Four evacuations in one day

Safety is nowhere to be found for Palestinian families in Gaza

Oct 12, 2023
The Abu Rukbeh family lives in Jabalia in northern Gaza. From left to right: Maisa, two-year-old Amina, 14-year-old Ahmad, 13-year-old Kareem, 10-year-old Karam, and Mohammad Abu Rukbeh. (Photo: Courtesy of the Abu Rukbeh family)

Gaza, October 12, 2023—My name is Mohammad Ahmad Abu Rukbeh and I work as the senior Gaza field researcher at Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP). I am married to Maisa and a father to four children: 14-year-old Ahmad, 13-year-old Kareem, 10-year-old Karam, and two-year-old Amina. 

I live in my parent’s building, which consists of five floors in the Tal Al-Zaatar neighborhood, east of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip. My family and I live on the fourth floor, and my siblings and their families live in the rest of the building, which houses a total of 27 people, mostly children and women.

Every minute since October 7, we hear the sound of explosions from missiles launched by Israeli warplanes. The neighborhood shakes, and houses sway from the force of these explosions. 

My children scream, and I try to calm them, but in vain, as the fear is evident on my face and that of my wife, who is terrified by the intensity of the bombing. We try to hug our children and comfort them, without success. 

After the first day of the Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, dubbed "Operation Iron Swords," Israeli forces began bombing residential towers and residential buildings. Then they started targeting civilian homes with their occupants. 

Israeli warplanes bombed the house of one of my relatives, located 50 meters (164 feet) away from my house. They also bombed our neighbors’ house, the Shahin family, and the house collapsed on them, and they all died, including ten-year-old Mohammad Baraa Taysir Shahin, whose killing I documented for DCIP. My house was partially damaged, with windows and doors destroyed due to the strength of the bombing. 

I checked on my children, and thankfully, they were unharmed, but they were terrified to the point that they could not walk. My eldest son, Ahmad, told me that he couldn't feel his left foot and had pain in his lower back. My younger son, Karam, also could not walk and could not hide his tears. My wife held Amina, our little girl, and they were all terrified.

The Israeli warplanes began targeting residential neighborhoods with what is known as "fire belts," a series of successive missile strikes from warplanes that continue for several hours, leading to the destruction of entire neighborhoods such as Al-Rimal neighborhood, Beit Hanoun, Al-Karama area, and Al-Sika area east of Jabalia refugee camp. These “fire belts” occur day and night but intensify at night since electricity is cut off, leaving only weak lighting in the house. 

The glow of the missiles illuminate the house, resembling lightning but with a red color accompanied by the sound of massive explosions. The neighborhood and the house shake, and my children wake up from their sleep. When they try to go back to sleep, the bombing resumes after just a minute. Our sleep is fragmented and doesn't last more than a few minutes.

The Israeli warplanes targeted the Sika area, my former neighborhood where most of my extended family lives. On Tuesday, October 10, at dawn, Israel launched a “fire belt” for the Sika railroad area east of Jabalia, erasing the landmarks of my old neighborhood and demolishing the houses of my uncles and cousins, who had fled from the intensity of the bombing to UNRWA schools during the late night hours. Two of my cousins were injured during their escape. 

The bombing reached the Sika railroad street, getting closer to the Tal Al-Zaatar area, where my family lives. This prompted me to take my children at six a.m.. on Wednesday, October 11, 2023, to my father-in-law's house in the Abu Qamar area within the same camp, considering it safer than Tal Al-Zaatar. My siblings and their families went to various areas. When I left the house heading to Abu Qamar, I found another building that had been bombed. Palestinian civil defense teams and ambulances were trying to rescue the victims, and dozens of neighbors were trying to help them. There was no other way for me but this street because it was the closest. 

During that time, I saw civil defense rescuing the body of a woman in pieces, placing her on a stretcher. I took my children and fled quickly. However, my children were terrified, crying, and unable to walk. I carried my youngest son, Karam, whose legs stopped working due to the horror of the scene, until we reached my in-laws’ home.

Around 1:30 p.m., while I was at my in-laws’ house, I heard noises on the street. When I looked to find out the reason behind those noises, I understood that the Israeli army had notified them of the bombing of Haifa Mosque nearby. The street and the area had to be evacuated. 

