While everyone in Gaza was waiting for the Maghrib prayer so they could break their 15-hour daily Ramadan fast, tens of families who had fled their homes in the northern city of Beit Lahia to UNRWA-run schools in Gaza City were helplessly sitting in the schoolyard. The families left in the very early morning of Sunday, without being able to take any food or money.
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They had received leaflets from the Israel Defense Forces warning them that they should leave their homes “for their security.”
Residents of the area hadn’t left before when they heard huge armed clashes on the border near their homes. Most of them left on foot, walking all the way from the north to Gaza City.
Doaa Attar, 9, said she was sleeping when she heard everyone in the neighborhood yelling “Evacuate, evacuate!” Attar says she could only find her flip-flops before she ran out, following her parents and siblings.
“It was a very long way I walked. It was 2:00 A.M., so dark and scary,” said the pretty, brown-eyed girl.
Minutes after the prayer, a Danish-funded NGO came to the school carrying 100 dishes of rice, yet the amount of food was never enough for the large number present.
Ahmed Abu Qamar, 27, who works for the Enhancing the Palestinian Family charity, said that no matter how the organization tries, there is still a huge shortfall. “We don’t have enough funds. One hundred dishes for the hundreds of displaced won’t fill any of the shortage we have. We’ll have to get support from individuals,” he said.
In a press conference yesterday in Gaza City, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl called on Israel to end its offensive against civilians and civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. On its Twitter account, UNRWA said that some 17,000 refugees are currently sheltering in 20 of its schools in Gaza City, with some displaced to the same classrooms for the third time in five years.
Ali Attar, 30, a driver, said that UNRWA schools – especially the one he is currently staying in – are becoming a bad omen for him and his family, reminding him of the horrible memories he had there in 2008 and 2012.
“Every time I passed this school while driving, I prayed that I wouldn’t be back here again. Yet not everything you want happens; I’m here again,” Attar noted with disappointment.
Being away from home is not the only challenge the thousands of displaced are facing. Having to cope with spending the holy month of Ramadan is adding further pressure. “In 2008 and 2012 we spent a very cold winter here without any sheets or blankets, it was so hard,” recalls Attar. “And today, we are spending Ramadan here without proper food and conditions.”
Some of the people started going back to their houses yesterday, even when they think it’s still dangerous there, but they couldn’t live under such hard circumstances. Besides, no Israeli ground invasion took place on Sunday night.
Israel waged an offensive on Gaza early last week, killing more than 170 and injuring more than 1,000 until now. Cross-border clashes between armed groups and the IDF haven’t stopped since that day.
Doaa says she can’t bear to stay at the school anymore and wants to go back home. “It’s dangerous everywhere. I want to go back to my clean house, so I can eat and sleep well.”