of those journalist, Rami Abu Jamous, he filmed his family's harrowing journey out of northern Gaza, this forced evacuation from their home on November the 10th, and it was shared with us. Rami's been documenting what he, his wife and his two year old son, Walid, have been going through, just living under the constant bombardment their life during this war. And November the 9th, he says, was the hardest night of the war so far. You had strikes and clashes all around them. And at 9:30 a.m. the next morning, residents in his neighborhood get a phone call from the Israeli military telling them that they're moving in and that they have 30 minutes to get out and they ask them to hold up white flags.
David Rind (host):
00:02:48
Wow, 30 minutes.
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:02:49
30 minutes. And you can imagine when people are given 30 minutes, you can't just pack up your entire life and leave. So you have this video of a journey that begins outside their apartment building in central Gaza City.
Rami Abu Jamous:
00:03:07
(Arabic)
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:03:13
Residents... young, old people, they're holding up these makeshift white flags, which is essentially sticks to which they attach white underwear.
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:03:22
And you see some of them carrying little bags, whatever they could grab. And many of them are elderly and they're barely able to walk. And you have this really heartbreaking scene of a man who's carrying his elderly father in his arms.
Rami Abu Jamous:
00:03:38
(Arabic)
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:03:40
And you have Rami who's holding his son Walid in one hand and in the other, his phone. And throughout this all, he's trying to keep everyone calm, reassuring them that the Israeli army knows that they're coming. And if there's any shooting or strikes on the way, it's not targeting them.
Rami Abu Jamous:
00:03:59
(Arabic)
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:04:06
And as they head out, you start hearing gunshots. And Rami is continuing to try and keep everyone calm, telling them to walk slowly and to be careful. And a couple of minutes later, they get to the other side of the street and Rami spots his neighbor, Abu Ahmad, in the distance. And you hear him wailing. You hear him crying.
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:04:36
And as Rami is approaching him asking what's wrong? What's happening? You see Abu Ahmad on the ground, he's on the pavement still holding that white flag. And next to him is his son Ahmad, lying in a pool of blood.
Abu Ahmad:
00:04:57
(Arabic)
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:04:59
And it's just a heart wrenching scene. You have Abu Ahmad just wailing and saying, we shouldn't have left. I told you, my son, we should have just stayed at home. If only we had stayed at home.
Rami Abu Jamous:
00:05:19
(Arabic)
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:05:19
And then at one point, they think that Ahmad might still be breathing.
Rami Abu Jamous:
00:05:25
(Arabic)
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:05:26
And of course, there are no ambulances. There's no one there to help. They're on their own. And they tried to rush him over to Shifa Hospital, which is nearby. But Ahmad, who was shot in the head, didn't make it. Now it's uncertain, David, who fired the shots. We geolocated the video. We provided the Israeli military with the exact coordinates and details of the incident, but they didn't respond to our request for comment.
David Rind (host):
00:05:54
We'll be right back. Welcome back to Tug of War and my conversation with CNN's Jomana Karadsheh. I mean, it's just such a harrowing story and the images obviously are searing. Do we know what happened next? Like, do we know if they're okay?
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:06:21
So the family continued their journey. We have video of that on foot, sometimes taking donkey carts. You know, you see on their journey coming across dead bodies along the way. And you have two year old Walid also witnessing everything that they are seeing. We managed to reach Rami and that was a couple of days ago. This was before the communications blackout. We haven't been able to reach him since. They're in southern Gaza. And like everyone there, David, they don't know what will happen to them, how they'll survive, what they're going to do next. But Rami says the only thing there's no way he's going to leave his homeland. He says the only way he will leave is if he's forced out at gunpoint or if he's dead.
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:07:11
I also asked him why he decided to film this journey.
Rami Abu Jamous:
00:07:16
(Arabic)
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:07:20
And he struggled to hold back his tears, saying he wanted the world to see, in his words, the injustice and the oppression that they endure. He says they feel as Palestinians that everyone, the world casts doubt on everything they say. He says, we're always liars and they're the ones who are telling the truth. And that's why he says it was so important for him to document this. He says that he wants the world to see it. And I also asked him about how he deals with this as a father. How do you protect your child from the trauma of war with everything that Walid is seeing and he's living through and he says, you know, he just tried to distract him throughout, trying him to make it to feel like what they're seeing is fun, circus and amusement park. You had donkeys and horses everywhere. And he's just pointing at the donkeys and horses and trying to make him laugh throughout. And he says, I don't know if I succeeded.
David Rind (host):
00:08:14
'Right. I mean, kids are pretty good at picking up at how others are feeling. So you'd imagine. I mean, when I hear that they were heading towards the Al-Shifa hospital, which we've talked about on the show this week has become this focal point of the Israeli ground operation. Not a safe place by any means at this point. So what is the calculation at this point for people who who have been asked to leave, who are making that decision to leave? Is there anywhere safe to go or is it just we have to keep moving and figure it out hour by hour?
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:08:47
That's exactly what it is, David. And you constantly hear that from people, of course, very difficult for us to reach anyone right now. You know, when people are getting these evacuation orders, these forced evacuations, they just head out. They don't know where to go. They tell you that nowhere in Gaza is safe. People have been killed in the south. There have been airstrikes in the south where they were told southern Gaza is safe and they should head there. You also have the hospitals. That's where people were sheltering because they thought they would be safe at hospitals. But you've seen the war moved to the hospitals. Where do they go, David? They tell you they have nowhere safe. This is a besieged territory. People have nowhere out and nowhere safe inside Gaza.
David Rind (host):
00:09:30
And yet you have people saying there's no way I'm leaving. Like, this is my home and I'm staying.
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:09:36
And there's so much fear. They tell you that what they're going through is, you know, the attempt of forced expulsion. That's what Palestinians feel is happening from their homes, from their homeland. And for them, they say they can't see that happen to them again. You know, those scenes that we saw through these evacuation corridors where you had thousands and thousands of people walking towards the south, it evoked these dark memories for Palestinians of their expulsion decades ago from their homes. And they tell you they would rather die there than go anywhere else. But the reality is, David, there is nowhere out. And you've heard it from countries like Egypt. They're not going to be opening up their borders and accepting Palestinian refugees.
David Rind (host):
00:10:25
Well, Jomana, thank you very much for bringing us some of these stories. We really appreciate it.
Jomana Karadsheh:
00:10:29
Thank you, David.
David Rind (host):
00:10:32
And we should say Israel says they have tried to call people in Gaza to evacuate areas where military operations are underway to minimize civilian casualties. But there has been worldwide criticism on the number of deaths in Gaza. The Hamas controlled Gaza Ministry of Health says more than 11,400 people have been killed, including about 4700 children. Tug of War is a production of CNN Audio. This episode was produced by Taylor Galgano and me, David Rind. Our senior producer is Haley Thomas. Dan Dzula is our technical director and Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of CNN Audio. We get support from Alex Manasseri, Robert Mathers, Jon Dianora, Leni Steinhardt, Jamus Andrest, Nichole Pesaru, and Lisa Namerow. Special thanks to Caroline Paterson and Katie Hinman. We'll be back on Monday with another update. In the meantime, you can always head over to cnn.com or the CNN app for the very, very latest on this conflict. We'll talk to you later.