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A report by a Palestinian-Canadian national caught in the midst of the Gaza war, detailing the struggles, resilience, and humanitarian efforts amid the chaos.
Only five days before the Hamas attacks on Israeli settlements in the Gaza envelope areas that would be followed by the war in Gaza soon after, I arrived via Cairo from Canada (as a Canadian national) to visit relatives and conduct archaeological field research — which is my specialisation.
When the war broke out, I left my home in Gaza City and headed to the city of Khan Yunis, where I was born and where I have immediate relatives.
The Israeli army asked the residents of Gaza City and its northern areas, including Beit Lahia, Jabalia, and Beit Hanoun, to leave their homes and go to cities and villages located south of the Gaza Valley. Not all heeded this call, as many preferred to remain in their homes. According to my estimations, those who migrated did not exceed 30 per cent.
At that time, it became evident that the Israelis intended to transfer Gaza’s residents to Sinai in Egypt. However, all inside and outside the Strip, including Egypt, rejected this idea.
After Hamas fighters attacked settlements around the Gaza Strip on 7 October and captured a large number of soldiers and civilians, it took more than two days for the Israelis to understand what had happened and react. And even as the response had started, decisions were conflicting.
The Israelis ordered the residents of Gaza City to flee to the Strip’s south. As they arrived, aerial bombardments began there, too, moving some families to return to Gaza City. The picture may have been unclear to the Israelis, but it was clear to us that they had experienced a period of confusion in terms of decision-making.
Gaza’s population has experienced grim times that would have been difficult to bear for any people. One might be able to imagine what an individual feels when he is at home with his wife and family members, knowing that his house could be bombed at any moment without warning. I have been a witness to this numerous times.
Civilian residential complexes, such as Al-Zahraa City and Sheikh Zayed City, have been wholly destroyed, as well as entire city blocks in, amongst others, Jabalia, Beit Lahia, Gaza, al-Shuja’iya, and the eastern areas of Khan Yunis. A place where I had a coffee with two friends on 16 October was hit by a rocket two minutes after we had left. We were lucky.
The population of Khan Yunis increased significantly after the arrival of the families from Gaza City and the northern region. Goods in store warehouses began to decrease as bakeries started depleting their flour stocks, and cooking gas became scarce. Shortages in daily necessities became rampant as their prices soared before they disappeared from stores still operating in Khan Yunis altogether.
Two young volunteers and I thought it our duty to provide relief to as many displaced families as possible. So, for instance, I hosted a number of families in a multi-story building my brothers and I own in Khan Yunis. It was designed as a future hotel suite project, so each unit is equipped with a bathroom. I provided the families with the necessary overnight necessities, such as mattresses, pillows and blankets, before such items would no longer be available at the stores that were still operating. This put me in critical financial distress, as I brought them to Gaza for research and construction, but in light of what I witnessed, I was forced to do so.
As for the psychological aspect, I felt it was my responsibility to check on the displaced families, ensuring they could adapt to the place and city where they had taken refuge. Some had never been there in their lives. It was also my duty to provide them with water – bought from those with drinking water wells – and any available Wi-Fi, as several local distributors still operate.
Charitable work started with the distribution of meals to a large number of refugees and displaced families until public kitchens ran out of cooking gas. Subsequently, we employed several women to bake bread in clay ovens and distribute it to poor families. This stopped once stores ran out of flour. People then turned to rice, pasta and legumes, such as lentils, beans and the like, until those, too, disappeared from stores. After that, with whatever money I had available, I started distributing fifty US dollars to each family to buy whatever they wanted.
I believe that the agricultural areas around the city have contributed greatly to providing relief to people with vegetables, though prices have fluctuated. The next problem arose, however, as the money that displaced families had brought to Khan Yunis began to run out, banks stopped working, and employees did not receive their October salaries. As a result, financial hardship increased, especially in the absence of financial transfers from abroad, and some women began selling their pieces of gold.
Before entering Gaza, I had been invited by the Sultan Qaboos University in Oman to be an online external examiner for a doctoral student on the topic of the Silk Road between Oman and China and its civilisational roles. The defence took place at the end of October, and despite the difficulty of the situation in Gaza, I went ahead with my involvement. I provided an appropriate place for the event and was able to install a solar power line from a store in the neighbourhood, as well as Wi-Fi from a local distributor. I was actually able to accomplish the task to perfection.
For thousands of years, Gaza has always stood strong against invaders. Its name is inscribed in the inscriptions of Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III in the second millennium BC. Alexander the Great besieged Gaza in the fourth century BC and almost lost his life doing so.
In the last days of the war, that is, before the truce, the Israeli army advanced towards Gaza City and besieged it from all sides, although only entering specific areas and streets. I personally believe that Hamas had lured them there, as is evidenced by the Israelis’ heavy losses of lives and equipment. I believe that the Israeli army had to enter the city to raise Israeli morale and restore people’s confidence in the army.
However, the army did not occupy Gaza City, as was evident in the gathering of the released Israeli groups in Palestine Square, the city’s main square located in its centre.
As we see in the media, jeeps of Hamas fighters still roam the streets in Gaza City. At the moment, we also witness that the Israeli army has begun to gradually withdraw from the places it entered, leaving behind thousands of Palestinian dead, wounded and missing people, as well as destroyed towers, high-rise buildings, houses and streets that will take a long time to rebuild. I hope I will have the opportunity to be among those participating in this duty of rebuilding and providing relief to the afflicted.
Now, what is the point of view of the Strip’s residents?
Before the war, the residents of the Gaza Strip, especially the youth, felt there was no hope for the present and the future. Thousands of graduates are without jobs, and those who want to open a business do not have money. What has essentially exacerbated the difficulty of life is the siege that has been imposed on Gaza for many years.
In addition, there are no transfers from abroad to Gaza as they have to pass through Israeli to Palestinian banks. Even instant transfers, such as through Western Union, are limited to an amount much lower than the allowance in other countries. The departure of young people through the Rafah crossing is difficult and depends on their age. How many young people have money to cover the costs of leaving from Gaza to Egypt and then travel to an Arab or European country to work there? All roads are closed to them, and many are ready to travel across the sea even if it costs them their lives.
In addition, imports are limited to specific materials, medicine is imported and expensive, water and electricity are insufficient, fishermen are limited to a designated area, and the tax imposed by local authorities on store goods is high. Whoever tries to construct a building pays electricity extension fees in addition to what is called a “contribution to the electricity company,” amounting to thousands of dollars.
In short, among people, the situation reached a point where this stage had to be ended in any way, as life became unbearable, and the number of unemployed youth in cafes increased. A change was necessary.
As for the political and economic aspect, many believe a plan has been drawn up by Middle Eastern countries to build a canal – as an alternative to the Suez Canal – in cooperation with Israel (the Ben Gurion Canal), starting from the sea at the Jordanian city of Aqaba, through the Gaza Valley and ending in the Mediterranean Sea.
I believe that the solution lies in ending the siege, building a seaport and airport for Gaza, and recognising a Palestinian state with undiminished sovereignty along the borders of 4 June 1967, including the occupied city of East Jerusalem, while linking Gaza to the West Bank. An economic plan similar to the Marshall Plan should be implemented in parallel. I believe solutions that detract from this are pointless.
On the contrary, any other solution will perpetuate the conflict in the region and will even expand the conflict area – as has already begun – to include Arab and non-Arab countries, such as Yemen and Iran.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.