Ramallah, February 6, 2024—From the heart of Gaza City, eight-year-old Ashraf and his family are now displaced to southern Gaza.
“My father used to make various sweets every morning and sell them in public areas. We lived a normal life. I went to school every day, returned home, slept, played with my friends, and life was sweet and normal,” Ashraf told Defense for Children International - Palestine.
However, after the Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip began, Ashraf’s life changed.
“I heard extremely loud and powerful noises. I was very scared at that moment. My father’s phone rang, and he told mom not to let us go to school because there were missiles in the air. We stayed at home, and then we started hearing loud explosions around us. Mom told me that Israeli planes were bombing the houses nearby,” Ashraf said.
“After two days of the war, the bombing intensified around us, and we became very afraid. At that moment, we left the house without taking any belongings with us and took a taxi to the Kamal Adwan area in Beit Lahia, where my grandfather lives,” he said.
A week later, “there was a loud explosion near our house, and everything in the house broke. Dust spread everywhere, and I couldn't see anything around. My brother and I were with mom, and when the dust settled, I looked at mom and saw blood all over her face. We started screaming and crying,” Ashraf shared.
His father then rushed his mother to Kamal Adwan Hospital. Doctors treated her on the same day, and she left the hospital. Ashraf’s family then decided to go back to their own home in Gaza City.
“After about two and a half weeks, we stopped finding water and food. We lived in fear and anxiety for a month, and my father could not afford to buy us anything because everything became twice as expensive,” Ashraf explained. After some time, his father's phone incessantly rang, and upon answering, it was the Israeli military instructing everyone to evacuate to the southern areas of the Gaza Strip between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The journey of Ashraf and his family to the south was embarked with many difficulties, especially given the fact that his mother was pregnant and very tired.
“Many people walked with us in the street. Mom was barely able to walk because she was pregnant. She was carrying a white flag. My brother and I were also very tired from walking,” Ashraf explained.
“We went to Al-Kuwaiti Square, where we found Israeli soldiers alongside a large tank. We continued walking south, my brother and I crying and unable to walk the entire way. My mother told us to keep walking, promising to give each of us a shekel. We reached the bridge at Wadi Gaza, where there were also soldiers and tanks. We continued on foot, witnessing immense destruction in houses and seeing lifeless bodies, although no one could approach them. We reached the entrance of Al-Bureij in the midst of the Gaza Strip,” Ashraf continued.
“Mom walked all this distance while pregnant. We cried the whole way, and when we reached Al-Bureij camp, we took a car and went to Asdaa city, west of Khan Yunis,” Ashraf added.
Ashraf and his family looked for a school to stay at. It was very difficult to find a school that was not completely full. Some people in the area took them to the Sheikh Jaber School affiliated with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
“We reached the school 35 days after the start of the war, and we looked for an empty place and found one. My father made a tent next to the school wall, and we stayed inside it for several days. During this time, we had no flour or water, only canned food that my father bought at twice its price. When we wanted to drink, we went to fetch water, not all drinkable. My father would boil it to kill germs, and Mom drank it because she was pregnant. When we needed to use the bathroom, we stood in long lines for hours. My father would not let us play in front of the tent because the area was polluted with waste,” Ashraf explained.
“I have been deprived of playing with the other kids and going to school. Many things that were available before the war, like chips, chocolate, and biscuits, are all expensive if you can find them. I wish to return home because we are tired. I want to go back to school, play with my friends, eat the sweets that my father used to make, and play with my toys at home,” Ashraf added.