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So Much of My Beloved Gaza Is Gone Amjad Abukwaik

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Amjad Abukwaik (center) with his two sons. (Image courtesy Amjad Abukwaik)

Amjad Abukwaik, 54, was born in Gaza. Today he lives in Paterson, New Jersey, where he owns a pharmacy. Here, he reflects on his life growing up as a Gazan before moving to the U.S. at 19, and why took his son back last year to visit.

As a teenager in Gaza, I sat on my bedroom floor, secretly making Palestinian flags for a protest against the Israeli soldiers, who seemed to stand on every street corner—glaring at us and holding guns. 

It was just two of my friends and me.

In our 17 years, all we’d ever known was a life under Israeli rule. Sometimes we’d throw stones at the IDF soldiers who stood outside our school. Or we’d even burn tires to create a barrier between us. Today our act of resistance was sitting there, preparing flags. 

Then my mom flung open the door. 

“Holy shit,” she gasped. “What are you doing?”

I explained that we were making flags—that we were planning to go stop Palestinian workers and convince them not to show up for their factory jobs in Israel. We figured the Israelis might listen to our pain if their production lines suffered. 

“You can’t,” she said. “You have to be careful.”

But you know who woke me up in the middle of the night to get ready for the protest?

My mom. 

“Get up and go do it,” she said when she woke me at 3 a.m. “You have to.”

She wasn’t wrong to be worried—what I was doing was dangerous. We held up traffic at intersections in Gaza City, trying to stop Palestinian workers from heading into Israel. I wore a mask, but still sometimes soldiers chased me, and I knew I could’ve ended up injured or in jail. 

But sometimes the anger built up in us, and even if we just threw a stone, it helped release what we felt: that this is our land, and we just wanted to live here in peace. I love the Jewish people. My issue has always been with the state of Israel

Amjad (left) on a boat at a Gaza beach with his son. (Image courtesy Amjad Abukwaik)

I’ve been back to Gaza twice since coming to America in 1988, when I arrived to study journalism, and then pharmacology, after the language barrier was too hard to get over. At the time, I didn’t speak a word of English.

Last year, my son, who had just graduated from college, turned to me and said, “You know what, Dad? I would like to go to Gaza.”

I was touched that he felt like he had a place there, and that despite growing up with the comforts of America, he yearned to connect with our ancestral home.

So when we went, I wanted him to know how Gazans really live. What they go through every day. 

One night, we drove to a graveyard in Gaza City, where the poor sleep on the tombs and in coffins. We saw them there, living among the rats. And when we were ready to go, we got in our car and flipped on the headlights. We saw hundreds of rats, scurrying. It was as if someone opened a cage of them and just let go.

We were shocked to see people—young people, too—living like this. But I wanted my son to appreciate what he has back home. 

I told him, “A lot of people don’t have even one percent of what you have.”

I wanted him to know that he has to share what he has. He has to be a good person. 

And now, so much of my beloved Gaza is gone. Over the past few days, entire buildings have been leveled. I received word recently—my phone pinged with a text from WhatsApp—that my cousin and four of her kids, along with her father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law, were killed by an Israeli air strike while in their home on Monday. 

One bomb, and they’re gone. 

I’ve been crying these past few days. I can’t stop watching the news, and I haven’t been able to work. All I do is check for updates. 

Today, a woman I knew from Gaza came into the pharmacy. Immediately, she wanted to talk about what’s happening there.

“Please,” I begged. “Don’t say anything.”

Then I went to the bathroom and wept. 

Even though I am now living peacefully in New Jersey, I will never forget my people. The pharmacy I own is named Sheefa, after Al-Shifa Hospital, where I was born in Gaza. That same hospital is now running short on fuel, with dying children crammed in its corridors. 

Do you know what shifa means? It means to cure. 

Amjad Abukwaik is a pharmacist in Paterson, New Jersey, and is married with five kids—two daughters and three sons. Read Jacob Katz’s Free Press piece about being an IDF soldier on the other side of the fence.

