In a tight corner

Most people in Gaza have been displaced by Israel’s genocidal war. 

Bashar Taleb APA images

Over the past two months, Gaza’s schools have turned into shelters for people uprooted by Israel’s merciless war.

The buildings do not offer safety. Israel committed several massacres in schools run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).

In the early stage of the war, UNRWA schools were favored over those run by other bodies as places to shelter. There was a perception that Israel would be less likely to target schools which rely on major international donors.

By now, the majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants are displaced. And Israel has laid waste to the civilian infrastructure.

All types of schools are serving as shelters against this horrific background.

Fatima, 33, is staying in what was secondary school for boys until recently. It is located in southern Gaza.

“I do not know where to go,” Fatima said. “I need a roof over my head. Everywhere is unsafe.”

Fatima and more than 30 members of her extended family were forced to leave their home in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza.

First, they went to an UNRWA school in Jabaliya refugee camp. Then Israel bombarded an area close to that school.

“We did not want to leave northern Gaza,” Fatima said. “But then the situation got worse. The airstrikes were nonstop. We could see ourselves being killed within a few hours. Death was so near.”

Fatima and her family headed southwards through what Israel has misleadingly called a “safe corridor.”

The school where they now find themselves is accommodating 80 to 100 people per classroom. They lack basic necessities.


“The worst part is finding water,” Fatima said. “We don’t have any electricity or water at all. When we have water, we prioritize the children as they cannot understand war or starvation.”

She described queuing to use unhygienic bathrooms as “distressing.”

With very little water to drink, “I always experience headaches and dizziness,” said Fatima. “I say that is okay as long as my children are okay.”

Sabreen, 34, is living in the same school.

Her brother and three of his children were killed soon after the war began.

Sabreen’s own home in Beit Lahiya was damaged by Israeli bombardment. As a result, she and her family fled to Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza before leaving for the south.

The journey through the “safe corridor” was terrifying. She was only able to bring some clothes, ID cards and a few items for her youngest son.

The school was already full when they reached it. She had to squeeze into a tiny space, using a plastic sheet to demarcate her family’s current living area.

Her own extended family in the school has 28 members.

Menstruating in the school “feels like a nightmare,” Sabreen said. “We lack blankets, comfortable mattresses, sanitary pads, painkillers and even access to hot water for soothing drinks.”

Some girls and women have begun washing used sanitary pads and then reusing them. The practice carries a risk of infection.

Others are taking pills that delay periods.

A number of Sabreen’s seven children have become ill.

“We sleep with only light blankets,” she said. “We often have to share one blanket between four people.”

“I cannot bear the situation we are living in,” she added. “The war is incredibly cruel.”

Ghada Abed is a journalist based in Gaza.