I took my children and wife and went out. I was left with the only choice, which was to go to my brother's house, Sayed, located in the Tawba area in Jabalia camp. However, Sayed’s house was very small with an area of only 80 square meters, and its ceiling was made of zinc. On the other hand, the house is located in the middle of the alleys of Jabalia refugee camp and we thought it could possibly be the safest at that time. 

When I reached my brother's house, I was surprised that all my siblings' families were there, and the house could not accommodate this large number. But in the end, I said it doesn't matter if we don’t fit. What matters now is to stay alive and for my children to find some stability until the situation becomes clearer. However, soon I heard screams in my brother's neighborhood. I found that a neighboring house was warned by the Israeli army, and it would be bombed by Israeli warplanes.

I stood helpless, not knowing where to go with all these family members, my children, my siblings and their children. We walked along the street, and I found myself taking them to an UNRWA school near Abu Rashid's pool in the middle of Jabalia camp. It served as a shelter for the displaced. There was not enough space for us there. At that moment, a neighbor of the school, upon seeing our situation, took the women and children inside his house, while I, my elderly father and siblings stood in the courtyard of the UNRWA school, watching the situation of the displaced people inside the school and the overcrowded rooms. 

I sat for about two hours, feeling lost, not knowing what to do in this difficult situation. I hesitated and thought about taking the risk and returning to my house, facing death, or remaining in the streets, pleading with someone to provide us with shelter. 

At that moment, I remembered my sister who lives in Gaza City, and although her house is also small, I decided to take my family and some of the others, hoping they would find some stability there, even if only for a few hours. The other half of my family took the risk and went back to my brother Sayed’s house, which is next to a threatened house that is still not bombed.

We arrived in Gaza City after five p.m.  and were welcomed by my sister and her husband. I immediately began preparing food for my children and hers. My children hadn't eaten yet that day.  My sister's husband was occupied with fetching water due to frequent power outages in Gaza, lasting not more than 30 minutes, insufficient for filling water tanks. 

I was exhausted,  to the point that I couldn't fully process that I had safely reached my sister's house with my family. Transportation was challenging and nearly non-existent due to the situation. I was forced to evacuate four times on just this one day. As a father, it was my responsibility to protect my children and try to provide them with safety. 

Although my sister's area was relatively calmer than northern Gaza, my mind was still preoccupied with my family in my brother Sayed's house. Every time I heard explosions throughout the night, I would call my siblings and check on them. There was no rest or stability. My children were mentally distressed, their minds wandering, and their complexion turned yellow—a lingering experience that I hope ends soon. My children will need a long time to recover from the psychological pressures. 

Even with the power outages, I tried to preserve the mobile phone battery for communication with my family and friends, as well as for my job, given the challenging circumstances with human rights violations, massacres, transportation disruptions, and scarce information. My kids miss their mobile phones and tablets, which could distract them with games, but the challenge lies in finding a way to charge the mobile phone batteries. They remain seated around me throughout the day.

The focus shifted to water, as the scarcity of essentials grew. We started to think of ways to save water. Bathing was prohibited, and even cleaning the toilet after use was restricted to preserve water. The lack of markets and closed stores prompted a food plan, limiting us to one meal a day: sandwiches. What we have from food resources will only last us a couple of days.

My plea to all the free people of the world is to swiftly intervene and halt this war and the genocide that Gaza is facing. The repercussions of this war will not only affect the victims we have lost, some of which are still trapped under the rubble of their homes, and not only the residential areas that have been completely destroyed, including our own homes but the psychological impact on us civilians and our children will be catastrophic. 

While we have experienced previous attacks, such as the 2014 Israeli military offensive, Operation Protective Edge, that lasted for 51 days, it was not marked by this level of brutal ferocity. This time, it is a war waged by the organized Israeli army, supported by American aircraft carriers, accompanied by an unprecedented international silence. 

Civilians, helpless and powerless, have no secure shelter, and they cannot provide safety for their children. I urge the immediate intervention of the United Nations Security Council to stop the war. Additionally, I call on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to visit Palestine, open a field office, and  investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the war crimes we are witnessing  and the terror inflicted upon my children. We are isolated people facing the fiercest war machines. 


Update, October 19, 2023: Mohammad and his family have since fled to southern Gaza to seek shelter and safety after the Israeli military issued an evacuation order for northern Gaza. 


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