Palestinian Americans stuck in Gaza, including Peninsula grandmother, sue US State Department

The Arab American Civil Rights League and a San Francisco lawyer filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the U.S. State Department and the Department of Defense on behalf of Palestinian Americans who are stuck in war-torn Gaza. 

An 81-year-old grandmother who’s lived on the Peninsula for most of her life went to visit her son in her homeland of Gaza earlier this year, but now she’s stuck there, even though she’s an American citizen. 

Ghassan Shamieh is an immigration attorney based in San Francisco representing two families who each have an elderly grandmother who traveled to Gaza to visit family but are now trapped in the region. 

"Palestinian Americans remain stranded in Gaza with little to no help from the State Department; while Israeli Americans have been evacuated using a royal Caribbean cruise ship," he said. "This lawsuit is to assure that all Americans, especially those caught in Gaza are treated with care and safely evacuated out of the war zone. Just as many Israeli Americans have been evacuated." 

On Wednesday, Dina Bseiso spoke on behalf of the family of the Peninsula grandmother. 

She carefully chooses her words as she speaks.

Bseiso said the elderly woman was not expecting to be there this long. 

"And unfortunately, now she is stuck," she said.

In addition to being elderly, the grandmother relies on medication but can’t get it. 

As for how she’s doing, Bseiso said: "Not well. We’ve seen some photos and weight loss is visible in her face. They are surrounded by rubble, and what they wear for daily clothing is what we would consider pajamas." 

Even though there was an evacuation of some Palestinian-Americans, Shamieh said, "Today’s news is a step, but it is a step too small, and a step too late. We are demanding that the Biden administration and the State Department quickly and safely evacuate all American citizens trapped in the Gaza strip immediately and safely." 

The Arab American Civil Rights League has been able to coordinate lawyers in 12 states across the country to represent Palestinian-American citizens pro bono.  

Shamieh said, "We want to ensure that no matter where these citizens live in the states, they have representation, and they’re able to participate in this lawsuit to assure that the U.S. be held accountable." 

Shamieh added, "What I do know is that they are treating American citizens differently based on their ethnic origin. And that’s something we’re going to hold them accountable for under these lawsuits." 

He went on to explain, "Our argument is that the State Department has committed a violation under the Administrative Procedures Act and our claim is based under the Equal Protection clause of- the U.S. Constitution. 

Bseiso commented on the state of war in the Middle East that has forced families to separate for survival.

"Regardless of politics, we are first and foremost human," Bseiso said. "We are joined by humanity, and I don’t understand how we can justify an assault on a civilian population." 

At least 335 foreign passport holders left Wednesday and approximately another 100 left Thursday, according to Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority. Seventy-six Palestinian patients, along with their companions, were also evacuated, he said.

The U.S. has said it is trying to evacuate 400 Americans with their families.

Egypt has said it will not accept an influx of Palestinian refugees,  fearing Israel will not allow them to return to Gaza after the war.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Alice Wertz is a freelance reporter at KTVU Fox 2 News. She can be reached at X/Twitter: @AlicesTake Insta/Threads: @WayIseesIt