The U.S. Deported A Palestinian To Gaza — And He Was Killed A Few Months Later

Motaz Alhelou, a 31-year-old Palestinian who was held in U.S. detention for a year and deported to Gaza, was killed in December.

Alhelou was sheltering at the family’s business in western Gaza City when he was struck by sniper crossfire, his brother Mohammed Alhelou told HuffPost. It is unclear who shot him.

More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its bombing campaign in the aftermath of a Hamas attack on Oct. 7, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Human rights organizations have sounded the alarm on the deteriorating situation inside Gaza as hundreds of thousands of people are at risk for starvation. The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, issued an initial ruling on Jan. 26 acknowledging the plausible risk of Israel committing genocide.

Alhelou fled Gaza in 2018 after Hamas, the militant group controlling Gaza, threatened him because he had tried to avoid serving with them. He was denied refugee status in multiple countries, including Turkey and Argentina, before arriving in the United States in December 2021, as HuffPost first reported in 2022. The U.S. denied him asylum and instead held him in detention. 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 hadn’t seen for five years. 

Motaz Alhelou and his brother Mohammed reunited after five years apart.
Motaz Alhelou and his brother Mohammed reunited after five years apart.

Motaz Alhelou and his brother Mohammed reunited after five years apart.

The Alheloufamily threw a two-day party to celebrate his freedom from detention, both by the Americans and Israelis, and extended an open invitation to everyone in the neighborhood, Mohammed Alhelou told HuffPost. His family ― two parents, four brothers and three sisters ― served round after round of tea and dessert.

“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 bombardment campaign in Gaza, killing scores of civilians every day. 

The bombardment triggered post-traumatic symptoms in Motaz before his death, his brother told HuffPost, often causing him to isolate from loved ones. When the family’s home was destroyed in an airstrike early on in the war, his parents and remaining siblings moved in with Mohammed, except for Motaz. He chose to shelter alone at the offices where his father conducted a trading business.

Still, Mohammed Alhelou remembers his brother as courageous and bold, despite the trauma and difficulties he had endured in his life.

Human rights groups have criticized President Joe Biden for not calling for a cease-fire, continuing to fund Israeli forces and not doing more to advocate for Palestinian lives. 

“It is incredibly ironic and frustrating how the U.S. government detained him for two years and then funded and armed his killing,” said Ramsey Judah, a California lawyer who had helped Alhelou.