“Leave your homes, it’s for your safety, you will return when we notify you.” These words of the Israeli soldiers are etched in the memory of Palestinian refugees from 1948, still alive, who experienced firsthand the Nakba, the catastrophe, the exodus from their homes in the territory that would become the State of Israel.
Their flight from the war ended in a refugee camp in Gaza, in the West Bank, or in Arab countries. They never returned to their homes. And those words are printed today on flyers dropped from above on Thursday and Friday among the still-standing houses, and among the people of Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun, Jabaliya, Sudaniyeh, Gaza City, and all other populated areas north of Wadi Gaza, roughly in the center of the Strip. The Israeli authorities have given only 24 hours to one million one hundred thousand Palestinians living in that half of Gaza. Twenty-four hours to bid farewell to everything they have built and lived, to their homes though they are poor, like almost everyone in the Strip.
Safwat Mohammad, 54, is the son of a refugee couple. He was born and raised in the Jabaliya camp. But he is not poor, he owns a car, a spacious apartment in a northern neighborhood of Gaza City, and a salary to live comfortably. Yet, like thousands of Palestinians, he was gripped by panic yesterday and joined those heading south. “My heart is breaking. I love my home, I didn’t want to leave it. However, in a few days, it could be a pile of rubble, and I have to save my family. I am sure that Israel will launch a ground attack to destroy everything north of Gaza City,” he said while driving to Deir al-Balah. His son Tareq has a serious heart condition.
“I spent hours looking for the blood thinner he needs. Water is scarce in Gaza, and there is a lack of fuel, electricity, and medicines.” Safwat fears he knows what will happen in the future. “Israel,” he said despondently, “wants to starve us and provoke a new Nakba, it is pushing us towards Egypt.” In the flyers dropped on Palestinian inhabited areas, an ultimatum is given along with an area to head to in the far south, on the border with Egypt.
In Deir al-Balah and Khan Yunis, thousands of Palestinians arrived throughout the day with cars, trucks, horse-drawn carts, and taxis. Those less fortunate, without money to pay for a taxi with a sufficiently full tank, were still on the move last night on roads with craters, destroyed by bombs, with young children in their arms, with suitcases and bags, a bottle of water, some clothes, and nothing more. It is impossible to quantify how many set out after the Israeli ultimatum. Appeals were made through mosque loudspeakers to stay at home, not to “play the enemy’s game. Hold on tight to your homes. Hold on tight to your land.”
Police officers and Hamas militants initially tried to stop the human tide; in the end, many left for the south. The bombings that until last night had caused 1,799 deaths and thousands of injuries among the Palestinians in Gaza suggest an even bloodier and more destructive ground military campaign. And the population is terrified. Jacopo Intini, project manager of the Italian NGO Ciss, also left his home. “After the ultimatum,” Intini said yesterday, “we felt we were no longer safe, and we moved to a United Nations school in the south of the Strip. Like everyone with us, we are dealing with a terrible situation, on the verge of human dignity. There is no food, water, electricity, no mattresses, and meanwhile, more families are arriving.”
Analyst Talal Okal was blunt: “As they did in 1948, when the Israelis drove the inhabitants out of historical Palestine by dropping explosive barrels on their heads, today Israel is doing the same thing in front of the eyes of the world and live cameras.”
Journalist Ahmed Dremly, in an audio message, said, “This is the bloodiest moment; the Israelis are bombing entire residential units, tall buildings like the Palestinian towers, which housed 82 families before being completely razed to the ground. Those families now have no homes. Where should they go? As a journalist, I am paralyzed. No internet, no electricity, broken laptops, interrupted connection… Where is the West? Where are the human rights they preach? Where is international law? Where is the UN? This is genocide and should be stopped immediately. I’m not sure I’ll stay here any longer; this could be my last message.”
Many Palestinians remain in their homes in northern Gaza. They don’t know where to go, they don’t have the means to move. Most of all, they have decided not to bow to an ultimatum that, everyone in Gaza believes, preludes the destruction of the northern part of the Strip. “I have survived until today; I don’t know why, but I have survived,” Jamil Abu Samadana told journalists. “To the enemy (Israel), America, Europe, and the world, I say that the Palestinian people will not be defeated.”
“People think there will be another displacement or that we could flee to Egypt. Nonsense,” he added before going to the morgue of Shifa Hospital to identify relatives killed in a bombing. The President of the Palestinian National Authority, Abu Mazen, also proclaimed against the forced evacuation ordered by Israel within 24 hours. However, he met Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Amman on Friday, amidst the anger and dismay of his people who see in the United States the country that effectively gave the green light to Israel’s harsh retaliation against Gaza for the attack carried out by Hamas on October 7, which killed 1,400 Israelis.
The United Nations, the WHO, international NGOs, and various humanitarian organizations have condemned Israel’s ultimatum, emphasizing the devastating effects it would have on a million civilians. Israel has pointed fingers at the UN. In the evening, while aerial bombardments continued, the Israeli Ministry of Telecommunications announced that all internet connections to Gaza would be cut. Doctors Without Borders operators were ordered to leave the hospitals where they work. The ground offensive appeared imminent just before midnight.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.