It felt like we were on the way to hell.
We had to walk 14 kilometers. It took us six hours.
There were elderly people, pregnant women, children, including many babies.
There were people with cancer and other serious diseases.
There were people with disabilities, forced to carry their bags as they held white flags.
Nobody dared to demonstrate any curiosity about what was going on. We were all afraid that we would be struck with a bullet in the back of our heads.
Here are various things that I heard:
“There were bodies on the street.”
“We went through hell in al-Shifa hospital. We were close to death there. We are lucky to be alive now. I have chosen to go to what they call ‘the safe south.’ But it isn’t safe at all.”
“We had to leave the taxi at the Kuwaiti crossroads [on the outskirts of Gaza City]. We couldn’t go any farther in it or we might all get hurt. There was a tank and there were some soldiers. It was my first time seeing a tank. We had to leave everything – our memories, beds, smiles, clothes, even the nice sofa near the TV. We had no choice but to leave our home.”
“I hold my breath every time I get closer to the soldiers and the tanks. My husband has been carrying three bags on his back. He told me that he got tired from carrying the bag with clothes in it. He wants to throw it away.”
“If you throw it away, you will have no clothes to wear.”
“Why worry about clothes when there’s nowhere to go? We don’t know anyone in the south. And you’re worried about clothes?”
“Don’t look, my son. Just close your eyes and keep walking.”
“We’ve been married for just a week and this is our honeymoon.”
This is life now for couples recently wed, for parents with infants, for students in their final year at college.
A soldier with a rifle in his right hand shouted: “Stop! All of you!”
The soldier ordered a man “wearing red” to walk towards him.
When the man approached, the soldier asked him what he was holding in his arms.
“My son,” the man replied. “He is injured.”
The soldier refused to believe him at first. So the man removed the blanket in which his son was wrapped.
It was stained with blood and so was the man’s white shirt.
The soldier at the checkpoint smiled. The queue moved forward a little.
Things have become so much clearer now. Israel has been talking about a “safe corridor” in which people can move from the northern part of Gaza to the south.
The “corridor” was evidently part of a plan to confuse and humiliate us. Israel keeps on committing heinous crimes with impunity.
Reema is 9. She was among the people staying in the building where I moved after fleeing my home.
“After the Israeli occupation bombed our house, we went to my grandma’s house,” Reema said. “Then it was bombed by an F-16. So we went to my uncle’s house and stayed there until the situation got worse. They destroyed my school. And the school next to my uncle’s house became a place for people to shelter.”
Reema spoke of how she was afraid of going through the “safe corridor.”
“I was afraid of seeing the soldiers, the tanks and the dead bodies in the street. Mom told me, ‘the occupation doesn’t arrest children like you.’ She promised to give me a white bird if I am strong and walk.”
“We used to queue for flour, water, cheese and bread,” Reema added. “Now we’re queuing to leave Gaza City.”
Her mother’s assurance about Israel not arresting children has turned out to be inaccurate.
“The soldiers arrested a Palestinian child – 12 years old – who was walking with us,” Reema said, weeping. “I don’t know what he did to get arrested. Maybe he wasn’t as strong as my mother asked me to be.”
Dima Ashour is a writer based in Gaza.