As southern Gaza becomes overcrowded, displaced Palestinians dream of return to their homes
As Israel announced that it is transitioning to the "third phase" of its bloody war on the besieged Gaza Strip, hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians are determined to return to their homes in Gaza City and the north of the territory.
More than 80 per cent of the total population in the Gaza Strip, which has been under an illegal and tight Israeli siege for more than 17 years, are congregating in the southern areas under "inhumane conditions" to escape death and destruction indiscriminately unleashed by the Israeli military.
In the city of Rafah, located at the southernmost part of Gaza, more than 1.4 million Palestinians, the majority of whom are displaced, live in difficult humanitarian conditions with little to no water, food, housing and medicine.
Due to the unprecedented crowding in the southern regions, epidemics and diseases have spread, mainly as those areas lack hospitals and medical centres that would allow health sector workers to tackle the large number of patients, according to UN and Palestinian organisations.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a press statement sent to The New Arab that the shelters in the city of Rafah have greatly exceeded their capacity, and most of the newly arrived displaced persons are forced to live in the streets and empty lots throughout the city.
Rafah Governorate has today become the most densely populated area in the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people are forced to live in extremely crowded places and miserable living conditions.
The population density is estimated to be 12,000 people per square kilometre, a four-fold increase before the escalation. Tents of the displaced people are crammed next to each other in Rafah, while humanitarian situation deteriorates and the risk of famine increases.
Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA media advisor, explained that all residents of the Gaza Strip face an imminent risk of famine in a shocking and unprecedented manner.
He further noted that Israel's bombing, ground operations and siege of the entire population, in addition to its restrictions on access of humanitarian aid, have led to catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity, which increases the risk of famine every day.
The Israeli army launched a large-scale war on the Gaza Strip after Hamas carried out an unprecedented military attack on the Israeli-occupied towns adjacent to the besieged Gaza Strip, killing some 1,200 Israelis and capturing more than 200 others inside the Gaza.
Since then, more than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, most of whom were women and children, and more than 62,000 others have been injured amid a collapse in the health sector as Israeli forces continue to attack hospitals and medical centres, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip.
Ashraf Al-Qedra, spokesman for the ministry, told TNA, "We are living in a humanitarian catastrophe that is unparalleled in this era, in light of the Israeli occupation's intention to commit mass massacres against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and prevent medical teams from performing their humanitarian duty towards patients."
Ismail Thawabta, the head of the government media office in Gaza, warned of a real famine among the local population, especially those crowded in the southern areas of the territory due to the lack of food and the failure of sufficient amounts of aid to reach the besieged strip, which has been faced to a "war of extermination for more than three months."
"The aid that reaches the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing gate is barely sufficient for 6 per cent of the needs of the Gaza Strip's population (...) The population is forced to adapt to their difficult situation and remain hungry all the time," Thawabta remarked to TNA.
Meanwhile, Israel officially announced the start of the "third phase" of its war on the Gaza Strip, which would reduce ground manoeuvres in Gaza while focusing on focused military operations amidst assurances that the displaced people crowded in the south of the besieged strip of land would be allowed to return to their homes, particularly in the north.
Mohammed Odwan, a displaced man from Beit Hanoun-based, hopes that this "third phase" of the war will be the last and the beginning of the end of the fierce war that Israel is waging against the residents of Gaza.
"In Rafah, the conditions have become unbearable. Life is very difficult. There is no place to sleep, food, water, electricity, or medicine. Life is completely destitute," the 45-year-old father of six said.
Odwan stressed that he is constantly forced to stand in long lines for several hours to obtain the family's basic daily food and water requirements, noting that "he may return to the tent that he built in Mawasi Rafah without getting anything."
"We have become prisoners of war and death, and we do not know what our fate is. We want to return to our homes, even if they are destroyed, but at least to be allowed to deal with our lives after the current war," he added.
Odwan was displaced five times since the start of the Israeli war until he arrived in the city of Rafah, but he rejected the idea of displacing him and his family to Sinai and being displaced for dozens of years, as happened to his grandparents in 1948.
"I would rather die than emigrate from the Gaza Strip. This is our land, our life, and we will not give it up easily and leave it to the Israeli occupation," he stressed.
The same opinion is held by Asmaa al-Madhoun, a displaced woman who is eagerly looking forward to returning to her destroyed home in Gaza City after three months of forced displacement.
The 34-year-old mother of four children told TNA, "I am ready to live in the tent on top of the rubble of my house (...) Here (in Rafah), the situation is tragic. We have no life or safety, as the Israeli army claimed."
"I hope the war will end soon, but I want to return my home now. I can no longer live here, even for a single day," Asmaa said.
"I miss my city, its streets, my home, and my normal life, which was destroyed by the Israeli occupation without any mercy," she added.