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In southern Gaza, displaced families are struggling to find basic necessities

Displaced residents of Gaza arriving in Rafah. (Courtesy of Shahd Safi)
Displaced residents of Gaza arriving in Rafah. (Courtesy of Shahd Safi)

After the seven-day ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas fell apart last week, the war has intensified in Southern Gaza.

Israel has been bombarding Khan Younis, the largest city in the region, and residents have been told to evacuate. Many headed to Rafah near the Egyptian border,  where shelters are over capacity, forcing displaced families to sleep outside as temperatures plummet at night.

Shahd Safi, a 22-year-old student and translator, is staying at her grandparents’ home in Rafah.  She says many people are homeless and sleeping out in the cold.

“We see them on the streets,” she says. “We see some of them crying. And this is  something I’ve never imagined Gaza would be going through.”

Safi says her family is fortunate to have basic necessities.

“Unlike many displaced families in the Gaza Strip,” she says, “my family has managed to get mattresses and blankets. And this is really something we feel very grateful for because other families do not even have this. They do not have the luxury of being warm during the night in winter. And this is really saddening, I wish I could help them.”

Also in Rafah, psychologist Nedaa Al Zaeem is staying in a Red Cross shelter with her husband and four children. She says it’s overcrowded with more than 100 people packed into a small space.

“We have too many kids,” she says. “We have too many people who have special needs, patients, people with disability. We have too many problems to deal with, but it seems that we will be stuck here.”

A plume of fire and smoke after an Israeli Forces strike Wednesday night in Rafah. (Courtesy of Shahd Safi)

Al Zaeem says the shelter offers some safety, which does not exist the moment she steps outside.

“It’s really crazy what we are going through,” she says. “No place can be considered as safe to get out, to buy something, as food, as water, as anything for basic life, any medication for elderly people or who have chronic diseases. So we are running of supplies, we are running of food, we are running of everything.”

After much pressure from the U.S. government, Israel agreed on Wednesday to send more desperately needed fuel to Gaza. But Safi says there’s still not enough food or water.

“My family, we receive only one package each three days,” Safi says. “And the last  package we received was five bottles of water and some biscuits for five members. And you know, this is not enough for a day. So imagine that we have to go on with that for three days.”

There is a market right behind her family’s home, but even there, it’s hard to find any food.

“When I go there, even the canned food that I used to see is now very less, and the prices are being doubled and tripled every day,” she says. “Even water now is being sold much more than it used to be before the attack.”

Meanwhile, in the Rafah shelter, Al Zaeem laments the fact that even though they are right next to the border crossing with Egypt, it remains out of reach. It’s closed to her and most Palestinians.

“So we are talking about almost 2.3 million population, struggling alone, suffering a lot, and facing their fate in front of the most powerful and violent military in the world,” Al Zaeem says. “And I’m sorry to say that nobody cares outside. And if people are caring outside, they have nothing to influence the situation.”

And the bombing continues. Israeli Forces struck Rafah Wednesday night. Safi heard explosions in her neighborhood and witnessed the chaos of emergency vehicles racing to the scene.

“So now we can confidently say the residents of Gaza are experiencing starvation and also they have no safety,” Safi says. “They are being bombarded and they are being treated unmercifully. What’s going on is really beyond imagination, and it’s very cruel. We feel abandoned by the world. We need to end this now. The world has to end this now.”


Adeline Sire produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Julia Corcoran. Sire also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.