'This is genocide': Mapping the voices of those suffering in Gaza
Mohamed Zediah a young graduate and filmmaker from Gaza City, has been moving from place to place trying to get safety.
“We don’t know how long we'll still have a roof. It has been four consecutive nights that buildings 50 metres away from here are targeted without any previous notice, we think is just a matter of time for us as well. It’s torture,” says Mohamed.
During the first week of the war, after receiving a call warning that their house was to be targeted by airstrikes overnight, Mohamed and his family found shelter in another neighbourhood of Gaza City.
Then again, on October 13, Israeli authorities ordered all civilians living in northern Gaza — half of the population of 2.3 million — to evacuate to the south, below the area of Wadi Gaza, within 24 hours.
That was ahead of an intense offensive on the Strip to target Hamas militants, and since then violence never de-escalated.
“If we're not killed by Israeli bombs while we sleep, we will die thirsty. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is genocide”
On October 15, Mohamed decided to move again, heading to Khan Younis. It is estimated that around 600,000 left northern Gaza around the same days, not knowing about shelters or facilities available for them on their arrival.
Convoys of displaced people were targeted by Israeli airstrikes while on their way to the south. As shelling further intensifies in Khan Younis, the word "safety" has no meaning anymore, as Mohamed describes.
The first day he reached his new refuge, a small apartment shared with 30 others, the man who offered himself to get food for all died under shelling on his way to get back home with the braed in his hands.
To distract from constant fears, Mohamed focuses on the small tasks of the day. He gets bread, waits in line for his turn at the few bakeries still active in town, looks for drinkable water sources in the street, and gets electricity and access to the internet from a small shopping centre.
“I sit in a corner of this market an hour a day, and as I connect my phone to the Wi-Fi I have goosebumps. I know that, like yesterday and the day before, I’ll read a message saying that someone I love died today. All around me, people are rushing to get food from the shelves, and I wonder if I will still be here when the last pack of noodles will be sold."
In Khan Younis and Rafah, the major destination for those living displaced in Gaza, around 430,000 people are in 93 UNRWA facilities, and numbers are increasing by thousands every day.
“I don’t know if my house in Gaza City is still standing or not. Even if it does, I’m afraid I will never be able to go back, what if Israel takes that land once the war is over? However, while speaking I’m already a refugee at just 25 kilometres from home," concludes Mohamed.
Across the Strip, Gazans are sheltered in schools, mosques, churches, medical facilities and hospitals, that have also been targeted by Israeli airstrikes.
Emerging between the rubbles of the Rimal neighbourhood in Gaza City, Al-Shifa Hospital is the largest of the Strip, currently sheltering 45,000 people between patients, their families and those who lost their homes, including the medical personnel.
Haya Hijazi, a gynaecologist and obstetrician, is one of the doctors working non-stop at the medical complex. She lost contact with many of her relatives during the first week of the war and her only home is the hospital right now.
“Personnel is not enough, and 73 healthcare staff were killed in this war. Our shifts are between 12 and 24 hours and I don’t have more than four hours of rest during the night. There is heavy shelling outside and I only manage to sleep because I’m exhausted,” says Haya.
At Al-Shifa Hospital there are around 5,000 patients for a maximum capacity of 700. Several healthcare clinics and 12 hospitals across Gaza are now completely out of service, due to damage and lack of resources, sterilised medical supplies, fuel and electricity.
In recent days, the Rafah crossing, at the southern border with Egypt, has partially opened to allow dozens of trucks transporting food, water and medicines, but quantities are still below what Gaza’s population needs in normal times, which is at least 100 aid trucks daily.
For now, fuel has been excluded from the supplies.
“It’s just heartbreaking, one child is killed in Gaza every 15 minutes. Women give birth in extremely challenging conditions, and we cannot provide basic hygienic standards for them. With fuel running out, newborns in need of incubators for surviving are at high risk."
Haya already survived four wars in Gaza, but she never saw such conditions in hospitals, with wounded even on the ground in corridors and on the stairs, while countless piles of dead bodies were wrapped in white sheets.
During breaks, she walks outside of the building where displaced people are living, some in self-made tents, some in their cars, others even arranged little shopping points in front of their tents.
She monitors the situation of both displaced families and patients and tries to spread awareness through her Instagram account, which often gets restricted or filtered.
“Important surgeries are being delayed for days hoping for better sanitary conditions. Infections from polluted water and not sterilised medical equipment are on the rise, especially among children. Some doctors are forced to prioritise patients in favour of those with better chances to survive."
In the area of Gaza City besides hospitals and medical facilities, there are other important services like humanitarian organisations facilities, schools and universities.
Refaat Al Areer, a writer and professor at the Islamic University of Gaza, is among those who refused to evacuate their homes in Gaza City.
“What I have seen is a complete act of destruction. The university where I teach is almost demolished. We are talking about 1,500 jobs and a capacity of 20,000 students that are now gone. Teachers are dying, students are dying. A deliberate attempt to exterminate Palestinians, there is no other way I can see all of this,” says Refaat.
His apartment was bombed on the night of October 18, rockets fell without previous notice.
Since the outbreak of the war, Refaat and his neighbours have been helping each other sharing resources, and access to solar panels or generators for electricity, drinkable water reserves and fuel.
When the apartment was hit, Refaat’s family alone was hosting 25 relatives, including women and kids, and in the whole building were living at least other 100 civilians.
Casualties are particularly high because, as many residential units are destroyed already in Gaza, places to hide are getting less and people tend to gather in the same buildings or areas.
“Many do not want to evacuate their houses because they fear another Nakba. We know from experience that when Israel kicks Palestinians out, it never allows us back. Anyway, even if we leave, nowhere is safe in Gaza right now and our passports, for those who have it, do not allow us to get out from the country."
Refaat expresses his frustration and anger explaining that roads to the south are dangerous to undertake, especially with children.
Not being familiar with a specific location means being exposed to dangers with more difficulties in getting water and food.
Both in the north and in the south, people are feeling trapped, with no resources, under constant shelling. Everyone in Gaza has lost a parent, a child, a relative, or a friend.
“If we're not killed by Israeli bombs while we sleep, we will die thirsty. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is genocide."
Refaat, like many others inside and outside Palestine, is wondering what else the international community needs to see and comprehend to come together and take action for accountability and an immediate ceasefire.
Giulia Bernacchi is a freelance journalist covering Middle Eastern politics and society, focusing on migrations, human rights, elections, uprisings