“Tents everywhere”: Rafah struggles to accommodate a million Palestinians

“Tents everywhere”: Rafah struggles to accommodate a million Palestinians

Repeatedly displaced by war, many residents of Gaza’s southernmost city live in makeshift shelters without sufficient food, water or blankets.

Nearly half of the Gaza Strip’s population – estimated at a million people – is now crammed into the small southern town of Rafah, near the border with Egypt. Before the war, the city and its surrounding areas were home to fewer than 300,000 people, but hundreds of thousands more have arrived over the past three months from across the Gaza Strip following expulsion orders. of Israel and incessant ground and air bombardments.

Like the rest of the Gaza Strip, Rafah does not have enough food, water, medicine or shelter to accommodate its permanent residents, let alone the large number of people currently seeking refuge in the city. Many families sleep in tents, when they can find one; otherwise, they sleep on the street. Few are allowed to cross the Egyptian border. Almost everyone is extremely hungry and cold.

I am currently staying in Rafah with my wife and four children for the second time since the start of the war. We left our home northwest of Gaza City on October 7; since then, we have been forced to move several times due to Israeli airstrikes and expulsion orders, and I have twice pulled my children out from under the rubble.

My in-laws’ house in central Gaza City, where we first sought refuge after fleeing our home, was destroyed; the apartment we then rented in Rafah for about a month was seriously damaged; and I later learned that our own house had also been badly damaged and that Israeli soldiers had at one point used it as a base.

After spending another month with relatives in the town of Khan Younis, we were forced to return to Rafah due to the advance of Israeli ground forces. This time, I couldn’t afford to rent an apartment here due to the exorbitant prices – currently around $2,000 for a small apartment – ​​and so we ended up staying with my mother’s relatives down the hall in Philadelphia, which runs along the border with Egypt.

I struggle to give my children food and water. My son Kenan, aged 2, constantly asks for milk, which I cannot give him. They are traumatized and react very violently to the sound of bombs and explosions. It is often difficult to work because the children do not allow me to go out. And with Israeli forces apparently preparing to reoccupy the Philadelphia corridor, we may soon be forced to leave again. I do not know where to go.

A few days ago, I left my children and went to Rafah center to buy food and water. Along the way, I only saw tents and stopped to talk to a few displaced people. Here are their stories.

I live in this tent with my husband and four children, aged 3, 7, 10 and 12 years old. We had to leave our home in Gaza City because there was bombing all around us. When we left, our house was half destroyed. Now I heard it was completely destroyed.

From Gaza City, we moved first to Al-Nuseirat camp (in central Gaza) and then to Rafah. I didn’t want to leave. My whole life, everything I know and everyone I know has been in the north. I don’t know anyone here in Rafah. We came without any of our belongings, as we couldn’t take anything with us.

When we arrived in Rafah, we stayed on the street for three days until someone brought us this tent. Here there are insects coming from under the sand and it is freezing cold. Adults can’t stand this climate, especially at night, so how can children?

My children are sick. They are always cold and hungry. We can’t afford to buy food, so we wait for people to bring it to us (aid trucks). I don’t want to eat or drink, all I want is food and clean water for my children.

One of my children is deaf and mute and suffers from heart disease. He’s 7 years old and he can’t tell me if he’s hungry, thirsty or cold. But I know it is.

I want to go home, where I have my clothes, my children’s clothes and blankets. I want a warm place for my children. I don’t want to have to rely on other people’s favors to survive.

I have a 2 year old daughter. She is my whole life.

I come from the Al-Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City. When the bombings started, we moved several times from one neighborhood to another. When (the Israeli army) asked us to leave the north, I moved with my daughter, my parents and my siblings to Al-Nuseirat. We stayed there two months.

Then we had to leave again, and we ended up in Deir al-Balah (a town in central Gaza), but we couldn’t find shelter there. There were tents everywhere, schools and shelters were full, so I stayed with my daughter on the streets for a day before going down to Rafah. There we spent another whole day on the street until someone brought us a tent. Rafah is a tent city – everywhere you go you see tents.

I spend most of the day outside the tent. It’s so small and cramped. Nothing in the tent is ours – we received everything from other people. Blankets are not enough. My daughter hasn’t had a change of clothes in weeks and I’m having trouble finding diapers here. We don’t cook because we can’t afford to buy wood. We eat what people or humanitarian organizations bring us. Once every two days we receive bread and some vegetables.

What is happening in Gaza is not destruction, it is annihilation. They destroyed the whole gang. It is really difficult to describe what we have experienced and what we are still experiencing. My neighborhood, Al-Rimal, was the beating heart of Gaza, full of life, business, entertainment and culture. When we left, it was like a final judgment.

My only dream is for this war to end so I can return home. I pray to God that I can return to Gaza City.

I am originally from Beit Hanoun (a town located in the northern tip of Gaza). At the start of the war, I went to different neighborhoods in Gaza City: first Tal al-Zaatar, then Sheikh Radwan. Then the (Israeli) army forced us to go to Al-Nuseirat. We stayed there for 70 days, but we had to leave because of bombings and threats from the army.

Here we are now in Rafah, sitting in the street. Our tent is on a sidewalk. We bought wood, nylon and tarps for shade. Each tent costs about 600 shekels (about $160). We are all here, the whole family: my parents, my grandparents, my uncles and their families – about 80 people in total.

This is the first time I come to Rafah. Until now, I have spent my whole life in Beit Hanoun. I had never been to the south. I don’t know where I am.

On the first day of the war, we left our home in the town of Abasan al-Jadida, east of Khan Younis, to travel to the city. We stayed in my daughter’s house, who lived with her husband and children. There were eight of us in the house and we stayed there for two months, until the army started dropping leaflets asking us to move further south. We fled under the bombing and arrived in the Al-Shabora neighborhood of Rafah, in this tent on the road.

I had a nice house, with showers and three toilets. Now look at how we live. We can’t shower here. It’s impossible for young women.

There is no food here, but sometimes aid groups come and distribute very little food to too many people. I wish I could work. All the women here want to work and get paid. 20 NIS (about $5) per day would be enough for me to feed my children. I can’t cook because I can’t afford wood. And even if we could, it’s dangerous because of the nylon (which most tents are made with).

If I could, I would fly home. Even if the house is destroyed, I would prefer to pitch a tent there and rebuild our house one day.

Mohammed Zaanoun is a photojournalist based in Gaza.

Source: +972

ED translation for the Palestine Media Agency