Oct 24, 2023 - World

Palestinians in Gaza: "Survival feels uncertain"

A woman holding a girl reacts after Israeli airstrikes hit Ridwan neighborhood of Gaza City, Gaza on October 23, 2023. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images)

A woman holding a girl reacts after Israeli airstrikes hit Ridwan neighborhood of Gaza City, Gaza, on Oct. 23. Photo: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images

Palestinians in Gaza tell Axios they are not certain they will survive this war as Israel intensifies its air raids and prepares for a ground invasion.

The big picture: More than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed since the Israel-Hamas war began, according to Gaza's Ministry of Health of the Hamas-run government. The besieged enclave has been under heavy bombardment in the two weeks since Hamas militants killed 1,400 Israelis in the worst attack against Israel in decades.

  • Israel has also imposed a "complete siege" of Gaza, cutting electricity and largely blocking food, fuel and other supplies from entering the enclave, which is home to more than 2.2 million Palestinians.
  • Three convoys of trucks carrying assistance have been allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt since Saturday, but aid groups say this is only a small fraction of what Gaza needs. The assistance also doesn't include fuel, which hospitals in Gaza say they desperately need in order to keep their backup generators running.
  • The border crossing remains closed to Palestinians who may wish to leave. Even before the latest fighting, Palestinians had to get special permission from Israel or Egypt to leave the enclave, which was often difficult to receive.
  • About 1.4 million people have been displaced in the 140-square-mile Palestinian territory, which is about the size of Detroit.

Shouq Al Najjar is one of them.

  • The 27-year-old tells Axios that she and her husband fled Gaza City and went to the southern part of the Strip after Israeli airstrikes devastated her neighborhood.
  • "There was widespread destruction, buildings reduced to rubble and thousands of homes became unlivable, including my home," Al Najjar says.
  • "My husband and I started our married life less than a year ago in that house, which now lies in ruins," Al Najjar adds.
  • "We could only take essential documents leaving behind the memories and meaningful gifts that made our house a home. It was heartbreaking to leave everything behind just like that."

Haider Eid, a professor at Al-Aqsa University, says he was also forced to flee Gaza City with his wife and two daughters after much of his neighborhood was "flattened to the ground" by Israeli air raids.

  • He tells Axios his building was "miraculously" still standing after the bombardment, but "all the flats [were] uninhabitable. It was "impossible to live there."
  • He first went to stay with his brother in an area north of Gaza City, but days later, Israel ordered 1.1 million Palestinians, including Haider and his family, to evacuate from the northern part of the Strip to southern — an evacuation the UN labeled impossible.
  • Many Palestinians, like Eid, heeded Israel's order, but others have chosen to stay in the north, saying there is no place safe to go, as Israel continues striking southern Gaza as well.
  • Hospitals continue to face repeated warnings to evacuate, but health workers and aid groups say it's impossible, with the World Health Organization calling such evacuations a "death sentence for the sick and injured."
A view of a toy between the rubbles of a destroyed residential building after the Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, Gaza on October 18
A view of a toy between the rubbles of a destroyed residential building after the Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, Gaza on Oct. 18. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty Images

State of play: Israel's siege of Gaza has worsened already poor conditions in the enclave, which has been under a land, sea and air blockade by Israel, with Egypt's support, for more than 16 years.

  • Hospitals have been particularly affected. "The healthcare system in Gaza is facing collapse. Hospitals are overwhelmed and lacking resources," Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Friday.
  • Many have called the siege and the airstrikes "collective punishment" that violates international law.
  • Israel says it's striking Hamas targets, but the UN has documented multiple cases in which schools, health centers, and residential buildings have been hit.

What's happening: Israel is preparing for what appears to be an imminent ground incursion in Gaza's north.

  • Israeli officials say the goal of the offensive is to destroy Hamas and create "a new security reality for the citizens of Israel."
  • But Palestinians and aid groups warn such an operation will only bring more deaths and suffering.
  • "What do we want? It's very, very simple," Eid says. "What we want is the intervention of the international community," he adds, calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Eid and Al Najjar have lived through several wars before but Israel's response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack has been unprecedented, they say.

  • "This one is the most aggressive. Survival feels uncertain," Al Najjar tells Axios.
  • "I fear losing my loved ones and the thought of closing my eyes and never waking up haunts me. I've already lost relatives and people I know," she says.
  • "And when it's over and we're still alive, how are we going to get over the deep scars of death, destruction and all this pain?"

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