No time to mourn

As well as being bombed by Israel, Rafah in southern Gaza is hosting people forced to flee the north. 

Ahmed Tawfeq APA images

Everyone cries and hugs each other when they reach our home. Thank God that they are safe – at least for now.

“Is this fresh drinking water?”

“Yes,” I reply.

Our visitors proceed to drink bottle after bottle of water. They are so thirsty.

I live in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city. Israel has ordered a million people living in northern Gaza to move south.

People have gone through terror to arrive in Rafah.

After ordering people to move, Israel has bombed them on the way.

One man here lived through the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. After being expelled from his original home as a child, he grew up in Maghazi refugee camp.

It is located in central Gaza. Our visitor recalls when “tents started to go up all over” the camp.

Now – in October 2023 – he has been uprooted again. “I don’t think they will let me go back home,” he says.

Today, he cannot go to his original home in historic Palestine or to where he grew up in Gaza. Once again, he has been displaced inside his homeland.

This man is among 37 members of his extended family now taking shelter in a home measuring 120 square meters.

Impossible to be unshaken

Our home is divided into two sections, one for men, the other for women.

The women sometimes talk about plans they had made.

One talked about how she was waiting for the delivery of a new sofa.

One talked about changes to her kitchen.

One talked about how she was due to attend a graduation party for her daughter.

The men, on the other hand, try to act tough. They try to give the impression that they are unshaken by all that is happening.

It is impossible to be unshaken.

Despite their tough demeanor, the men sometimes cry. I have seen them doing so.

Our visitors lost 30 relatives. All killed by Israel.

They had to leave their relatives under the rubble.

No time to mourn.

They had to survive.

One of our visitors is a Syrian refugee who married a Palestinian woman.

“I was persecuted and tortured in Syria, my homeland,” he says. “I was forced to flee. I did not want to do the same thing twice. But my sisters in Syria called me and begged me to leave [my home in Gaza] for the sake of my family. Everyone in the neighborhood has evacuated.”

Khalil had to walk a distance of 5 km at night. He used to wear a jalabiya – a traditional garment.

But he has decided to dress in more casual clothes, hoping that Israel would not think he was a member of Hamas.

Israel has vowed to kill every member of Hamas.

Reem has cancer. She has trouble walking and cannot sit on the floor.

She sleeps in a chair.

We haven’t been able to find the medicine that Reem needs. Every pharmacy in our area is short of supplies.

Reem loves children but has not been able to have a child of her own.

“I was forced to choose,” she says. “Should I stay and die with my mother? Or leave for the south and die with my husband?”

She starts to weep.

“I had to leave my mother behind. She was in a wheelchair. What was I supposed to do?”

Sahar Qeshta is a parent in Gaza.