Rafah refugees are pouring into our starving, overcrowded city – and we hope they keep coming | Eman Mohamed

Wellor more than 200 days, life is an unimaginable struggle and most Palestinians barely manage to survive. The most basic necessities of life are almost impossible, and since Israel ordered the evacuation of parts of Rafah, the already unlivable situation has worsened dangerously.

My family is now sheltering in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza. We lived with two other families – 23 people – in an overcrowded house. But then more of our relatives from Rafah were displaced and the number has now increased to 45. Imagine living in a house with so many people, each trying to push a small ration over their limits in an attempt to get a little calories per day. Water, once taken for granted, is a precious commodity. We use sea water for bathing and many people get sick from drinking contaminated water.

The living conditions here are terrible for people tens of thousands arrived from Rafah seeking shelter and asylum. Crowding is intolerable. Outside in the streets are thousands of tents filled with entire families. Some people sleep in the open because there is nothing to use as a tent, or even if they have a tent, there is nowhere to pitch it due to overcrowding. The waste water overflows into the streets and between the tents because there is nowhere else for it to go. Lack of sanitation causes disease and water is polluted. Mosquitoes and insects feed on them alive, causing skin problems and reactions and spreading more infections. We are waging an invisible war against disease, infection and hunger.

Even under these conditions, we await the arrival of more people from Rafah, hoping they can get transport to evacuate – but many families remain trapped. The price of escape is so high because transportation is limited and most of the sick, starving, and wounded cannot travel at all. They just sit in their homes or tents and await their fate – not knowing whether it will be an Israeli bomb or a bullet.

Lack of medicine and treatment is one of the hardest things to bear. My pregnant sister had to have a c-section without anesthesia and could feel every cut they made in her body. My brother contracted hepatitis from an infection. We can only speculate as to the cause, but it is probably due to the unsanitary conditions in which we live. Even common conditions like diabetes or breathing problems that my parents have cause unnecessary pain and can be fatal without treatment.

I am a maths teacher to young girls aged 11 to 16 and this is the longest I have ever been out of teaching. Before, my students’ fervent passion for life could make me forget about the tragedies we are experiencing in Gaza, and they pushed me to be a better person. Nine of my dear students were killed in the unfolding genocide in Israel, each a talented and good girl who will never be able to follow her dreams now. I grieve for each child as if they were my family.

The endless buzz of drones overhead and the crippling fear of going outside have been constant in my mind since my aunt and uncle were killed while walking past a home that had been bombed. These unimaginable tragedies have become our reality and I wish I could lock myself away and be safe, but nowhere is safe.

Two boys watch Israeli military strikes east of Rafah yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Every day turns into a blur. Our life has stopped; we lost our jobs and our drive for development and achievement froze. Now I spend my days with my family trying to conserve water and cooking what little food we have over a wood fire. At night, we wake up dozens of times to the sounds of continuous explosions, and rest is a luxury. Also, there are occasional warnings we get from the Israeli military to evacuate the house immediately. This means we have to leave, often in the middle of the night, with nowhere to go, changing locations two, sometimes three times, only to return early in the morning after the bombing is over. Then everything repeats itself the next day. I began to forget how one sleeps peacefully with closed eyes.

I can’t even look in the mirror anymore because I’m afraid to see my own face. Seeing the signs of psychological warfare on yourself is a stark reminder that it is real and how the damage to your soul and mental health affects your body. Seeing my dark circles, hair loss in clumps, skin with stress acne, I compare myself to others who have lost much more and feel ashamed. But we collectively experience this suffering.

The people of Gaza have endured endless cycles of hope and despair, and our hearts are heavy with continued displacement and loss. We feel tears as a luxury we cannot afford, and the sense of helplessness is overwhelming as we struggle to survive in a world that seems indifferent to our suffering. Yet amidst the hardships there is resilience. We cling to hope, knowing that each day brings us one step closer to relief and a ceasefire, even as our cities crumble around us.

  • Eman Mohammed is a math teacher from Gaza

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