"I want our house to have walls"

A Palestinian child and his family displaced in Khan Younis

Nov 17, 2023

Ramallah, November 17, 2023— “All I am asking for is for the war to stop and for us to return to our homes, if they are still standing.”

Mohammad Waleed Mohammad Obaid is 10 years old, and up until October 7, lived in Al-Shati refugee camp, west of Gaza city, with his mother and sisters: Leen, 13, and Reem, four. Mohammad’s father lives and works in the United Arab Emirates. 

“I do not know if our home is still standing, because it is close to Al-Shifa Hospital,” Mohammad told DCIP. Israeli forces have besieged Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza city, surrounding the hospital compound and attacking patients with artillery shells and live ammunition. “I learned from the news that Israeli tanks have stormed the area, and we do not know the fate of our home.”

“I want our house to have walls. I do not really care if the doors and windows are gone. We will be able to live without them,” Mohammad said. “The important thing is that the house is still standing where it is.”

Mohammad stands outside the tent he shares with nine family members in a camp for displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis. (Photo: Mohammad Abu Rukbeh / DCIP)

Now, Mohammad and his family are staying in a tent in a vocational training center run by UNRWA in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, where he shares a tent with nine family members. Between them, they have four blankets and mattresses, and are using wood fires to cook.

“This place is so crowded, and the tents are adjacent to each other,” Mohammad told DCIP. “We do not have a stove, kitchen utensils, or flour. There are toilets, but they are very disgusting and unclean. Bathing is almost impossible. If you can save water, there is no place to shower, not to mention that the water is very cold. There is no heating inside the tents, and winter is coming and it is so cold at night. This is in addition to flies and insects, and the sounds of the displaced and the Israeli bombing of Khan Younis and the Israeli drones buzzing in the sky.”

Inside the tent Mohammad shares with his family. Ten people share four mattresses and blankets. (Photo: Mohammad Abu Rukbeh / DCIP)

An estimated 1.5 million people in Gaza are internally displaced, and about 813,000 of them are staying in 154 shelters run by UNRWA, according to UN OCHA. Every shelter is stretched far beyond its intended capacity, and overcrowding is contributing to the spread of respiratory infections, diarrhea, chickenpox, and scabies.

Before moving to Khan Younis, Mohammad and his family first took refuge at his grandparents’ house in Gaza city. But as Israeli forces intensified airstrikes and shelling throughout northern Gaza, they decided to move south. 

“We heard from people and through leaflets that Israeli planes were dropping that we should head to the areas of Wadi Gaza to the south,” Mohammad said. “My uncle told us that a friend of his had a large warehouse near Al-Nuseirat refugee camp and that we can go and stay there because that area was declared safe by the Israeli army. So I got into a car with my sisters, my mother, my uncle, his wife and two children, my grandparents, and my other uncle. There were 12 of us in a five-passenger car. We also took some clothes and personal belongings.”

“We stayed inside the warehouse, which had a toilet. We could cook our own food inside the warehouse, while getting to a bakery and getting a loaf of bread was almost impossible because the line was very long, so we prepared the dough in the warehouse and then took it to a clay oven,” Mohammad told DCIP. “Living conditions were difficult, mostly at night because the warehouse is close to the Al-Mughraqa area, into which the Israeli forces had entered, and fire belts were created by warplanes, in addition to intense artillery shelling in that area.”

“The warehouse is close to Moath bin Jabal Mosque, which I learned had been hit by an Israeli drone missile as a warning to be bombed later by Israeli warplanes,” Mohammad added.

Palestinians fill water jugs in the UNRWA-run displacement camp Mohammad is staying at with his family. The little water that flows is not suitable for drinking. (Photo: Mohammad Abu Rukbeh / DCIP)

“We had no choice but to leave the warehouse and go to a safer place so that we could at least sleep at night. We tried to go to UNRWA schools, but they were already overcrowded and the living conditions inside were extremely harsh and unsustainable,” Mohammad said. “About two weeks later, we learned that UNRWA opened the industrial zone west of Khan Younis, and set up tents to receive the displaced, so we left the warehouse and headed to the industrial zone in Khan Younis.”

There is no safe place for Palestinian children and their families in the Gaza Strip as Israeli forces continue bombarding residential areas in both northern and southern Gaza and as Israeli ground troops conduct military operations. 

“Every year there is war and death,” Mohammad said. “We are children and we want to live in peace and calm. The whole world is sitting there and watching us die and no one is doing anything.”  

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