No room at the inn

Almost 1.8 million displaced people are taking shelter in or near UN facilities. 

Omar Ashtawy APA images

After being forced to leave his home, Muhammad Abu Haya is now living in a tent.

Abu Haya, 49, was uprooted because Israel was bombarding Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza. Some of his relatives were killed.

He first took shelter in Gaza City’s schools, before moving several times. He is now in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

Abu Haya made the tent in which he now lives. In total, it hosts 10 members of his extended family.

The tent was put together with empty flour bags and other fabrics. It is covered with nylon to try and keep rainwater out.

“When I arrived in Rafah, I spent two nights on the street with my family,” he said. “I quickly collected cloth and nylon bags until I could make a tent.”

The family has some bedding material, though not enough to keep the cold at bay.

All of the schools in the area are full of displaced people. There is a huge number of displaced people near Gaza’s border with Egypt in the same circumstances.

They are extremely worried, especially now that temperatures have dropped.

Schools are full

The UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) has reported that nearly 1.8 million people are sheltering in and in the vicinity of its 156 Gaza installations. Overcrowding means that 486 people have to share each bathroom in the Rafah shelters.

The shelters do not provide genuine safety. Approximately 300 people sheltering in UNRWA facilities have been killed since 7 October.

By some accounts, only a few hundred tents have entered Gaza as part of aid deliveries.

Hamza Zaida, 31, had to leave his home in al-Rimal, a neighborhood of Gaza City. He is now in Rafah.

Many Palestinians displaced in 2023 feel they are worse off than those uprooted during the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. For all the Nakba’s horrors, people expelled at that time often managed to find some rudimentary shelter.

“Maybe our grandparents were luckier,” Zaida said. “When they abandoned their homes in 1948, they found tents. We do not have tents or anything else. I searched for one and the organizations helping us said they didn’t have any tents.”

He notes that tents are being assembled using metal poles and timber for their frames. Most of these makeshift tents do not provide any real protection from the elements.

Zaida spent two days making a tent for 11 members of his extended family. Although he did the best he could, much water leaked into the tent when it started to rain.

Amjad Ayman Yaghi is a journalist based in Gaza.