Sun. Jun 16th, 2024

CHICAGO — A mother of five with ties to Chicago and its suburbs spoke to the ABC7 Chicago I-Team from Gaza Thursday, where her family has been trapped since the Israel-Hamas War broke out, and the only border crossing into Egypt has been deadlocked.

Emilee Rauschenberger said ever since the Hamas terror attack, her family has been on the move across Gaza.

READ MORE: Family with Chicago ties caught in Israel-Hamas war, trapped in Gaza

“The nights are terrifying because you just hear bombing. Sometimes very close, and sometimes far in the distance,” Rauschenberger said. “But you really don’t know what the targets are or what will happen.”

Rauschenberger, who was born in Bloomington, Ill. and spent time in her later years living in suburban Elgin and downtown Chicago, said she and her five children have dual citizenship between America and the United Kingdom.

The family was visiting Rauschenberger’s husband’s parents on an olive tree farm in the area of Abasan Al-Kabira in Gaza when they received a warning from the Israeli Defense Forces that their compound was in the blast area of a bombing campaign, shortly after the war started.

The family packed up and has since moved around to different safe-houses, waiting for the Rafah border crossing to open for Americans and foreign nationals trying to escape the region.

Every day presents its own set of challenges, Rauschenberger said.

“We have to, you know, conserve our water and conserve our food,” she said. “We go out and get water at refueling or re-watering tanks in the neighborhood because we don’t have running filtered water to drink. We have no electricity. What we do have is taken from places with solar panels that charge batteries for us.”

Many water tanks like this one supply people in Gaza with drinking water, Rauschenberger said.

Rauschenberger said during the day, she’s been trying to keep her children, whose ages range from four to 14 years old, busy to keep their minds occupied, and she and her husband try to speak honestly with them about the dangerous situation they are in.

“It’s been difficult,” Rauschenberger said. “The older ones are definitely aware and scared of what is going on. I just found out this evening that there’s boy from their school killed today. You try to be as realistic, be honest with them and tell them you know, ‘This is dangerous, we have to stay inside as much as possible.’”

Rauschenberger’s family walking near an apartment building that had been bombed in area they are sheltering near in Gaza.

So far, the Rauschenbergers have made the dangerous drive with other families to the Rafah border crossing twice, hoping it would open for refugees. But despite waiting there with her husband and five children for hours, no one was allowed to cross.

The Biden Administration said it has been in negotiations with Egypt, Israel, the United Nations and other humanitarian aid groups to open a humanitarian corridor at the Rafah crossing for the past week, but no progress has been made yet.

At a State Department briefing Thursday, spokesperson Matt Miller indicated there were some signs of progress toward moving aid into Gaza but moving aid across the border doesn’t necessarily mean Americans who wanted to leave could exit.

“Of course, if the Rafah gate is open to allow humanitarian aid to go in, we will be trying to get out to the American citizens who are in Gaza who want to leave,” Miller said.

Rauschenberger said for the Americans and other foreign nationals trying to cross, they feel like “bargaining chips” during this war.

“We are very vulnerable,” Rauschenberger said, urging Americans to contact their elected representatives in support of a ceasefire. “The governments should be working for all of us. And we should, we should work to preserve all the lives. It’s just heartbreaking to see we’re kind of left here to fend for ourselves.”

Since the fighting started, Rauschenberger said she’s tried to explain to her kids what’s going on, and the complex history for the region.

“The larger conflict is quite complex to explain to them at this age, but really, you know, they understand that Palestinians have been struggling for, for their human rights and freedoms. And this is a result of that struggle. We hope that there can be a peaceful solution at the end of all of this carnage,” she said.

The FBI is closely watching developments and potential threats in homeland as a result of the Israel-Hamas war and other conflicts abroad.

“It’s our mission to protect the United States against terrorist attack. It’s our highest priority. We are working on that 24 hours a day, seven days a week here,” said FBI Chicago Special Agent in Charge Robert Wheeler. “What I’m concerned about is any group, Hamas, any terrorist organization, any lone offender that can do a lot of damage. And what our goal is, is to do everything preemptively as possible to mitigate that threat.”

FBI officials issued a national law enforcement alert-concerned about an increased risk for terror strikes here, especially so-called lone wolf attacks by radicalized local individuals.

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