Residents of the Gaza Strip are reliving the horrific torment endured by their ancestors during the forced displacements of the 1948 Nakba and 1967 Naksa during the current Israeli war on Gaza.
Salaheddin Street in Gaza is witnessing their current ordeal as, forcibly displaced from the northern part of the Strip to the south, Gazans are marching in fear, humiliation, and horror, feeling they are being led to their demise.
The Israeli army is forcing Gazans – those who have survived its attacks or been saved from the rubble of their homes – onto Salaheddin Street, with nothing left for them except memories of their loved ones being killed before their eyes and their determination to cheat death one more time.
Salaheddin Street leads from the north of the Gaza Strip and the Erez Crossing in the city of Beit Hanoun to the south and the Rafah Crossing on the Egyptian border. It is a long road 40 km long, giving its walkers ample time to recall the aggressive Israeli raids that began on 7 October, all the while walking on empty stomachs and with dry mouths.
Those unfortunate enough to find themselves caught by the Israeli killing machines have been either killed, wounded, or arrested. The fortunate escaped, often running for long distances under the threat of guns, armoured vehicles, and aerial bombardments, sometimes barefoot or nearly naked.
Nabil Khalil Darwish, a 51-year-old Gazan who, along with his family of seven, was displaced from the upscale Al-Rimal neighbourhood in the west of Gaza, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “after a month of relentless bombing, I made the decision to head south when tanks approached Al-Rimal. We went to the southern entrance of Gaza on foot, including my child who is no more than six years old, amid an overwhelming sense of terror and fear.”
“Israeli Merkava tanks and Namer armoured vehicles lined the eastern side of Salaheddin Street. Soldiers lay behind sand barriers, peering from the cockpits of their tanks with binoculars, their rifles pointed at us while we raised our hands and white flags.”
According to the testimonies of witnesses who spoke to the Weekly, Israeli soldiers killed or arrested many young men based on mere suspicion. They forced Gazans to discard their belongings, and life savings to humiliate them and exacerbate their suffering.
Sabri Kaskin, 42 years old, became almost hysterical when he told the Weekly about his harrowing experience.
“I came from the Shati Refugee Camp and saw soldiers killing people in cold blood. They demanded that I strip naked and lie between the corpses, pointing their rifles at me, firing bullets between my feet and above my head. I held my breath, thinking I could die at any moment.”
“I don’t know how I survived after a clash erupted between them and the resistance fighters, allowing me to escape until I found clothes to cover myself and headed south.”
“The Israeli soldiers killed passers-by and arrested others on the road. I finally reached the Gaza Valley Bridge near the Bureij Refugee Camp, a somewhat safe area. From there, I hopped onto a donkey cart until the city of Khan Younis. I arrived at an UNRWA [UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees] shelter, where I was reunited with my family.”
Such journeys through hell include horrifying atrocities, said Manal Al-Taramsi, a 37-year-old woman from the northern Al-Shati Refugee Camp. Displaced with her remaining family members, including three children, after their house was bombed by the Israelis, she said that “we saw dozens of bodies and human remains lying on the side of the road.”
In a trembling voice, she said that “we were terrified, afraid that our fate would be like that of these people at any moment, if a soldier pulled the trigger. Those minutes were heavy, as if they were many days, during which we held our breath, unable to believe that we would survive.”
“As we walked, the soldiers opened fire on four young men. Later, we learned that they were freed captives, but they killed them all. The bodies were scattered under our feet, amidst the cries of my terrified children. I pleaded with them not to raise their voices, and we held our breath as the shadow of death hovered over our heads.”
Travelling along Salaheddin Street, or the “street of death”, Gazans emerge with pale faces, breathless, and exhausted. As they reach the entrance to the Bureij Camp, the waiting crowd greets them with food and water. The next step is choosing a destination in the central and southern Gaza Strip.
According to the accounts of people who spoke to the Weekly, the warmth with which they were received alleviated their fear, dispelled their terror, and erased the fatigue accumulated during the harrowing journey along Salaheddin Street.
The Israeli war on Gaza has now claimed the lives of over 11,000 people and left more than 27,000 injured, with 70 per cent being children and women.
In recent days, the Israeli army has intensified its attacks on the Strip, targeting the vicinity of the Shifa Medical Complex, the largest in Gaza. The assaults have also included violent raids on the surroundings of other hospitals and health centres in the Gaza and North Gaza Governorates, resulting in the deaths of chronically ill patients, including those with cancer and undergoing dialysis, patients in intensive care units, premature babies, and newborns.
Ashraf Al-Qudra, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, said in a statement to the Weekly that “the Israeli occupation is committing organised crime against hospitals, especially the Shifa Medical Complex, which houses hundreds of wounded and displaced individuals, in full view of the world.”
“The Al-Shifa Complex has been besieged, with drones deployed in its airspace intensively firing at it and at anyone moving, resulting in injuries to those inside. During their attempt to escape the Al-Shifa Complex and seek safety, a displaced family was bombed by the Israeli army,” he added.
“Following the power outage at the Al-Shifa Complex, a worker attempting to inspect the electrical generator to restore power for patients relying on ventilators was directly targeted and shot in the neck by the Israeli army,” Al-Qudra stated.
Many people are bleeding to death inside the medical complex due to drone attacks on the hospital’s courtyard. Medical teams are constrained by the occupation army’s siege, unable to move freely between buildings.
Patients in the hospital sustained additional injuries when the Israelis bombed the complex, impacting wells, oxygen supplies, the entrance area, and other facilities. The power outage led to the spoilage of blood stocks, Al-Qudra said.
The wounded and medical teams are struggling without access to food or water. The water supply to the complex has also been cut off.
“An imminent threat to patients’ lives and a looming health catastrophe is the inability of the medical teams to bury 100 dead people, whose bodies have started to decompose in the hospital courtyard. Some of them were attacked by stray dogs, and medical waste is accumulating inside all departments.”
Mai Al-Kaila, the Palestinian minister of health, said that the Israeli occupation forces have committed horrendous crimes in Gaza’s hospitals, particularly at the Al-Shifa Hospital, where bodies were mauled by stray dogs during the ongoing 40-day Israeli aggression.
The occupation army throws the wounded and sick onto the streets, leaving them to face inevitable death, Al-Kaila said. Patients, including dialysis patients, are dying at home without receiving necessary treatments, while oncology patients, numbering 3,000, face dire conditions, she added.
Al-Kaila emphasised the grave risks faced by pregnant women and those with high-risk pregnancies, as the lack of medical services and treatment providers in Gaza endangers their lives. Expectant mothers struggle to find medical assistance, and patients are unable to reach the Al-Shifa Medical Complex, resulting in many deaths due to a lack of essential medications and treatments.
The Palestinian Government Media Office holds the Israeli occupation and the international community, especially the US, accountable for Israel’s crimes and responsible for the lives and safety of the medical teams, the wounded, the sick, and the displaced.
It called on international institutions in the Gaza Strip to urgently visit the Al-Shifa Medical Complex to protect it and everyone inside it as they face targeting and killing in blatant war crimes.
The Gazans are living in pain, terror, and heartbreak amid an unresponsive global silence that only encourages the brutal occupation to commit further atrocities against children, women, and the elderly. All this is happening without a ceasefire agreement being in sight.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly