(The author of this story is anonymous for security reasons.)
GAZA CITY – Conditions in southern Gaza, where Israel urged civilians to flee, are so overcrowded and miserable – without power, water or respite from airstrikes – that many have chosen to return to their homes and face the consequences.
Imad Abdelfattah, 42, fled with 14 relatives – including his mother, father and his sister’s young family – after Israel ordered civilians to evacuate the northern half of the Gaza Strip from an expected ground invasion in response to Hamas’s brutal incursion into Israel to leave week.
They sought shelter on Friday in the Nussierat refugee camp – one of the zones designated by Israel as safe – but the overnight airstrikes were devastating and the lack of water, electricity and basic services convinced them they might as well return home to the western Gaza Strip could city after just two days.
“We decided to face the dire situation at home with dignity because the conditions in the refugee camp were unbearable and there were no alternative refuges to which we could flee,” he told The Daily Beast.
When Abdelfattah was home on Monday, he said he had been unable to get clean drinking water for his family. “I tried to buy drinking water from shops in Gaza, but there was none available. We are forced to drink water from the underground well, which is saline and is usually only used for purification.”
Despite Israel’s insistence on a mass evacuation to the south, airstrikes continued on civilian districts across the Gaza Strip. At least 70 people died over the weekend on their way to supposedly safe zones when their convoy was hit by air strikes. A doctor who works right on the southern border with Egypt even told The Daily Beast that his hospital received a call warning to evacuate on Sunday. It seems that nowhere is safe.
Many of the hospitals in northern Gaza, which should be protected under international law, have already been ordered to evacuate by Israeli forces.
In one of these hospitals, where, according to the Ministry of Health, fuel supplies will run out on Tuesday afternoon, is 7-year-old Jana Dawood. After life-saving surgery, her spirit remains resilient despite a harrowing Israeli airstrike that hit her family’s home on al-Nasser Street in Gaza City, leaving her with head and eye injuries.
“The house was attacked without warning,” her uncle Belal Dawood, 31, told The Daily Beast at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
“My brother Ahmed is Jana’s father and he bears the scars of burns that consume his body. His wife suffered shrapnel wounds to her stomach, which were skillfully removed by the dedicated doctors. All of Ahmed’s children are injured and are currently being treated in hospital.”
Describing the horrific event, he recounted what Ahmed said: “The rocket fell like an inferno from the ceiling to the floor below, igniting a fierce fire that seared my body. “Shrapnel filled the air around us.”
With a deep longing for peace and security, Belal added: “We do not desire border crossings, we do not desire airports, we do not desire riches.” All we really desire is a life of peace and security lead, just like any other nation.”
“Medical options are limited here and I wish I could take Jana to Egypt or another country for treatment, but the closure of the border crossings makes us powerless,” Bilal added.
As young Jana lay in her hospital bed – her eyes hidden under white bandages, her face swollen from her injuries – she turned to her uncle Belal and asked with a hint of hope, “When are we going home?”
Unaware of the devastating reality that her home had been destroyed and there was no safe place to go, Jana’s request lingered unanswered, a poignant reminder of the innocence sustained through the harsh realities of war was destroyed.
Umm Ahmed, 51, spoke to The Daily Beast while hugging her 2-year-old grandson. The boy’s mother, Lana al-Haddad, 28, was heavily pregnant with a baby sister when the family home was hit by an airstrike.
“She is in intensive care after being rescued from the rubble of her home. Many of their family members were killed and found under the rubble,” Ahmed said.
It was just two weeks before her due date and al-Haddad suffered a fractured pelvis when her house collapsed on her. After being rescued from the rubble, she was taken to the hospital where she had an emergency cesarean section. Both Lana and her newborn girl are in the intensive care unit, which may only have hours of power left.
Umm Ahmed said: “I have heard stories of Israeli settler women who gave birth in Gaza and were nurtured and protected by the resistance. Why are our children and pregnant women subjected to this violence at the hands of Israel? What sins have they committed? And why aren’t they given the courtesy of a warning?”
The general director of Gaza’s Al Shifa Medical Complex, Muhammad Abu Salamiya, warned that the lives of hundreds of patients in the hospital would be at risk if fuel runs out. “Without fuel or electricity, hospitals will cease to function and become graveyards,” he told The Daily Beast, saying they have already run out of beds and are struggling to get water.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said 2,750 Palestinians were killed and 9,700 injured in Israeli airstrikes following the October 7 Hamas-Islamic Jihad attack on Israel. The conflict has become the deadliest of five wars fought between Israel and Gaza, with 1,400 Israelis killed and at least 199 taken hostage.
Mohammed Majed, 30, who lives in western Gaza City, told The Daily Beast that he saw Israel use incendiary weapons against civilians, which is prohibited under international law.
“I was sitting on the fifth floor of our building with my children, watching the news on my phone. “Suddenly the Israeli navy launched an attack on the beach just a few meters away from us,” he said. “We saw ambulances rushing to evacuate residents of beachfront hotels. Then, out of nowhere, we witnessed the horrific sight of phosphorus bombs exploding in the sky. They resembled white spiders with long, crawling legs that emitted an eerie glow as they rained down on the land, starting fires and causing hundreds of suffocation injuries.”
“Israeli warplanes targeted the port area west of Gaza City and used a series of white phosphorus bombs. This incendiary substance covered large areas west of Gaza and forced us to leave our homes. This indiscriminate attack resulted in hundreds of Palestinians suffocating. Many were transported to hospitals while the remaining injured were treated at the scene.”
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both recorded the use of white phosphorus during Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip last week.
32-year-old Heba Rami was also forced to leave her home in Beit Lahia.
She recounted her family’s stressful journey: “We left our home in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza, on the second day of the operation, a fateful Sunday, when the Israeli army invaded our territory with relentless attacks, forcing us to evacuate. Looking for refuge, we took shelter in my aunt’s house in Sheikh Radwan, south of Gaza City. However, when neighboring houses were attacked, we had to flee again, this time to the Shaté refugee camp.”
Heba’s voice broke as she continued: “This morning an Israeli attack destroyed a neighboring house in the camp. The entire building collapsed dangerously near us. My brothers sustained injuries and we were taken to Shifa Hospital by ambulance.”
“No place in Gaza is safe, not even Shifa Hospital. We fear it will also be targeted,” she said.
Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of Gaza citizens headed south to escape the worst of the attacks after the Israeli army warned that a military operation would begin in the area within 24 hours. It sent residents into a race against time in a futile search for safety.
The United Nations said the Israeli order would “mean the relocation of 1.1 million citizens to the southern Gaza Strip within a day, which is impossible without devastating humanitarian consequences.”
Salma Ibrahim, 37, left al-Nasser Street in Gaza City on Saturday with seven members of her family. “We started leaving when all of our neighbors were leaving out of fear of death and destruction as the Israeli army would target the underground Gaza Strip to destroy Hamas tunnels. We don’t know what will happen or where to go,” she said.
She was exhausted as she trudged south like thousands of others, a scene reminiscent of the infamous photos of the Nakba, or disaster an estimated 700,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homeland Israel in 1948. “It remains a deeply traumatic event in their collective memory and continues to shape their fight for justice and for their right to return to their homeland.” say the United Nations.
A huge crowd of exhausted people tried to move quickly; some clutched pillows, others carried bags and water bottles. Several women carried their children.
“It’s like the Nakba of 1948,” Ibrahim said. “We are afraid that at a later date they will ask us to leave the south of the Gaza Strip and travel to Egypt.”
Many fear that even the tiny strip of land that many have described as an open-air detention camp will soon be lost entirely to the Palestinian people.