Skip to main content

Palestinians in Rafah struggle to figure out where to go

'Where do I go?': As Israel's raids on Rafah intensify, Palestinians struggle to figure out where to go next
4 min read
17 May, 2024
As Israel warns it will intensify its Rafah offensive, the Palestinians sheltering there are at a loss of whether to stay or leave, yet again.

More than 1.4 million Palestinians in Rafah woke up on May 7 to an evacuation order made by the Israeli army through dropped leaflets and phone calls, asking them to leave the eastern parts of Rafah and head to the “humanitarian area” in Al-Mawasi on the southern coast of the Gaza Strip.

As hundreds of people left for either Al-Mawasi or the central cities of Gaza in Al-Bureij and Al-Nusairat, many could not abide by the order as they didn't have any place to go.

Palestinians continue to flee from Rafah due to Israel's ground operations [Getty]

Sarah Sobhi, 32, a mother of one, originally from Rafah, could not leave the area because she didn’t know where to go. 

“Most of the people who left are people who evacuated to Rafah, so they either went back to set tents on the rubbles of their homes in Khan Younis, or to Al-Mawasi which is already full now,” Sarah told The New Arab.

Sarah says her family could find a tent, but they don’t know where to set it. “If I leave, I will need a truck to take all our stuff from home, which is not available or available for crazy prices.” 

Live Story

Nowhere is safe

“Since Israeli Forces military operation intensified on May 6, around 80,000 people have fled Rafah, seeking refuge elsewhere. The toll on these families is unbearable. Nowhere is safe,” UNRWA said on their account on X. 

The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.

Israel's closure of the Rafah crossing into Gaza has caused "a difficult situation", WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. "The last medical supplies that we got in Gaza were before May 6."

Jasarevic said the biggest concern was over fuel needed to keep clinics and hospitals running. Gaza's health facilities need up to 1.8 million litres of fuel a month to keep operating.

The spokesman said only 159,000 litres had entered Rafah since the border closure. "This is clearly not sufficient," he added, highlighting how only 13 out of 36 hospitals across the Palestinian territory were now "partially" operating.

"Hospitals still functioning are running out of fuel, and that puts so many lives in danger," said Jasarevic. "Current military operations in Rafah are putting countless lives at risk."

Live Story

Limar Sami's mother, who has a breast tumour, was scheduled to leave for Egypt on May 7, but then they woke up to the news of Israeli tanks blocking the road to the border and closing it in front of travellers.

“We have been struggling for months to get her out to receive treatment in Egypt, but the border was closed after we got her the necessary coordination to leave,” Sami told The New Arab in a phone interview. 

More than 35,233 Palestinians have been killed, and 78,514 have been injured since Israel started its military aggression against Gaza on October 7, following Hamas' surprise attack.

In the first week of the war, Israel forced more than one million Palestinians into southern Gaza, calling it a “safe area”. Since then, no one has been allowed back north. 

Israel's atrocities have been labelled as "war crimes" and "genocide" by several world leaders, UN agencies and NGOs.

The situation in Rafah has worsened in recent weeks, due to the closure of two major aid crossings which disrupted the supply of medicines and fuel for hospital generators and the war on Gaza has pushed the enclave to the brink of famine, destroyed the healthcare system and critical infrastructure such as water networks, especially in crowded places like Rafah.

Subhia Yaseen, 25, who left her home in northern Gaza in November after many houses in their neighbourhood in Gaza City were destroyed, is currently staying in Eastern Rafah with her uncles and parents. 

However, Subhia and her family are aware that they should leave the area, but remain there because they do not know where else to go and can’t find a tent to set up in Al-Mawasi. 

Subhia is currently staying in an apartment in Rafah, but she says they are the only people in the neighbourhood who have not left yet. 

“Last night was horrible, my nieces didn’t stop crying due to the constant bombing,” she said. 

"We have been making calls since the morning looking for a place to go in central Gaza, but could not find anything, we don’t know where to go or what to do.”

Abeer Ayyoub is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul 

Follow her on X: @abeerayyoub