Wednesday, 22 May 2024
WorldThere is no escape in Rafah, we can only wait for the...

There is no escape in Rafah, we can only wait for the worst in our tent while the bombs fall

I am a doctor and psychiatrist, and before the war in Gaza I maintained a predictable daily routine. Go to work at the clinic, visit friends and spend time with my family. A normal life. Now my family and I are refugees in Rafah. We have been living in the worst conditions imaginable since the Israeli Army ordered us to leave our home in Khan Younis.

We spent the days waiting, queuing to get two or three liters of drinking water, food or simply flour with which to make bread on the fire. We have been without electricity for months. In recent days, when we learned that Israel was preparing a land invasion of Rafah, we learned that we will have nowhere to go. Israel has said it will evacuate civilians, but how can we believe that when there appears to be no plan and after what we have seen them do time and time again? The only thing we 1.4 million people here can do is expect the worst.

Life seems like an eternal day that never ends. Full of suffering and scenes of horror, so frequent that they have begun to be confused with each other. Our new collective routine is to listen to and witness death, to sit and walk with it. A death that felt closer than ever on the night of February 12, due to the massive bombings by Israel.

I have spent my career in Gaza, working in mental health and community trauma, but even that has not prepared me for the deep hopelessness that now permeates our community. Almost everyone around me has family members killed in Israeli airstrikes or snipers, arrested by the Israeli Army, or displaced to other areas.

Uncertainty is what is killing us little by little. No one knows who will be next to die or lose their family. The three ways humans deal with dangers or threats to their survival are by fighting, fleeing, or freezing. We can’t fight and we can’t escape, so we are a frozen people. Many of us have been like this for four months.

A frozen town

When you are frozen you cannot act or feel normally. People transform into zombies. What I feel when I wait in lines for the water, when I talk to neighbors or when I am in the clinic in Rafah is that people’s faces have been emptied of life. Masks of fear, hopelessness and emotional dullness.

There are days when I don’t know how I’m going to move forward mentally. Where I don’t know how I’m going to get up the next morning and face the fact that this is reality. Reliving day after day the sound of the bombings, the hum of the drones above our heads. I can’t face any more news of loved ones being hurt or killed.

As children we develop the notion that our sense of security and protection is located in the home. Just a few days ago we were told that our house in Khan Yunis had been bombed. Where we will go? It was the first thing we thought. Where will we live? When a person loses their home, they also lose that feeling of security.

My family and I were in the tent we lived in when the bombing of Rafah began. What can a thin layer of nylon protect you from? It won’t stop shrapnel from bombs from hitting you or your family. So we looked up at the sky and watched the bombings awaiting our fate. We knew exactly what that meant. What could we do?

Our family is small. My brother, my sister, and my sister’s four-year-old twins. The terror I see in my nieces’ eyes makes me want to burst into tears. The three adults try to be strong for the girls, but we cannot hide the reality from them. They are living it just like us. Everywhere you go there are children without parents. Children without any living relatives.

For us, this is not a war. It is an endless bloodbath, but while the world watches the genocide, no action is taken to prevent it. Nothing that is happening to us is justifiable. No human being should go through this type of suffering.

Our fear is that Israel’s warnings are a way of preparing for what is to come, that people around the world will get the idea that Rafah is a target so that no one will be surprised when they kill us. Nothing short of international intervention will stop it. The international community must urgently continue to press for a permanent ceasefire. It may be our only chance to survive.

Translation of Francisco de Zárate

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