Sat, 12/02/2023 – 16:32
With mattresses tied to the roof of their car, Aya Fehmi and her family returned to their first house of refuge in the central Gaza Strip.
They had evacuated it for another place of refuge in the south during the fourth week of Israel’s ferocious assault on the Gaza Strip. But, following the end of the pause in fighting on Friday, the Israeli military dropped leaflets in the area of this second refuge, warning people it was to become a “fighting zone” and ordering them to leave.
“We left our home on the sixth day of the attack after we received messages [from the Israeli military] saying that our neighbourhoods would be targeted. We moved to a relative’s home in Deir al-Balah and stayed there for three weeks,” Fehmi, a 34-year-old mother of three boys, told Middle East Eye.
“Then we decided to move again, to another relative’s home in Khan Younis as we thought the area was safer, and there was also more food in the markets in there than in Deir al-Balah. We were staying with around 30 other people in the garage of the building, but we did not have any other choice. This is the only family we know in the south.”
Displaced three times in 50 days, Fehmi learned during the pause in fighting that her home in Gaza City’s Tal al-Hawa neighbourhood had been destroyed.
“For a month-and-a-half, we did not know anything about our home in Gaza. We only knew that our neighbourhood was threatened and that hundreds of homes had been bombed. But I thought our tower would be targeted, since the Israelis were bombing all high-rise buildings,” she told MEE.
“When the truce started [on 24 October], we were sent a photo of our building. It had been completely turned into rubble in the early days of the attack. I cried for two days non-stop.
“We had bought this apartment when we got married, and I chose every single object in it. My husband and I both work, and over the past eight years we saved money to buy a new piece of furniture every couple of months.”
Order to evacuate
On Thursday night, Fehmi slept hoping to wake up to another day of truce that would eventually lead to a complete ceasefire and allow them to rebuild their home.
On Friday morning, her husband woke her up and asked her to prepare the children to move out after they received another order to evacuate.
“I was half asleep, hearing bombs, thinking I was dreaming. My husband told me the Israelis had dropped leaflets on Khan Younis asking its residents to go to Rafah. We don’t know anyone there, so we decided to return to Deir al-Balah,” she said.
“We packed our bags again for the third time and rushed to Deir al-Balah. A few hours later, we heard news that we might be displaced again from this area.”
On Friday, the Israeli military published a map of the Gaza Strip, showing it divided into 2,300 numbered blocks, and asked residents to identify the block they were staying in.
According to the army, it intends to order the residents of certain blocks to move to other blocks, as part of a new plan of displacement.
The map was published on the Israeli army’s website and its social media channels. However, the vast majority of the Gaza Strips’s residents do not have access to the internet, due to a lack of electricity and telecommunication and internet networks being cut.
“My husband managed to connect to the internet using an eSIM, and a relative abroad had sent him a screenshot of the map,” Fehmi told MEE.
‘World leaders said that they would not allow a second Nakba… but what we see on the ground are new phases of this eviction plan’
– Aya Fehmi, Gaza resident
“However, we cannot identify our block number because the map is scattered with numbers and the blocks are very small. We do not know if we are currently staying within a safe or threatened area.”
A few hours after they evacuated Khan Younis, Israeli forces began an intense bombardment campaign of its neighbourhoods, flattening residential buildings and killing dozens of people who had taken refuge there based on previous instructions by the Israeli military.
“The occupation does not seem to have a stable plan. Every couple of days, they come up with a new decision,” Fehmi told MEE.
“Who would guarantee us that if we were displaced for the fourth time and moved to another area we would not be displaced for a fifth and sixth time?
“Who would guarantee that we would not be expelled to Sinai?
“World leaders said that they would not allow a second Nakba, and that the people of Gaza would not be evacuated to Sinai, but what we see on the ground are new phases of this eviction plan.
“I cannot imagine that this is happening in the 21st century and that the world is allowing it to continue.”