Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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In Rafah, We Fear Israel’s Endgame

After months of pounding Gaza with one of the most lethal bombing campaigns in history, Israel is now threatening a full-blown assault on the southernmost town of Rafah, where nearly 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are seeking safety after being driven from their homes, including me and my family. As we await our fate and wonder where we will go if Israel forces us to flee yet again, or whether we will even survive another assault that leading rights groups have warned will be a “bloodbath,” President Joe Biden and other Western leaders hold our lives in their hands.

Normally a small city next to Egypt, Rafah these days is extremely overcrowded, hosting the majority of Gaza’s 2.2 million people. The town is filled with tents and its houses are overflowing. Most of the homes in Rafah, including the one where we are sheltering, have a dozen families in them. All around us, people are starving, thirsty, and sick from disease because Israel continues to block the entry of sufficient food, water, and medical supplies into Gaza. After being driven from our homes and witnessing our communities systematically destroyed by Israel, we have nowhere left to run and fear Israel is planning to expel us out of Gaza entirely into Egypt, as senior Israeli officials have been calling for for months.

I am from the Sabra neighborhood of Gaza City, where I’ve lived most of my life, along with my father Omar, my brother Salim, and our families. As Israeli tanks and shelling closed in on us in November, we made the difficult decision, like hundreds of thousands of others, to leave. We moved three times within the city itself, each time taking with us a bag with our most essential life possessions, from infant formula to canned foods and our degrees. My laptop, now considered a luxury, stayed behind. Finally, when we ran out of options in Gaza City, we fled south in early December to Rafah, where Israel said we would find safety. We are bitter to have fled to a so-called “safe haven” only to again face bombardment.

Traveling south was no less terrifying than staying in the north. On the road, soldiers forced us to walk single file, occasionally pulling someone, even children, out of the line and taking them behind a hill, after which we heard gunshots. My eight-year-old son Yahya begged me to go with him if the soldier told him to go behind the hill. It was one of the worst moments of my life. I at times wished a missile would fall on us to relieve us from the horror. I gathered what little strength I had left and fabricated a lie, telling him that the army was summoning people to give them water.

In Gaza, we don’t have the luxury of mourning. There is no respite between our sorrows. Each day, terrifying news passes by us, such as the death of a friend or the destruction of a nearby home. In early November, we learned of the killing of our cousin’s aunts through a chain of WhatsApp messages. We hear the news, mourn for a moment, then return to our tragedy, searching for water and food in our struggle to survive. But the knowledge that even if we survive the onslaught, our futures, our hopes, and our communities now lie in ruin lingers all around us. So many of our homes, our jobs, our friends, our neighbors, our belongings, our schools, our business, are all gone now. Displacement and destruction has left us with trauma, grief, and humiliation.

Read More: From Gaza, Stories of Loss and Grief

Above all, there is a pervasive sense of abandonment from the international community. It pains us to see so many Gazans killed by bombs and starvation while the world seems indifferent. It’s as if we are not human and we have no rights, not even the right to life. As Israel’s invasion of Rafah looms, with a deadline set for Ramadan next month, everyone here is caught between two awful feelings: fear of staying and dying or leaving and losing a loved one.

But in the meantime, everyone in Gaza is equally desperate now. You see teachers and students, doctors and patients, and everyone else, all standing in the same lines together for water. Lines are one of the few things in abundance in Gaza. There’s a line for bread, flour, sugar, meat, cooking gas, aid coupons, currency exchange. The list goes on. The duration of each line varies, with some lasting from early morning until sunset.

This is just a glimpse of the hardships we are enduring. Even the youngest child in Gaza realizes that Israel’s war is not against Hamas, but against the Palestinian people as a whole. This makes us struggle to keep faith in the belief that there is humanity to be found.

Our only hope now is for the Biden Administration and other Western governments to use the considerable leverage they have over Israel, including billions of dollars in military assistance, to impose a ceasefire and pressure Benjamin Netanyahu to allow sufficient aid to enter Gaza. If they don’t, I tremble at the thought of what is to come for me, my family, and every other Palestinian not just in Rafah but all of Gaza.

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