Still waiting for the war to stop

People in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, wait for cooking gas shortly after the truce began. 

Omar Ashtawy APA images

Since the beginning of Israel’s current war on Gaza, everyone has been waiting for it to stop.

As the days passed, we all hoped that a ceasefire would be announced during one of them.

When the exodus from the northern part of Gaza began, people hoped it would only last a few days.

In the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis people opened their homes to relatives and friends. Schools, hospitals and universities received huge numbers of displaced people.

Shops in this city began to run out of basic necessities as the number of people expanded and Israel cut off supplies to Gaza. It is estimated that there are now around 700,000 people in Khan Younis – double the number before the war.

After nearly seven weeks of bombardment, it was finally confirmed that a truce had been brokered.

Unless it is extended, the truce will only last for four days.

And it will not allow people from the north to return to their homes. That is very sad for them.

It was originally announced that the truce would begin on Thursday. Then, it was postponed for a further day.

The announcement did not bring any immediate calm. Far from it.

Wednesday night saw intense violence east of Khan Younis. We felt extreme terror as we heard the sounds of shells fired from tanks and the explosions of missiles fired from warplanes.

Reem Shaath, 40, is among the people sheltering at a school in al-Fukhari, near Khan Younis. “The sounds were terrifying and we were afraid that these shells would reach us and our children,” she said. “We woke up after that night to the news that the truce would begin on Friday morning. I was desperately waiting for the truce so that I could return to my house. I wanted to check on it. What has happened to it? Is it still intact or has it been destroyed? I don’t know.”

She wants to have some badly-needed rest during the truce period.

“We need to sleep,” she added. “I feel very tired. I have six children, each of whom has a problem because the war has increased their fears. Some of them have epileptic seizures and others have involuntary urination. They all need treatment.”

Most painful

Salem Odeh, 38, was displaced from Gaza City more than a month ago and moved to Khan Younis.

“I do not benefit from the truce at all,” he said. “I want to return to my home and my city. I want to check on my family there. I lost contact with them 10 days ago and I don’t know anything about them.”

“Maybe the only thing I will benefit from is that I will not be hearing explosions and losing my friends all the time,” he added. “We want this war to end soon and don’t want any other war ever again. I want my three children to live in peace and safety.”

When the truce eventually took hold on Friday morning at 7 AM, it felt that some kind of life had returned.

Everyone wanted to leave their homes or their shelters and check on their families.

Some people went to see if cooking gas or fuel was available. Many went to the markets hoping that food would be available.

“Finally, we can breathe a little,” said Hani Aslim, 55. “Since 7 o’clock, I have been checking on friends and family. Many friends were martyred along with their families and some of them lost their homes.”

Among the people in Khan Younis and surrounding areas are many farmers, who take care of olive trees. Under “normal” circumstances – if anything in occupied Gaza can be described as normal – the olive harvesting season would have taken place in recent weeks.

Israel’s war meant that harvesting was unsafe.

The Israeli military has warned people displaced from northern Gaza that they must not leave the south during the truce. Israel has reportedly killed at least two people who tried to go home since the truce began.

This war has been far more painful than any previous war against Gaza.

We really hope that this truce will lead to a permanent ceasefire. We hope that war will never return.

Ruwaida Amer is a journalist based in Gaza.