Rafah Invasion: Everything That’s Happened So Far – Tareq S. Hajjaj 5/8/24

Source: Mondoweiss.net

Israel began its invasion of Rafah, ordering the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people. “I do not feel safe in any place in Gaza,” Saadi Salem tells Mondoweiss as he attempts to flee Rafah. “The killing is in every corner around the Gaza Strip.”

It’s a scene that has played over and over again in the southern Gaza city of Rafah since the beginning of the war: mothers with sad and pale faces carrying their children on their shoulders and in their hands, balancing many bags on their backs, surrounded by more children carrying bags and belongings, and men and elderly people pulling carts and pieces of luggage. The remnants of their homes and possessions now follow them throughout their displacement. Even with no place to go, they took to the streets looking for a safe place in Rafah. The only safe place left.

Now those same scenes play out again in Rafah, this time, as people try to escape the one place they thought was safe. As people take to the streets frantically, Israeli airstrikes are nonstop, hitting several targets across the city of Rafah.

On May 6, Israel began its usual method of displacing civilians in Gaza; this time, in Rafah. Warplanes started dropping leaflets over people’s heads, ordering them to leave their homes and go to areas that the army says are safe. And once again, as people looked to the so-called safe zones, they saw people and homes being bombed and targeted.

The army began ordering a large part of Rafah, the entire eastern part of the city, telling people to leave their homes and move West. The leaflets weren’t the only warning. Bombs have been dropping in eastern Rafah as well, over the heads of their residents, intimidating people, and spreading fear in their hearts, forcing them to move.

Additionally, Muhammad Al-Najjar Hospital, located east of Rafah, was one of the areas ordered with evacuation by the army, with patients and medical personnel evacuated to field hospitals in other parts of Rafah.

Over the past few days, Palestinians have been evacuating the Eastern part of Rafah, which is home to at least 250,000 Palestinians, both locals and displaced people who had arrived in Rafah since the beginning of the war, upon orders from the army for people to seek shelter and safety in Rafah.

Despite causing the immediate re-displacement of around 250,000 people, among a city that is now home to an estimated 1.5 million, the Israeli army claims that its operations in Rafah are limited and small.

Within just a few hours of the start of the invasion, the Israeli army had also taken over the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, the only bridge between Gaza and the outside world –  one of the only outlets for humanitarian aid, for the evacuation of the wounded, and for some, the only way they have been able to escape the genocide.

At the time of publication, the army had been enforcing the complete closure of the Rafah crossing for three days in a row, with reports that once its “operations” are complete, Israel will hand the crossing over to a private American firm.

With leaflets flying, bombs dropping, new “safe zones” and “evacuation routes” being drawn up, and the closure of Gaza’s only connection to the outside world, millions of people in Rafah alone are now once again asking: where will we go?

People evacuate to nowhere 

Saadi Salem, his two married daughters, their children, his wife, and his son are walking in Al-Awdah Street in Rafah, each carrying a small child, one of his grandchildren. They have bags and belongings – their entire lives and possessions inside. They go with everything they own, trying to reach the Al-Mawasi area in Western Rafah, without knowing if there will be room for them when they get there. Will they find a place for a tent and set it up again, or will they remain in the open, like hundreds of families who were in their homes and were forced to move out today?

Al-Mawasi, which has become an overcrowded tent city in southwestern Rafah since the start of the war, is swelling by the minute. With every new evacuation order, more families like the Salems, come seeking refuge in the area, even though there’s virtually no space left for families to set up a new tent.

“Every place we go, the army will call us again, drop leaflets over our heads, and force us to leave. There is no longer any space to live in the Gaza Strip because of the Israeli army. All areas they say are safe today become fighting zones after a day or two. Thus, there is nowhere to go, and we do not know where to go now,” Salem told Mondoweiss.

Salem and his family are heading to a place they do not know. They have yet to make a clear plan, but he thinks that they should at least try the Al-Mawasi area. If he finds space, he and his son can bring what is necessary to set up a tent in that area.

“I was displaced from Khan Younis the first time when the army warned the residents of the area, and if I had not been evacuated, my house would have been bombed over our heads,” he said. “I know that there is no safe place in the Gaza Strip, and I know that the army deceives us and orders us to go to one area, then storms it and orders us to go to another location, but we at least take one step towards protecting our families and go to the places indicated by the army,” he added.

“I do not feel safe in any place in Gaza; the killing is in every corner around the Gaza Strip.”

Al-Mawasi tent city overflows

The Israeli army has ordered residents of eastern Gaza to evacuate to the Al-Mawasi area on the Mediterranean coast. It extends over 12 km in length and one kilometer in depth, stretching from the Deir al-Balah area in the center of the Gaza Strip, passing through the coastal strip of Khan Younis south and then the City of Rafah.

It is divided into two geographical regions. The first region belongs to the city of Khan Younis, and the second is in Rafah. The Al-Mawasi area is an open area, not residential. It lacks infrastructure, paved streets, sewage networks, water, electricity, communication, and even the internet.

Before the war, it was an area designated for agricultural or sand greenhouses. Before the war, it was inhabited by 9,000 people working in fishing and agriculture. Now, there are more than 400,000 displaced people in this area….

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