As the war has raged on, Ahlam Shimali has watched as people fled fighting and destruction elsewhere in Gaza and flocked to Rafah, the territory’s southernmost district, where she lives.
Rents have skyrocketed and several families share small apartments. Tent camps have taken over most of the open areas. Food and fuel have become so scarce that she burns old clothing and book pages to heat canned beans and bake flatbread.
“What would happen to us if there were tanks, clashes, an invasion and an army?” said Ms. Shimali, 31.
More than half of Gaza’s 2.2 million people are now sheltered in Rafah, many after Israel told them to flee south to avoid war further north.
Israeli officials have been suggesting that the next step in their effort to destroy Hamas will be in Rafah, and on Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that “any forceful action in Rafah would require the evacuation of the civilian population from the site of combat”. zones.”
The Israeli government has not specified what areas those would be or where the civilians now sheltering in them are expected to go.
Aid groups, the United Nations secretary general and Biden administration officials have warned that an Israeli attack on Rafah would be catastrophic. The high density of the area would increase the chances of civilian deaths in military strikes, and an advance by Israeli ground troops could further disrupt aid delivery.
Overcrowding has already strained the area’s resources, and recently displaced Gazans continue to arrive as fighting continues in the northern town of Khan Younis.
“That’s very bad; the level of hygiene is very low,” said Fathi Abu Snema, 45, who has taken refuge with her family in a United Nations school in Rafah since the beginning of the war. “Here we only eat “Canned food, which is not healthy at all. Everything else is very expensive.”
He feared that many would die if Israel invaded Rafah, especially since the people had nowhere else to go.
“I prefer to die here,” he said. “There is not a single safe place to go in Gaza. They could kill you anywhere, even on the street.”
Rafah lies along the border with Egypt, although very few Gazans have been allowed to leave during the war, mainly because Egypt, and many Gazans themselves, fear that if they leave, they will never return to Gaza.
That leaves few options for people like Sana al-Kabariti, a pharmacist and skin care expert.
He fled to Rafah from Gaza City, where both his home and clinic have since been destroyed, leaving him little place to return to, he said.
Even if the war ended soon, she expects there would be little interest in her skin care services as people would focus on trying to rebuild their homes and lives, she said.
“I am worried about my future in Gaza,” said al-Kabariti, 33. “I really need to get off the fringe.”
she is abuheweila and Abu Bakr Bashir contributed with reports.