Terror in the tents

People displaced to Rafah are living in appalling conditions. 

Ahmed Ibrahim APA images

We were asleep in our own home. Little did we know that our sense of security was about to be shattered.

Around 5 am on an October morning, one of our neighbors received a phone call. The caller claimed to be from the Israeli military and ordered the immediate evacuation of our area in al-Zahra, central Gaza.

Our neighbors hurriedly knocked on each other’s doors.

For some reason, though, we did not hear anyone knocking on our door. It was as if we had been forgotten.

I nonetheless woke up around the same time. I quickly learned that we had been given just 15 minutes to evacuate.

“What will we do?” I asked my father. “Where will we go?”

I was consumed by horror.

I had lived in this home for more than 22 years.

We were being told to leave it abruptly.

I looked at my father’s face. It was filled with sadness.

He had put so much work into our home.

My father told me to wake up my siblings.

We hurried down the stairway. It was crowded with people fleeing the towers.

The congesion added an extra layer of stress to the all-pervading fear.

My mother held my younger sister, trying to keep her warm.

Soon, the Israelis fired a missile at the tower opposite the one in which we lived.

Children were crying loudly.

It felt like the worst day ever.


We fled, looking back at al-Zahra. An area of beauty was being reduced to rubble.

Israel’s bombardment continued throughout the day and night. The towers in which I and many others grew up were destroyed.

We were homeless.

We found a tent priced at $400.

My father couldn’t afford it. So my mother, my siblings and I collected the little money we had.

With that sum, we bought the tent.

We fled without any clothes, kitchen utensils or other essentials. We had no mattresses.

On the first night in the tent, I slept on bare sand.

Rain pounded on the tent like bullets. We felt very cold.

The next day, we bought three mattresses and three blankets – to be shared between six of us.

My sister Rimas is only 13. I slept close to her so that we could try and keep each other warm.

On the third day of our displacement, we bought two plates, two spoons and two cups. We kept on adding one or two items to our meager possessions.

Privacy was completely non-existent. There was a lot of noise so it was impossible to have any rest.

If any of my siblings got sick, we all would fall ill.

When you wanted a little space to change your clothes, you had to ask that everyone else left the tent.

Every morning, I joined a queue to fill water containers. Then I would stand in line – for at least four hours – to buy bread.

I began to call this war the war of queues.

Life continued in this way for some time. But one day it stopped.

On 27 March, Israel bombed a place a short distance from our tent.

We panicked and dropped to the ground to protect ourselves. Many people screamed.

My mother started checking on us to see if we were injured. We weren’t.

But our neighbour Um Masoud – she lived in the tent beside ours – was lying on the ground. Shrapnel had pierced her head.

“They killed my mother,” her only son Masoud, 17, said. “What has my mother done to deserve this?”

I rushed over to their tent. It was filled with blood.

As I saw Um Masoud, I could only think of one thing: I or another member of my family could have been killed in this attack.

We could easily be the next Um Masoud.

This attack had occurred in Rafah, southern Gaza.

Israel has been threatening a major offensive against Rafah for some time. How much worse will it get if Israel carries out that threat?

Every day, we wake up, hoping that the war will soon be over. When will it end?

Razan Abu Salem is a writer and translator based in Gaza.