Trapped in Rafah, plunged into darkness, living in deadly limbo

(The Age, 14/2/2024)

How do you murder 1.4 million people? Answer – ask Israel to provide a safe space then bomb the hell out of it, evil, evil, evil – Mark

Before the war, five people lived in Mohanad Alsaadawi’s family home in Rafah. There are now 31 people huddled beneath its roof as the last “safe” place in Gaza waits for Israel to launch what could be its deadliest military offensive.

The mass of people crammed into a two-storey house, most of them having fled homes in other cities, towns and settlements now reduced to rubble by Israeli bombs, tells the bigger story of Rafah, the geographic and humanitarian end point of a conflict that has left two out of three surviving Gazans sheltering on a small wedge of land between the Egyptian border and Mediterranean Sea.

A prewar population of 275,000 people in Rafah has swollen to an estimated 1.4 million. Thomas White, the Sydney-born director of UN Relief and Works Agency aid operations in Gaza now based in Rafah, has worked in crisis zones for 20 years and never confronted a situation quite like it. “The most striking thing here is that people are trapped,” he told this masthead. “There is nowhere to flee.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s evacuation order, issued late last week, for civilians to leave Rafah before IDF troops move in, has placed the city at the centre of a global political and humanitarian campaign to halt Israel’s advance into what Netanyahu called the “last bastion” of Hamas, the terror group responsible for the October atrocities.

Alsaadawi is a 23-year-old university graduate who before the war was using his freshly awarded degree in information technology to launch a start-up. His family has lived in Gaza since 1948, when they were displaced from a small village outside Ramla, in what is now central Israel. He has lived through other conflicts but never felt the sense of impending doom that has settled over Rafah.

He described Monday night’s sustained bombardment, the most intense military operation Israel has directed against the city so far, as a night from hell. People packed into houses or sheltering in tents had no way of knowing the bombardment was cover fire for a hostage rescue operation and not the start of Netanyahu’s promised invasion.

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Father Dave

Anglican Priest, Professional Boxer,Social activist and Father of four


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