MESSAGES FROM GAZA NOW – December 2023/January 2024 – Back to Sawarha again

Back to Sawarha again

On Thursday I went to Sawarha with some supplies for my wife and her family – some food and hygiene items.

On Friday Abeer called, very anxious and panicked. The bombing, shelling and air strikes did not stop in Nuseirat near Sawarha. People started to evacuate from there. There was random bombing near the house, they did not sleep. The news is that the sea road is safe from north to south but no-one is allowed to move from south to north or the middle area. 

They can’t leave alone. Our car is there but with no fuel. I spent all day looking for 6 litres of benzene, just enough to drive from Sawarha to Rafah in the south. Knowing the risk I am going to take by going north, I did not think for a single minute not to go. They can’t manage, they are 10: 3 children, 4 women, an old man and a young man, paralysed with fear – I know that he won’t be able to help. Could not secure the fuel until 9pm, never mind the price, (normal price is $2/litre, I paid $34/litre for 6 litres).

A friend of Abu Khaled, his business partner, a man I had never met before these days, offered to take me in his mini-jeep to help bring the family and whatever belongings we can bring such as mattresses, blankets, food, cooking gas and a gas cylinder and the gas itself, some kitchen items. If we don’t bring these things we will not find any at all in Rafah.

I can never thank him enough. He knew the risk. He could lose his car in a bombing, yet he did not hesitate. He even said that it was full of diesel so I shouldn’t worry about it.

Driving very early Saturday morning at 6am, the main road between Rafah and Khan Younis is completely empty. Avoiding Khan Younis city as there is the military invasion there, we turn west 2km before Khan Younis towards the sea road.

Since I was here the day before yesterday, new homes and buildings were destroyed. Parts of the roads were almost blocked by fallen rubble. But we managed.

Along the sea road, some movement – all kinds of cars, vehicles, trucks, jeeps, full of belongings and people all going south. Some people are in the streets. Driving and expecting the worst, but no choice. We continue. By Deir Al Balah, the city in the middle area, huge crowds of people are blocking the road, moving everywhere, looking for something called safety and shelter. Many can’t find it.

Normally it is only 22km from Rafah to Sawarha and takes 30 minutes to drive but today is different. I arrived at 8.25am. They were asleep after a long night of bombing, shelling and heavy shooting shaking the house all night. They fell asleep out of tiredness and fear. The good thing was they had prepared everything. All the stuff they need to take was packed and ready to be loaded on the cars. I put the benzene in our car, packed the stuff, distributed the people in the 2 cars and started the trip to Rafah. Rafah, where there is no place at all any more.

Rafah, the last city in the south of Gaza with borders with Egypt, inhabited by 200,000 with poor infrastructure, similar to all Gaza Strip cities and camps. Now hosting one million two hundred thousand people. Don’t ask how. For sure not in the houses – they are completely full. Wherever you look, in every empty space, at every roadside: tents, all kinds of tents, tents (good ones) received from humanitarian aid organisations, tents made from plastic and nylon sheets, tents made from pieces of fabric. More than 1 million people in tents, without toilets. People, mainly women, knock on doors asking to use the toilet, men are in lines at the mosques waiting to use the toilets. Without any facilities, in front of some tents, people make small fires to heat or cook. Hundreds of families on the streets did not receive a tent. They don’t have money to buy wood and plastic sheets to make their own – these cheap materials became more expensive than gold for poor people. 

Here in Rafah I must bring my wife and her family. I think I was an angel in another life – I don’t know. I don’t really believe that.  But I was planning a meeting with my staff who are providing psycho-social support in shelter-schools for children. I was planning to meet them on Saturday to hear from them and to provide them with some support, to check if there is anything I can do to facilitate their work. So I called one of them to ask him to postpone the meeting for another day. I’m busy bringing my wife. 

This wonderful colleague from Rafah started to call people, looking for a place for them to stay. I was driving back, near Deir Al Balah, when he called me to say that he’d found a store, 6m by 2.5m square, including a toilet. It is in the centre of Rafah, in the middle of the main market. What luck! It is a 15 minute walk from where I am staying at Abu Khaled’s home. Adjacent to Al Awda Hospital in Rafah. We arrived around 2pm. In front of the store, a bombed house, rubble in the street. The owner had brought some workers to clean up. The door of the store was damaged. He brought a blacksmith to fix it. The family waited in the cars for an hour until the place was almost ready. Some works still need to be done inside, never mind, Abeer’s brother will do it. They were exhausted. I brought them some food and left. I could not stay any longer, I should go and check on my mother.

Two hours later, I passed by to see how they are. For sure no-one is happy. They are all so tired. Even our dog Buddy was quiet, sitting in the corner, and did not come to me when I arrived as he would usually. The place is hell. Not good, not comfortable, no light, some candles, yet a million times better than a tent on the street. No complaints.

I left them around 5pm. It gets dark, I could not stay. I must be beside my mother now. 

Next day….another story…