Skip to main content

Gaza's population seeks shelter from blanket Israeli attacks

'In the blink of an eye, we became homeless': Gaza's population seeks shelter from vindictive Israeli assault
5 min read
12 October, 2023
As Israel intensifies its onslaught against the Gaza Strip, Gaza's population is running out of places to hide. At the time of writing, Gaza's displaced population is over 260,000, with families seeking shelter in UNWRA schools as a last resort.

More than 20,000 Palestinians fled to schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the early morning hours of October 7, as a result of the ongoing Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip.

Families living along the eastern border of the Shujaiya neighbourhood, families living in the northern Gaza Strip, and families living in other parts of the Gaza Strip have all been forcibly displaced.

Several of these families left their homes after the Israeli occupation army sent them threatening messages, while others left their homes soon after residential towers and buildings had been bombed. 

Live Story

The families that have been relocated to UNRWA schools are now facing several challenges, particularly since so many families are crowded into one classroom without any basic amenities that provide a minimum standard of living, such as electricity and water.

“As we were in our homes, unaware of what was happening outside, we heard the sounds of random bombings. We did not know where these bombs were coming from, I walked out with my family without checking on one another. After a few minutes of walking, we began to check on each other,” Kamal Obeid, 32, said.

Israel declared a “state of war” and approved “significant military steps” after Hamas’s surprise attack. This resulted in to destruction of 18 towers and residential buildings, with 159 units completely destroyed, and 1,210 residential units partially damaged, including 36 units that became uninhabitable. It caused the displacement of approximately 263,000 displaced people in schools, according to the United Nations office — with figures expected to increase. 

Kamal Obeid, the father of five children, was forced to be displaced from his safe home in the Shujaiya neighborhood to UNRWA schools in the Tal-elhaw neighbourhood, west Gaza. He was living with his three brothers, two of whom were married and had 11 children between them, and one unmarried along with their parents.

Israel's indiscriminate attacks on Gaza have displaced more than 260,000 Palestinians [Getty Images]

Many parents have expressed a feeling of extreme sadness over not being able to provide for their children's needs due to a lack of school resources, and a feeling of intense grief due to the loss of their homes with no safe shelter for themselves and their families.

“The situations in the schools are so harsh, there is no electricity or water. For the fourth day of displacement in the school with our children, no humanitarian aid came to provide any services or requirements,” Kamal said.

“We are 24 people, imagine all of us in one classroom, there is no sleep or rest. In the blink of an eye, we all became homeless. We are unsure of what to do next,” Kamal said.

Om Ramzi Jendia, 57, was forced to be displaced for the fourth time. She lived through all the Israeli aggression on Gaza since 2007.  “This is the fourth time I have had to leave my home. After every aggression ends, I say that it is the last time I will leave, but living under the Israeli occupation is no last time for suffering,” she said.

Even though the tragedy of the displaced is indescribable, some of them have also lost loved ones, and others do not know what has become of them. “While we were sitting in the school to make sure each other was okay, they informed me that three of your sister's sons were killed during the displacement,” the devastated grandmother said.

The house of Om Ramzi Jundia was the shelter for 45 people at one time. Her sons and daughters, as well as her grandchildren, are now homeless and without a safe place to stay.

Live Story

Ahmed Jendia, 22, was displaced from the Turkman neighbourhood, in east Gaza. “The intensity of the bombing in our area has forced us to flee. Missiles are everywhere, we are without a safe place to live. Women and children are screaming in fear,” he told The New Arab. 

Live Story

In addition to overcrowding, there are roughly more than 1,000 people located inside the school, which makes it unsuitable for use as a shelter. The water supply is cut off in the school, so it is hard for anyone in the school to wash or shower, Ahmed Jendia explained.

“The scene of our displacement of our homes during the attack is very terrifying. It is a recurring scene of the migration that our ancestors experienced in 1948. My children were in tears seeing people killed and wounded around them,” another eyewitness said, who was in the school with those displaced. 

Gaza has no safe place for civilians. People who live near the border in east or north Gaza evacuated to the Al-Rimal neighbourhood in the middle of the Strip, where some of the largest businesses are located. Israeli aircraft then bombarded the Al-Rimal neighbourhood, which many consider a safe area.

Israeli occupation strikes even targeted UNRWA schools, which are affiliated with the UN.

According to a UN statement, an airstrike directly hit one of the shelters on Monday, and damage was caused to five more schools that have been turned into shelters as well.

Mahmoud Mushtaha is a Gaza-based freelance journalist and human rights activist. He works as a media assistant at We Are Not Numbers, a project of the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor

Follow him on Twitter: @MushtahaW