New Internationalist

The war in Rafah is not over

Destruction in Gaza

PHOTOS: LOUISA WAUGH

In my last blog, I was talking about sonic booms and drones, and the mind games Israel continues to play inside Gaza. This is a follow-up of sorts, because I've just been down to Rafah, in southern Gaza, where local Palestinians are being tormented day and night by air strikes and drones. 

Faiza lives in Rafah, just 200 metres from the border with Egypt. Her house stands in front of a labyrinth of tunnels that have been dug underneath the Gaza border with Egypt. I was introduced to Faiza last year by one of my colleagues. Faiza works with kids who, for one reason or another, do not go to school, so she teaches them in their own homes. She is elegant, forthright and funny. When I came back to Gaza a few weeks ago I really wanted to see her. I knew her family had been evacuated from their house throughout the war, and had just recently returned. So I drove down to Rafah to see them.

Rafah was ravaged by this war - the houses near the border have been blasted by artillery shells, bombs and machine guns and the landscape is scarred and ruined. It feels desolate - this is the coverage of Gaza you see on TV. Faiza's house, at the far end of a rough dirt track, now stands almost alone - her neighbours' homes on both sides have been flattened by bombs, and she tells me many of the locals are still too scared to come back to the area because of the continual bombing. The Israelis say they are intent on destroying the network of tunnels, and almost every night there are airstrikes that shake Faiza's home, terrifying the children and the adults. When the bombing gets too intense, the family flees to their relatives who live further from the border.  

Destruction  in Rafah

'We've been evacuated at least five times since the [18 January] ceasefire,' she tells me. The word 'evacuated' carries the image of white UN vehicles arriving in convoy to rescue the vulnerable and speeding them away from imminent danger. But for the few people left here in this bombed-out buffer zone, evacuation means they get ten minutes notice to pack up and leave on foot.

'My father never wants to go,' says Faiza. 'He has lived here all his life and says he would rather die here than be forced out of his own house by the Israelis.'    

I spend the afternoon with Faiza and her family, including her younger sister, Sai'da. We can hear the buzzing of drones in the skies above us, but no-one says anything about them. Instead we sit in their lovely garden drinking tea and admiring the blossom on the almond trees. Afterwards Faiza and Sai'da and I decide to walk a little. We traipse along a broken path where there used to be fields; we can see the multitude of sheds where the builders are still digging their tunnels, and the Egyptian border just a couple of hundred metres away.

I ask Faiza why her family is so determined to stay here when it's still so dangerous. 'This is our home,' she says firmly. 'We want to live here - and we have nowhere else to go.' There is a massive shortage of houses in Gaza now, because tens of thousands of families have had their homes destroyed. Faiza's neighbours are now living in a tent amidst the ruins of their destroyed house.   

We notice the buzz in the sky is getting louder, and Sai'da looks up, and flinches. 'Let's go,' she says. 'They can see us. They know where we are.'

As we walk back to the house, Faiza tells me her students can't concentrate any more. 'They are too nervous - I am trying to teach them geography and history, and they are telling me they are scared of the helicopters and the drones in the sky.'

We said goodbye about an hour later - around five o'clock. At midnight the same night, Faiza called me to say her family had just been evacuated again.

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