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The Palestinian family is among two million refugees in Gaza

The Palestinian family is among two million refugees in Gaza

My house had four bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a balcony. It was a beautiful house.

Sabah Al-Battah and his family finished renovating their home in Gaza City last fall. She lived there with her husband, Nabil, and seven of her eight children.

This was the house where the children grew up and where Sabah and Nabil became grandparents. They were about to marry their son Youssef as soon as they obtained sufficient funding.

And they couldn't do it. On October 13, the message arrived from the Israeli authorities: the family had to move south, because Gaza City was about to become a military combat zone.

– All our memories, good and bad, are in those walls. No one can separate the house from us, because our life was in it. It was our life that we left behind when we left Gaza City that day.

From stronghold to stronghold

They were not alone. One million Gazans received the same order. The main road out of Gaza City was full of people heading to Khan Yunis or other cities in the south.

– It was a horror trip. Nabil says: There were warplanes in the air, and we heard bombs around us and thought we had been bombed.

They packed clothes for a week or two. Paper towels and some bread. There were no gas bottles or stove, none of all the things they might think to take with them if they knew they were embarking on a journey of more than seven months.

The Israeli Defense Forces divide the Gaza Strip into thousands of areas. Every time the family came to the area designated by Israel as a safe zone, everything turned upside down. The area that was just a refuge has turned into a dangerous combat zone.

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This is how Israel has been chasing people in the Gaza Strip from one area to another for several months:

The Gaza Strip is almost completely closed. All escapes must take place within heavily guarded borders.

Flee to the south. On October 13, one million people were asked to leave northern Gaza. Israel expected a ground invasion of Gaza City.

Several hundred thousand fled to the cities of the south. Almost overnight, the population of Khan Yunis doubled.

But soon they will receive new orders To escape further south. Khan Yunis, which Israel described as a “safe zone” in October, has become a “dangerous combat zone.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinians in the north were isolated. In March, Israel's Netzarim Corridor became ready, dividing Gaza into two parts. The Israeli Defense Forces built the corridor for military use.

In May, about 300,000 people in the north were told to flee towards the coast in the west. Meanwhile, nearly a million people in Rafah in the south of the country received orders from the IDF to go to Al-Mawasi or return to Khan Yunis.

Map data from OpenStreetMap

Nabil, Sabah, children and grandchildren carried out all the evacuation orders that Israel gave to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

We went from Gaza to Khan Yunis to Rafah and back to Khan Yunis again. What comes next? How long will this escape last? Nabil asks desperately.

They themselves must monitor the area they are in at any given time, and update themselves daily about which areas are safe. It's not easy when access to electricity and the Internet is so limited.

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Life in a tent

Now Nabil and Sabah have found moderate shelter in a camp in Al-Mawasi, on the Mediterranean coast of Khan Yunis. They have sought refuge there in the past. Since they were forced to flee from there to Rafah in January, Israel has launched intense air and ground attacks on the city.

-I got lost when we first got here. Nabil says the streets are unrecognizable, and everything is destroyed.

The tent they live in is too small for such a large family. It is full of insects and diseases, there is no kitchen and the toilet is a hole in the ground. But the family can't afford anything else. A larger tent would cost them $1,000.

There is hardly any water in the camp, and there are long queues to get it. Now the family drinks the water they received, without knowing anything about its quality.

Is it full of diseases and bacteria? Is it even fit to drink? We don't know. We have left our fate to God.

We are terrified by the Rafah attack

The tent area in Al-Mawasi is scheduled to be a safe area for civilians, according to Israel. They also said that about Rafah when Sabah and Nabil fled there in January.

But when thousands of families living in the refugee camp in the Rafah neighborhood of Tal al-Sultan went to sleep one Sunday evening in late May, Israeli missiles struck the camp and set the tents on fire. The same thing happened two days later. More than 50 people were killed in these two attacks.

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– That wasn't true. Israel claims that there are wanted persons in those camps. Nabil says that there were no wanted persons among the victims in any way.

He and his family fled Rafah a week before the attack. However, he causes trouble for himself and his children.

– Now we are very careful. We try to stay away from large gatherings and crowded places. I'm not just scared, I'm terrified.

Sabah and Nabil fled with their children and grandchildren. It has been long months marked by fear and dread, especially for the children.

Photography: Ahmed Abu Kamil/Kamil/NRK

Home bomb

In March, the family received the news they had been dreading. The family's home in Gaza City was bombed and leveled.

The city where Sabah and Nabil raised their eight children, were grandparents, celebrated birthdays and engagements, and mourned loss, no longer exists.

Why? It is the word that the two repeat when they talk about the fate of the house in which they lived their lives.

In those walls sat all our memories, all our ambitions and dreams. It's as if someone is coming and destroying the whole life you've lived, right before your eyes, sighs Sabah.

A family on the run

Now they cook with chickpeas, sugar, and maybe tomatoes if they have enough money. One cup of coffee and one cup of tea a day is the maximum.

Photography: Ahmed Abu Kamil/Kamil/NRK

However, they want to return to Gaza City. If not to the home, then to the street, the neighborhood, relatives and friends.

Nabil collected small gifts for his daughter and grandchildren who were still in the city. As if they had just gone on a trip.

“I found a jacket for my daughter, a winter jacket,” he says while laughing.

Now it's summer. Maybe he will be given the jacket for next winter?

A new Nakba

Before, Nabil's father and grandfather used to tell him about what the Palestinians call it The Nakba – The disaster.

– I could never form a picture in my mind of what happened at that time. But now I see this terrible picture every day.

He has one question: for how long?

– I beg the whole world and everyone who has a conscience. Stop these massacres. He says: Stop the genocide of Palestinians.

The family, who started their escape route with each of their own Beret bags, now has more than 40 bags of gas, kitchen utensils, quilts and blankets. Because now they know that the war will continue.

It is not a good idea to determine how long Nabil and his family will stay in Al-Mawasi. The Gaza Strip lacks safe places where families can reside.

Nabil calls on the international community to intervene.

Where is the free world that claims freedom and democracy? Where is the United States of America with the Statue of Liberty? Do we not count for them?