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With no aid or escape, Gazans in Rafah dread 'fatal' Ramadan

'It feels like we've been fasting for ages': With no aid or escape, Gazans in Rafah dread 'fatal' Ramadan
6 min read
19 February, 2024
Gazans in Rafah have exhausted all evacuation routes in the race to Ramadan. Trapped, hungry, and terrified, Gazans have begun fasting out of necessity.

Amid growing concerns over an Israeli ground operation in Rafah, which now houses 1.4 million people — the majority of whom are displaced — the situation is becoming increasingly dire. 

The New Arab interviewed residents and displaced people in Rafah about the harsh living conditions, overcrowding, and the noticeable decrease in aid.

"This is the worst that we've experienced since the beginning of the war," Yara Ayoub (23) told The New Arab. "There's so much fear, anxiety, tension and confusion. We don't know where to go or what to do. What will happen next? When will this end? Will we survive? Will we find safety? It's all just chaos and worry."

Yara, who fled with her family to the south, said that "the idea of returning to the north has become a dream."

"We go to sleep praying for good news, hoping we'll hear something about going back north. At the same time, we know it's impossible to return. We've been forcibly displaced several times but Rafah is completely different to anywhere else," she added.

"People are crowded here, and even if food and goods are available, they're at ridiculously high prices," Yara lamented. 

The Israeli army is constructing a corridor splitting Gaza City from the south as part of their planned assault on Rafah [Getty Images]

Gazans are tired of the endless cycle of fear, horror and torture they've been forced to endure for the past five months. It's like they're trapped in a nightmare they can't wake up from, their voices silenced by the overwhelming sense of despair that surrounds them.

Rafah and the race to Ramadan

With Ramadan approaching, Gazans like Yara are anxious about what is to come. "The idea that Ramadan is around the corner is worrying and stressful because we've always said 'It won't be long till Ramadan', but now it seems inevitable. We don't know how things will be. But what we do know is that it's going to be tough for everyone," Yara said.

"This Ramadan won't be like any other. Talking about it is very different from experiencing it, no matter how hard we try to explain. It's so sad when we think back to our lives beforehand. Now the whole world has turned a blind eye to our suffering. I wish I could spend my first Ramadan with my husband in our home. Now the simplest of things have become a dream."

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Over the last week, Rafah has been attacked by Israeli airstrikes targeting civilian homes, the majority of which accommodate displaced people, as well as locations close to shelter centres and displacement tents near the Egyptian border.

Mohammed Asad (39) told The New Arab: “As a photojournalist working in the southern areas after being displaced from northern Gaza, the situation is increasingly dire due to the ongoing war on the ground in Khan Younis. Moreover, central areas are becoming crowded with people fearing a potential attack on Rafah.

"One and half million people are at risk of being massacred with nowhere left to go," Mohammed stressed. "We've been displaced several times. Packing up and moving is incredibly difficult, moving from one tent to the other. The concept of a 'safe zone' is non-existent. All areas are vulnerable to gunfire and continuous shelling. They've [the Israeli army] have targeted homes, hospitals, holy places and even agricultural land," the father of four told us. 

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the number of humanitarian trucks entering Gaza has fallen by 40% since January, causing a crisis of necessities, medicine, and health supplies. 

"There seems to be no solution, no way out"

UNRWA is unable to distribute any food aid due to a substantial decrease in resources. Gaza requires 500-600 trucks daily, yet only around 150 manage to enter. Additionally, the lack of security plays a role in aid not reaching those in need and contributes to soaring prices in the markets.

"People are really worried about the arrival of Ramadan. We've got no idea how to prepare for it. Most mosques have been destroyed," Mohammad told The New Arab.

Today, Israel announced it would attack Rafah on March 10 — the second day of Ramadan — unless the remaining hostages were not returned, indicating its readiness to continue the operation throughout the holy month. 

"The situation is fatal. Israel doesn't respect rules or international laws. Israel remains undeterred by the International Court of Justice and its recent ruling, systematically pursuing a policy of destruction. The war continues unabated in all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip," Nowar Diab, a human rights activist based in Gaza told The New Arab.

"There are moments where we sense a glimmer of hope. But there are other times when hope seems completely out of reach, especially at the moment as we face the looming threat of invasion. We don't know where to go, and there's nowhere else to go anyway. After they bombed Rafah, we thought we would die here. We are trapped. I don't think we'll be able to return north. It [the north of Gaza] feels like a different country, not somewhere you can easily reach by car.

"Right now the living conditions in Rafah are extremely poor. People are lying on the streets wherever you go. There's no space anywhere," Nowar continued. "If people aren't living in bombed homes, they're living in bathrooms, mosques, pharmacies, or barber shops. Amidst all this chaos, the struggle for something as basic as water and food is relentless. I'm at a loss for words now."

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The prospect of Ramadan amidst the chaos of war is a daunting one. Simple pleasures of breaking fast have already been overshadowed by the grim realities of war and displacement.

"Ramadan is coming but people are already fasting," Nowar said, visibly distressed. "Honestly everyone is struggling to find food. I don't know how we're going to fast. We're utterly drained. It feels like we've been fasting for ages. We miss the food we used to have.

"All of this while in Rafah where even the simplest of things are luxury compared to the north. For example, a bag of flour costs over 1000 shekels ($295) in the north. People have started using animal feed as a substitute for flour there. There is a terrible shortage of things. Rafah is now considered a privilege.

"There seems to be no solution, no way out," Nowar concluded. "I mean, even if someone wants to evacuate to Deir al-Balah, there's bombing there too. And if they want to return to the north, it's impossible. Even if someone wants to pitch a tent, there's no space. It's too late. If you want to travel, you have to pay everything you have — around $5000 to $6000 per person — just for the coordination, not to mention the expenses and living costs out there."

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 X: @MushtahaW

Hadil Wadi is a Gaza-based freelance journalist and creative content writer

Follow her on Instagram: @hadil.wadi