Gaza, Oct 15 (The Street Press) – As Israel increased airstrikes in the area controlled by Hamas in Gaza and advised people to head south toward the Egypt border, Fadi Daloul, a father of six, believed it was a good idea for safety. He gathered his things.
Palestinians are urgently seeking a safe place to hide, as the Israeli military readies for a ground offensive in Gaza, along with continuous airstrikes.
The journey south carries its own dangers, as Israel responds to Hamas following a surprise attack, the deadliest since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Israel has already launched its most intense bombing campaign on the densely populated Gaza Strip, and even more severe actions are anticipated, compelling residents to search for safe refuge.
Numerous Gazans have chosen to stay in their homes, concerned about reliving the “Nakba” or “catastrophe.” This term refers to the events in 1948 when many Palestinians either fled or were expelled from their homes during the war that marked the establishment of Israel.
During that time, around 700,000 Palestinians, constituting half of the Arab population in British-ruled Palestine, lost their homes and were forced to leave. Many sought refuge in neighboring Arab countries, where they or their descendants still reside, with some living in refugee camps.
Israel disputes the claim that it forced Palestinians to leave, contending that it was attacked by five Arab states following its establishment.
For Daloul, his family’s survival is paramount, especially as Israeli airstrikes devastate buildings in Gaza. The region is under blockade by both Israel and Egypt, resulting in a humanitarian crisis and dwindling medical supplies in hospitals.
He is among the numerous Palestinians who left the northern part of the Gaza Strip on Saturday, dreading an impending ground invasion and continuous airstrikes.
“We’re living with a lot of stress, and we didn’t experience anything like this before. It’s a massive threat. Our children, you can see them… where can we ensure their safety?” he said. “Especially on our way here, we witnessed people harmed and buildings hit by airstrikes. Thankfully, we made it to the south safely.”
The Israeli military hasn’t provided an immediate comment.
Hamas has advised people to remain in place, suggesting that leaving is risky. They claim that numerous people were killed in airstrikes targeting vehicles with refugees on Friday, a claim Reuters couldn’t independently verify.
Israel asserts that Hamas is stopping people from leaving to use them as human shields, a claim that Hamas denies.
Gaza, a small piece of land along the coast, is situated between Israel to the north and east and Egypt to the southwest. It is home to approximately 2.3 million people who have endured a blockade since Hamas assumed control in 2007.
Israel claims to have kept two roads open for people to leave, but displaced Palestinians attempting to flee on those routes reported that Israeli bombings in the surrounding eastern areas persisted.
Two days ago, there were reports of 70 Palestinians killed and 200 wounded when Israeli planes targeted several vehicles carrying displaced Gazans, as stated by the Hamas-run health ministry and Hamas official media. The Street Press couldn’t independently verify this information.
Daloul mentioned that it was quite challenging to leave their home when Israel began distributing pamphlets in Gaza, urging people to depart. His family experienced intense anxiety, particularly during the nighttime.
As they made their way, they encountered traffic congestion, and some cars were hit by airstrikes. In the darkness, the children clung to him, crying and shouting, “Save us, Save us.”
Israel contends that its evacuation order is a humanitarian effort to shield residents while targeting Hamas fighters. However, the United Nations states that moving so many people within Gaza could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.
Daloul’s daughter, Sahar, expressed that there is no safe haven from the airstrikes. She described their lives as constantly marked by hardship, feeling abandoned and uncertain about their future, asking, “How will we live? How?”
The Israeli bombardment of Gaza poses a threat to both Palestinians who remain at home and those who have undertaken the perilous journey south, fully aware that Egypt is unlikely to open its borders.
Speaking to Reuters over the phone from Gaza, 20-year-old Gina described the harrowing experience of traveling on the main Salahudeen eastern road, one of the two routes leading to the southern areas.
“I was terrified, I thought I was about to die,” Gina said, crying as she recounted her journey to the south.
“They told us to escape, and then they bomb people on the road. My father turned back to Gaza City. He said if we are going to die, let’s be at home in Gaza,” she explained.
Even if the residents wanted to leave the enclave entirely, they have no options because the most apparent exit would be through Egypt, which Cairo refuses.
Cairo, often acting as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, consistently emphasizes that conflicts should be resolved within their borders, asserting that this is the only path for Palestinians to secure their right to statehood.
A witness reported seeing severely damaged cars and a completely burned truck on the road to the south. Some who initially believed the south would offer respite have reconsidered and are now heading north.
“I am taking my family back into Gaza. I can’t continue to live in a school or outside my home, when no place is safe anyway, my home is better,” said Abu Dawoud, a Gaza accountant to Reuters.