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June 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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My First Job, at the Stanford Internet Observatory Julia Steinberg

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Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised I’d “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time,” writes Julia Steinberg. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

The Stanford Internet Observatory—a research center tasked with rooting out “misinformation” on social media—is shutting its doors. Chances are if you’ve heard of the SIO it was in a scathing piece from Michael Shellenberger or Matt Taibbi, who have accused the center of being a key node in the censorship-industrial complex.

It was also my first employer. Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised to “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time, to develop a novel curriculum on trust and safety that is a first in computer science, and to translate our research discoveries into training and policy innovations for the public good.” To me, that meant ending internet abuse like the glamorization of anorexia on social media or financial scams that steal billions every year. But mostly I worked on the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), which SIO ran during the 2020 and 2022 elections. The purpose of that project was to identify so-called “fake news” spreading on social media. 

In actuality, SIO hired a load of interns to scan social media for posts deemed to be mis- and disinformation. It turns out that the posts we students flagged were often sent along to moderators at Twitter (now X), Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, which took them down in order to quash dissenting viewpoints—viewpoints that sometimes ended up being right, as in the case of Covid likely being the result of a lab leak, or Hunter Biden’s hard drive being his actual hard drive—not Russian disinformation. 

Thanks to the work of independent journalists, the SIO’s work has come under a lot of scrutiny, including in Washington. A recent House Judiciary Committee report alleges that, by cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security, the SIO’s Election Integrity Partnership “provided a way for the federal government to launder its censorship activities in hopes of bypassing both the First Amendment and public scrutiny.” 

The SIO has stated that “Stanford has not shut down or dismantled SIO as a result of outside pressure. SIO does, however, face funding challenges as its founding grants will soon be exhausted.” But on June 13, Platformer reported that much of SIO’s staff was on the way out: “Its founding director, Alex Stamos, left his position in November. Renee DiResta, its research director, left last week after her contract was not renewed. One other staff member’s contract expired this month, while others have been told to look for jobs elsewhere, sources say.”

The Supreme Court will soon rule on a case, Murthy v. Missouri, that addresses whether the U.S. government should be able to collaborate with social media companies to censor commentary. The plaintiffs, in their brief, lambast SIO for its role in abetting government censorship. We’ll be watching that case closely.

Julia Steinberg is an intern at The Free Press. Read her piece on the college dropout who unlocked the secrets of ancient Rome using AI. And follow her on X @Juliaonatroika.

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My Promise to Palestine Chris Hedges

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When I accepted the Tafik Diab Prize for my writing on the genocide in Gaza in Cairo on June 10 I explained why the cartoonist Joe Sacco and I are planning to do our next book together on Gaza.

Written speech:

I would like to start with a story that happened to me in Gaza on October 5, 2000. One day I was working on a report at Natzarim (Jewish settlement). There were Palestinian boys near me. The boys threw rocks towards the Israeli army. A soldier shot one of the boys — and the boy died. Four boys each lifted up a limb and we ran. The incident aftected me to such an extent that I did not shave for three weeks. After three weeks, I went to visit the boy’s house to meet his family. I told his mother I was with her son when he was killed. The mother told me that when her younger son heard that his brother had been killed he went into the kitchen, and then he left the house. After ten minutes she asked her husband where her son had gone. They went out to look for him and saw him in the street with a knife in his hand.

She asked him, “Where are you going?”

He answered, “I am going to kill Jews.” I have never been able to forget that child. I often wonder where he is. He would be a man in his thirties now. Is he still alive? Married? Does he have children? Are he and his family frightened of the bombing? Where have they taken refuge? God willing, I will write a book on Gaza with the cartoonist Joe Sacco, the author of “Palestine” and “Footnotes in Gaza.” During that time I will look for him, I will complete his story and the stories of many others. Israel is determined to erase them from existence and from history. This is my promise.

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