Drowning in despair amid a sea of tents

Tents provide a completely inadquate shelter for displaced people in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. 

Bashar Taleb APA images

We could hear the anxiety in my uncle’s voice.

“Get up,” he shouted. “We must leave.”

He informed us that leaflets had been dropped in the area of Maghazi refugee camp, central Gaza, where we were staying. Israel had ordered the evacuation of this zone.

It had been a week since we had left our own home in Maghazi and gone to stay with my aunt and uncle.

Our lives had fallen into disarray beneath an oppressive darkened sky. We had left our own street after Israel had carried out a massacre there.

The massacre took place on 24 December – at a time when people in many countries were celebrating or preparing to celebrate Christmas. At least 70 people were killed.

We had discussed whether to stay at my aunt’s house in Maghazi or move southwards after that massacre. We opted to stay in Maghazi.

My aunt’s home was overcrowded and anything but safe. Israel’s bombing of Maghazi continued in a relentless manner.

Our situation became increasingly precarious. Rumors spread that Israel was about to undertake a major invasion of Maghazi.

A few days after we had left our own home, my father announced that he would go back there and check its condition.

We walked to our own home, conscious that Israel’s warplanes could fire on anything that moved. When we arrived, the stillness was unfamiliar.

When we opened the door, a home that once echoed with the laughter of my siblings now felt empty.

Memories flooded back as I entered, recalling moments of joy and the warmth of my bedroom.

Saying goodbye to our home was painful. Yet I clung to a glimmer of hope that we would return.

As we gathered some essentials, the tears welled up in my eyes. I felt a sense of suffocation.


The situation deteriorated further in Maghazi.

We weren’t sure if our home would remain intact. My dad was desperate yet tried to take solace in his faith.

“God will grant us better things in the future,” he said.

There were disagreements about what we should do.

For a long time, my uncle argued that we should not leave Maghazi. The conditions awaiting us after we would leave the camp would be very harsh.

When leaflets ordering evacuation were issued by Israel, we first went to my grandma’s home in Maghazi.

Then – on 8 January – a large truck arrived.

As part of a group numbering more than 70 people, we embarked on an uncertain journey.

We prayed as we went through a “safe corridor” where danger lurked everywhere. There were surveillance drones overhead and Israel’s troops on the ground.

Their presence was ominous.

We eventually arrived in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

There we saw a sea of tents and the stark reality of others’ hardships.

Privacy vanished, food was scarce and it was bitterly cold.

We felt despondent.

All we could do was ask questions.

When will this end?

Will we survive this horrible war or become casualties? Statistics that the world’s most powerful countries and institutions will ignore?

How much more must we endure?

Eman Alhaj Ali is a journalist, translator and writer based in Gaza.