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Bombs, "Humanitarian" Pause, More Bombs: Journey With Gazans Uprooted By Israel's War

After last Thursday's announcement of daily, four-hour humanitarian pauses in the northern part of Gaza, masses of Palestinians fled southward. But the journey is anything but safe and easy.

Bombs, "Humanitarian" Pause, More Bombs: Journey With Gazans Uprooted By Israel's War

Palestinians fleeing northern Gaza on a cart pulled by a donkey.

Beesan Kassab, Noor Swirki and Omar Mousa

KHAN YOUNIS — “The road is difficult. We suffered a lot. It’s all walking and hardships,” says a 60-year-old woman describing her recent journey from northern Gaza to Khan Younis in the south of the strip.

The woman, who is suffering from kidney disease, says that she and her children, along with others who have been displaced by Israel’s relentless bombing of civilians in Gaza, were shelled four times as they moved south. “We started running. What else could we do?” she says.

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But not everyone was able to outrun the Occupation’s strikes. Several people were killed and injured during the journey southward, she tells Mada Masr.

The woman and many others moved from northern Gaza after the White House announced on Thursday a daily, four-hour humanitarian pause in the northern part of the strip, to which Israel had pledged to uphold.

The Israeli occupation spokesperson Avichay Adraee, announced yesterday through his account on X that the Israeli military will allow the displaced to move to the south via the Salah al-Din road east of Gaza between 10 am and 4 pm.

However, the people of northern Gaza who moved within that time period tell Mada Masr they continued to face shelling along the supposed “humanitarian corridors” and in the south, which Israel has said will be a civilian refuge for those who leave “Hamas strongholds” in the north.

Palestinian Photographic Society Photojournalist Mohamed Abu al-Subh who, like other journalists and photographers, staying at the Shifa Hospital, tells Mada Masr: “The Occupation informed us to evacuate to the south, and we chose not to, but as fate would have it, we were forced [to move] by the shelling on Shifa Hospital Thursday and Friday.”

“We were displaced with nearly 200,000 people, amid anxiety, fear, and tension due to the presence of Israeli snipers, tanks, and bulldozers on the Salah al-Din road to the south,” Abu al-Subh says. “The soldiers asked for our IDs, but they didn’t search us. A site near Salah al-Din road was bombed, indicating the Occupation’s intention to intimidate the displaced women, elderly, and children of Gaza.”

A camp affiliated with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Khan Younis.

Xinhua / ZUMA

The dangers along the way 

A young man in his twenties, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, was among those who left to the south on Friday. He says that he was staying at Shifa Hospital and spent most of his days on the floor due to overcrowding. The living conditions worsened as the weather became colder.

The young man left the hospital at 10:30 am yesterday, heading south on Salah al-Din road. His journey lasted two and a half hours.

Some of those who were displaced people used donkey- or horse-drawn carriages, but the majority were on foot. Every ten minutes, an elderly person would fall, not able to walk anymore, but no one could help them because everyone, consumed by fear, wanted to complete the journey as quickly as possible.

Along the way, Israeli occupation tanks came increasingly closer to the caravan of those displaced, pointing their gun barrels at them. Shells also fell on both sides of the road, some of those displaced told Mada Masr.

Raed Sahmoud, who was displaced from his home in the Shujaiya neighborhood in eastern Gaza to Shifa Hospital in the west, told Mada Masr that the Occupation targeted a number of those displaced while they were trying to reach the south. “This pause works according to the Occupation’s whim, and everyone knows this. Meaning, you can go out and they can kill you whenever they want,” he says.

“I hear harrowing stories about those who decided to move to the south under intense shelling. Elderly men and women die on the way,” Sahmoud says.

Sahmoud, who survived an Israeli artillery shelling that targeted the hospital courtyard on Thursday, says that he will not leave Shifa hospital, like many other of those who were displaced and sought refuge in the hospital’s courtyards, despite the imminent danger and the bombs falling all around them. “My father is 70 years old. How can I make him walk 30 kilometers to the south? Can you imagine?”

A grueling journey 

For Ahmad al-Hamalawi, who has been displaced from his home in Beit Hanoun in the eastern Gaza Strip to the Indonesian hospital in northern Gaza, the idea of being displaced to the south seems like a dream to him. “I personally want to leave with my family. Yesterday, we were going to die in the shelling. But how? Anyone who leaves is killed.”

Well, we can’t walk to the south. In all cases, they want to kill us. Where is the pause anyway when there is shelling every minute?

“The hours of pause scare us more than reassure us. What will happen when these hours end? Will the bombing worsen? We feel it’s like the last chance before death. Well, we can’t walk to the south. In all cases, they want to kill us. Where is the pause anyway when there is shelling every minute?” Hamalawi says.

“There are ceaseless tragic stories of the journey of displacement from Gaza City to the hospital,” says Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital doctor Ibrahim Matar. He gives the example of a 65-year-old man who arrived at the hospital having suffered a heart attack after traveling 10 kilometers on his displacement journey from the Nasr neighborhood in Gaza to Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza.

He points out that many of the elderly and displaced cannot bear the burden of the grueling displacement journey and arrive in a very bad condition or suffer tragic accidents on the way and do not manage to arrive.

Palestinian families fleeing Gaza City walk along a road towards the southern areas of the Gaza Strip.

Ahmed Zakot / ZUMA

Continuous displacement leads to overcrowding 

Rashed Rajab, a resident of northern Gaza who was displaced to the south and has been living in the center of Khan Younis for 30 days, describes the situation in the area under the continuous waves of displacement.

“In the past four days, there has been a sizable displacement of residents of northern Gaza to the south. I have been able to live with my relatives since the beginning of the war, but I now live in a family home that is housing about seventy people. As for the people displaced during the last few days, there is no place for them except in schools and on the premises of some civil society organizations.”

“There is significant overcrowding in schools, as they are the main shelter for those who have been recently displaced, to the extent that men stay in school yards and women stay in classrooms,” Rajab adds.

Despite the ongoing bombing in the south, Rajab says that the difference between the north and south of Gaza now is like the difference between “burning in hell or going to burn in smoldering coal.”

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