Panic and confusion gripped the northern Gaza Strip on Friday, where thousands of people fled south after the Israeli military ordered a mass evacuation of parts of the densely populated, impoverished and besieged coastal strip that is home to more than two million Palestinians.
As anticipation grew of an imminent Israeli ground invasion, some Gaza residents said they feared this could end up being the start of another permanent mass displacement like that of 1948, when more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes. homes in present-day Palestine. day Israel during the war surrounding the establishment of the nation. But it was too early to tell.
“As I pack my things I wonder: is this really another nakba? I take the keys to my house and think: will I ever return home? Will I ever see my house again? said Dr. Arwa El-Rayes, 56, an internal medicine doctor, speaking in the final moments before fleeing her childhood home in northern Gaza City, the territory’s main city. The nakba, meaning catastrophe, is how Palestinians refer to the 1948 displacement.
The Israeli military says it is urging more than a million residents of northern Gaza to move to the southern half of the enclave for their own safety, even as residents said airstrikes continued in the south. But there has been no suggestion that they should leave the territory or that they will not be allowed to return to their homes after the fighting.
The majority of Gaza’s population, some 1.7 million of the 2.1 million residents, are among those forced to leave their homes in 1948, or their descendants. In 1948, many Palestinians were told that they would be allowed to return to their homes after a few days or weeks. Many took only a few belongings and the keys to the front door. But they were never allowed to return.
The Gaza Strip has been under intense airstrikes for days, in an attack unleashed after Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, launched a surprise attack on southern Israel over the weekend that killed more than 1,300 people. including civilians and soldiers.
Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 1,500 people in Gaza since then, according to the territory’s Health Ministry.
Gazans said they are worried about being forced to move to a sparse and somewhat rural area without services. The strip has already been cut off from water, food and electricity after Israel imposed what it called a “total siege” days ago.
Some residents said they decided to stay in their homes, despite the grave danger of an Israeli ground invasion, for fear of being permanently displaced.
Gaza resident Mahmoud Shurrab said he saw warnings to evacuate the northern part of the Gaza Strip on Facebook on Friday morning and quickly packed a backpack with important documents. He then began driving with his mother south in search of safety.
Along the way, he said, he saw crowds of people lining up to fill their gas tanks and others loading luggage into their cars. He, along with many other Gazans, arrived in a town just south of the evacuation zone, but still close to their homes in the north. He and his mother remain on the street for now, without shelter.
“We are disoriented,” he said in a telephone interview with The New York Times. “We don’t know if we will return or not. Nobody understands what is happening. The biggest problem is that we have no idea where to stay,” he added.
Iyad Bozm, spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza, insisted this would not be a repeat of the 1948 exodus.
“We will return to our land again,” he stated.
Some Gazans who want to flee with their families do not have vehicles and left on foot or in trucks. Others said roads had been damaged by nearly a week of Israeli airstrikes and were difficult to navigate.
she is abuheweila contributed reports.