Motaz Alhelou, a 31-year-old Palestinian detained by the US for a year and deported to Gaza, was killed in December.
Alhelou was taking shelter at the family business in western Gaza City when he was hit by sniper fire, his brother Mohammed Alhelou told Talk News. It’s not clear who shot him.
More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its bombing campaign following Hamas attacks on October 7, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Human rights organizations have sounded the alarm over the worsening situation in Gaza as hundreds of thousands of people risk starvation. The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, issued a preliminary ruling on January 26 recognizing that there was a reasonable risk that Israel would commit genocide.
Alhelou left Gaza in 2018 after Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, threatened him because he was trying to avoid serving with them. He was denied refugee status in several countries, including Turkey and Argentina, before arriving in the United States in December 2021, as Talk News first reported in 2022. The US denied him asylum and instead detained him. In July 2023, he was deported to Gaza.
Once he arrived in Gaza, the Israeli government detained him for about a month and a half before he was allowed to reunite with his family, whom he had not seen for five years.Motaz Alhelou and his brother Mohammed reunited after five years apart.
Alhelou’s family threw a two-day party to celebrate his freedom from detention, both by America and Israel, and extended an open invitation to everyone in the neighborhood, Mohammed Alhelou told Talk News. His family – two parents, four brothers and three sisters – served tea and dessert around the clock.
“Our emotions when he returned were indescribable,” Mohammed said.
But their joy was short-lived. Two months after the party, Hamas launched an attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people. In retaliation, Israeli forces began a bombing campaign in Gaza, killing many civilians every day.
The bombing triggered post-traumatic symptoms in Motaz before his death, his brother told Talk News, often leaving him isolated from his loved ones. When his family’s home was destroyed by an air strike early in the war, his parents and remaining siblings lived with Mohammed, except for Motaz. He chose to take shelter alone in the office where his father ran a trading business.
Even so, Mohammed Alhelou remembers his brother as a brave and strong figure, even though he experienced trauma and difficulties in his life.
Human rights groups criticized President Joe Biden for not calling a ceasefire, continuing to fund Israeli forces, and not doing more to advocate for Palestinian lives.
“It is ironic and frustrating how the US government detained him for two years and then funded and armed his murder,” said Ramsey Judah, a California attorney who helped Alhelou.