The idea that some places in Gaza are safe is a lie.
It is a dangerous lie as it has forced people to leave their homes.
More than 1.8 million people are now displaced. All of them are fleeing death.
Parents are trying to save their children from the horror of the constant bombing. People are clinging to the small remaining hope that the war will end soon.
In Khan Younis, southern Gaza, fears worsened after Israel began its ground invasion and stepped up its bombardment of the city. We had hoped that the brief truce in late November would be extended.
Then the war returned abruptly.
The bombardment of Khan Younis was especially intense following the truce.
There were martyrs everywhere.
There was a smell of missiles in the air.
The sound of ambulances did not stop.
It was like the city had suddenly caught fire.
The Israeli military started ordering people in the eastern area to leave their homes.
That meant going to schools and hospitals that were already full. Some people could not find anywhere to stay and are now on the streets.
In the earlier stages of this war, Khan Younis was depicted as a safe zone by Israel. Now everyone here is going through a nightmare from which they cannot escape.
“At the beginning of the truce we felt that we could breathe a little and sleep without hearing the sounds of warplanes and drones,” said Maryam al-Sayed from al-Qarara, east of Khan Younis. “My three children were able to sleep and began to go out in the street without worries. But when the Israeli army began threatening the city of Khan Younis after the truce, I felt very afraid. On the morning of the first day after the truce, I felt that I was going to die at any moment. I hugged my children and we sat in one room. I heard the neighbors saying that the army wanted us to leave our homes. I talked to my husband, and he said, ‘Where are we going? We will sleep at home tonight and tomorrow morning, we will look for somewhere else.’”
“It was a very difficult night,” she added. “The bombing around us did not stop for a moment. I heard the sounds of the army clashing with the Palestinian resistance. It sounded like Israel was trying to enter the city of Khan Younis in tanks. I tried to reassure my children and distract them from the sound of the bombing until the slow hours of the night passed. When the sun rose, my husband told me he had found a place with one of his relatives west of Khan Younis and asked me to prepare some things. We moved there and hours later we learned that tanks had begun to approach the city of Khan Younis.”
Orders to evacuate the areas east of Khan Younis were followed by more orders. A few days after the truce ended, Israel instructed people in downtown Khan Younis to leave their homes.
The residents of Khan Younis had to carry the belongings they took with them on their shoulders.
Schools and hospitals had to take in more displaced people. With clean water extremely scarce, the risk of diseases spreading rose.
The residents of Hamad City, one of Gaza’s newest housing developments, were also ordered to evacuate.
Israel followed its evacuation orders by bombarding that area.
“I will never be able to forget the scene of six towers being destroyed and falling to the ground,” said Yasser Fares, who lived in Hamad City. “In the hours after the bombing, there were not many people left in the city. We all went out looking for somewhere to shelter.”
Some of his relatives went to al-Mawasi, an area west of Khan Younis. They erected a tent.
“If we do not die from bombing, we will die from cold, hunger and thirst,” he said. “There is no other form of shelter. Gaza cannot cope with a war so ugly and violent.”
Yasser Fares and his own family went to a school run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). “The school has thousands of displaced people,” he said. “We cannot sleep or get any rest. But we are forced to accept this very tragic situation. We will do anything for the safety of our children, even though nowhere is safe. The ‘safe south’ has become our graveyard.”
Ruwaida Amer is a journalist based in Gaza.