-Should we wait in line to die or what will happen?
In a sometimes contradictory line, Palestinian-Norwegian Zaki Kahil (46) recounts harrowing experiences in the war-torn Gaza Strip.
He is now with his wife, Rula Kahil (39 years old), in the southern Gaza Strip, in the city of Rafah, at the border crossing with Egypt. They had been staying here for the past few days, waiting for the possibility of getting out of the war zone.
The couple, who live in Mortensrud in Oslo, were on holiday in Gaza to visit family when the war broke out a week and a half ago. He says they have since fled the bombs from one place to another, but nowhere is safe.
-Running in fear
Zaki tells how during the first week they were moving around in complete darkness at night, while bombs were falling around them inside Gaza City.
When the message to evacuate the south came last Friday, Zaki and his wife chose to return to the house where they had lived in the days before the attacks began, to collect clothes and supplies.
They encountered a house that had been bombed, and they simply had to turn back.
– It was absolutely terrible. “We ran in fear through the streets while five bombs fell 200 or 300 meters away,” Zaki says.
Through a friend, they got a place in a car in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday night. In total, there were eight people in the four-person car, plus all the belongings they were able to quickly transport with them – like a bag of salami, bread and some bottles of water.
Since arriving in Rafah, Zaki and his wife have waited for hours at border checkpoints, along with thousands of others – including many Norwegians.
– In the end we received a message from the State Department that there was a major bomb threat, and it became too dangerous to be there, he says.
Zaki and his wife now live with a friend in Rafah. They live in the apartment with more than 20 others. Zaki estimates that each apartment in the building houses dozens of people, and that the situation is the same throughout Gaza.
– He says that each house contains so many people that bombing the house now would be a massacre.
– Expect death
Although Israel has urged residents of northern Gaza to evacuate to the south “for their safety,” the days are marked by frequent bomb attacks there as well, Zaki says.
– They bombed two neighboring houses without warning today. Zaki says it has become routine.
According to his estimates, one of the bombs fell about 200 meters from the apartment where he lived.
-You expect to die. Zaki says: But we are still breathing.
He says they live in constant fear of being the next target.
-It’s dangerous everywhere. Although serious is not a word that can describe the situation.
Lack of food and water
In addition to the imminent fear of attack, there is a shortage of almost all basics, such as food, water and the ability to wash and go to the toilet, Zaki says.
Water shortages also mean that toilets do not work, and sanitary conditions are terrible.
– The sewage network is full and is flowing into the streets. “We can smell it every second, whether outside or inside the apartment,” Zaki says.
There is no electricity either.
But the main problem is the lack of food and water. Not all of the stores that still have supplies dare to stay open, he says, and since ATMs need electricity, it’s not easy to get money out either.
Zaki and his wife got some supplies from a nearby UN school, and each has their own water bottle that they ration.
He is also afraid of silence
Although the bombs are about to fall, there are moments when things calm down. When Dagbladt spoke to him Tuesday afternoon, it was quiet for two hours. But even in these moments he is unable to relax.
– Why is it quiet here? Then there might be bombings in other places, and we think about whether it was someone we know who lost their life.
Since the outbreak of war, his and his family in Gaza have been divided, and there is little contact. When they are rarely able to contact those remaining in Gaza City, the few seconds are used only to convey signs of life. There is little time for anything else.
-We only thank God that they are still alive.
Zaki says that on the first day of the war, family members had to pay with their lives when their brother’s house was bombed. Most of the family was traveling abroad, but his two nephews were at home.
One of them was found under the rubble, and he was buried with my mother, who died a few years ago. No one else was found.
– no choice
Since the outbreak of war, at least 3,200 Palestinians have lost their lives in the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian health authorities. Thousands were injured.
Zaki says that there is now no room in many places to bury the dead, and mass graves are being created.
– Civilians must be protected, and humanitarian aid must be allowed to enter. If not, we are talking about a complete disaster, and more and more people will die as a result of the lack of very basic needs, he says.
In Rafah, there is still access to the Internet, which means he can stay in touch with the outside world, as long as the generator is running.
He said on Tuesday that his last contact with the Norwegian Foreign Ministry was on Monday evening. He describes communications as good, and believes the Foreign Office has been helpful, despite the fact that there is little they can do for Norwegians trapped in Gaza.
The plan now is to stay where they are and wait for negotiations between the American, Egyptian and Israeli authorities, says Zaki.
-We strive, but we have no choice. We just have to try to persevere.
At least 170
According to Foreign Minister Espen Bath Eide, there are at least 200 Norwegians residing in Gaza.
The State Department said Monday they should assess the risks themselves by traveling south and trying to cross the border.
-We fully understand that this situation is difficult for Norwegian citizens in Israel and Palestine, and that many are afraid of it. They are in a very difficult situation,” communications consultant Henrik Hoel told Dagbladet.
He added that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working hard to find exit opportunities, and that helping Norwegians in Gaza is its top priority.
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