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13 Jul 2024 18:03
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  •   Home > News > International

    Israel told Palestinians in Rafah to flee to a 'humanitarian area'. This is what life is like inside

    Israel told Gazans in Rafah to move towards Al-Mawasi because it was a humanitarian area, but several of those who did say the aid they were promised has not arrived.

    Moataz al-Hasoumy would rather return to Rafah and face death than continue trying to survive in Gaza's so-called "humanitarian area".

    He fled from Rafah with his five children to the coastal Gazan area of Al-Mawasi when Israel started its invasion into parts of the south in early May.

    The father, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, were told by Israel that Al-Mawasi was in a "humanitarian area" that had been expanded.

    But Moataz says the conditions are so inhumane, that he would rather return to Rafah and die.

    "There is nothing to live here for. Who would accept to live like this? A dog is leading a better life than ours," he said.

    "I am going back to Rafah, even if I die, it is not a problem for me.

    "Seventy people in the family have died, what's one more? — we will be 71, so what?

    "My children and I make five, consider it 75 people dead in one family, so what?"

    Moataz says the living conditions inside Al-Mawasi are dehumanising, and not what was promised by Israel.

    He walks around the outside of his small tent that's severely ripped and falling apart.

    Inside it's dirty and cramped, with used cooking pots piled together near thin foam mattresses spread out on the sandy ground.

    Flies buzz around children's soiled nappies left in plastic bags.

    Moataz says it's so hot inside, he feels like he's in a greenhouse.

    He points to a hole in the ground and reveals it's their toilet.

    "This is the place of the human filth," he says.

    "It is in the middle of the tent where we sleep.

    "This place is too tight. I want to go back to Rafah. I will have more dignity there."

    Al-Mawasi is a stretch of sandy coastal land inside the Palestinian enclave, about 1 kilometre wide and about 16 kilometres long.

    Various parts of it have been designated as a "humanitarian area" throughout the war, including parts of neighbouring Khan Younis.

    In early May when Israel sent its ground troops into Rafah, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were told to leave to Al-Mawasi or risk their lives if they stayed behind.

    Since then, the United Nations estimates nearly 1 million people have fled to the area, pitching makeshift shelters on the dunes.

    Israel's military committed to a humanitarian response when telling people to leave Rafah.

    "Tonight, we also call upon those staying in specific areas which we have communicated and defined through every means—radio, media, internet, and flyers—in eastern Rafah, to move towards the expanded humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi and Khan Yunis, where they will receive full humanitarian aid and where water, food, medical equipment, and shelter will be provided," said the military's Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari at the time.

    But aid and humanitarian groups say few of those commitments have eventuated.

    Oxfam reports appalling sanitary conditions in Al-Mawasi, estimating just one toilet per 4,000 people, and that there is no access to clean water.

    People who've fled to Al-Mawasi, like 35-year-old Mohammed Totah, back up United Nations' reports that piles of garbage flood the streets for hundreds and hundreds of metres, and sewage spills into tents.

    "There is no hygiene, it is disgusting, lots of garbage, and I swear to God there are worms in the tent," Mohammed said.

    Mohammed says he paid a driver 1,000 Israeli shekels ($400) to help him escape Rafah.

    But he says what he fled to is much worse than Rafah.

    "Since we came here we received nothing," he said.

    "In Rafah, things were easier. There were officers who distributed aid. Here, they come to take names, then never return. We receive nothing."

    UN agencies say there is a severe lack of sufficient water infrastructure within Al-Mawasi meaning most people don't have access to clean drinking water.

    Families instead fill buckets, pots, and pans with sewage-contaminated seawater to use for cooking, cleaning, washing their bodies, and even drinking.

    Umm Abdallah Sharaf-allah, who also fled to Al-Mawasi from Rafah, says it's making her children sick.

    "It causes diseases," she says.

    "All my children are suffering from drinking salty water — stomach aches and diarrhoea — and spend their time in the bathroom. They suffer from malnutrition."

    She says despite assurances of medical help in Al-Mawasi, her family hasn't even been able to get paracetamol to stop the pain of the stomach cramps.

    About 30 people from Umm Abdallah and her husband Sameer al-Awadi's family live together in the one overcrowded tent shelter.

    Their daughter Alaa' weeps in the corner of the tent, tears running down her face as they mention her young daughter Haya died during the war — they say it was from malnutrition.

    Umm Abdallah is worried the other children will also soon die and reveals another woman staying in the tent is pregnant.

    "There is no food, the children's faces are so thin and black too, they are not the same children we knew before," she said.

    "My children are craving for vegetables and fruits, they say they forgot how they taste.

    "We crave one tomato, one cucumber.

    "There is another woman who is pregnant now, and we do not know what to do, and where will we put the newborn, where will she go? We do not know.

    "This is a hard life."

    Their other daughter, Mahdiyeh al-Awadi, recounts how she first fled her home in Gaza City.

    "We were at home, and they bombed part of it, so there was a fire, my son and daughter were burnt, and husband and brother were injured so we fled running in the middle of the night from the house," she said.

    Mahdiyeh has four children, two boys and two girls, all with disabilities including cerebral palsy.

    She says the sandy hills of Al-Mawasi are much worse for her children compared to the solid ground in Rafah.

    "It is extremely bad here," she said.

    "The issue is that we are sitting on sand and it is really unbearable, this is the worst part," she said.

    "I have children who do not walk, and sand is everywhere, when you want to go to the bathroom, when you want to clean up, there is sand everywhere which is really making things worse."

    Israel's military did not respond to ABC News' specific questions about the conditions inside Al-Mawasi, and how it was meeting the commitments it made in early May.

    Israel says two field hospitals have been set up in Al-Mawasi, in conjunction with aid organisations and not-for-profit groups, and facilitated by Israel.

    In response to the experiences of Palestinians on the ground, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said "the claims presented are anecdotal" and that " the IDF is committed to keep facilitating humanitarian aid" in Gaza.


    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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