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  • William Paton


One Family's Struggle to Survive in Rafah

A map of the world with countries divided into the West and the Rest, or global North and global South.

by William Paton, (photos by 'Yousef' (1) ) 25 February 2024

'Yousef' contacted me online, hoping to get his story out. He and his family are living in a camp for the displaced in Rafah, near Gaza's southern border with Egypt. He took the photographs for this story using his cellphone, and used his Egyptian SIM card to send them via the mobile signal from across the border.

Yousef, his wife, two daughters and son, aged 16, 13 and 11, fled their home in northern Gaza on foot, as thieves had stolen their car. An accomplished professional, they owned a house he describes as 'cozy.' It has since been bombed and completely destroyed, as was their family's small business, for which they still have a mortgage.

After wandering southward on foot through fields of tanks at war, at times expecting to die, they survived, eventually passing through electronic gates erected by the Israeli army and arriving in Rafah. There, Yousef tells me, they were asked to pay US$ 700 dollars for a real tent, rather than just a makeshift shelter. Fortunately, he was able to pay and the family moved into their new 'home'.

"Today we are in Rafah after more than five months of war. We are facing three wars. The first war is the Israeli war and the second war is the war of rising prices. The third war is the war of thieves who steal our aid. Our lives are without drinking water. No electricity. No food, no internet. Diseases spread and epidemics spread. Of course, in order to enter the bathroom, you are forced to stand on a long floor without any form of privacy. In short, we are [dying] every minute."

This is another family's tent. Most are not very good - inadequate in the cold and rain, when water seeps inside them. There is no family cooking.

This tent is a makeshift one, as many are.

These ones are made with sheets of plastic stretched over a wooden A-frame. They have no floor.

Yousef tells me that the only food he can get now is canned food being sold in the market, where it is more and more expensive. Some cans are now ten times the regular price before the war, and there are no longer any protein sources. When they first arrived, the food supply was a little better. Yousef photographed the aid package above in the market in January. It even included canned beef. But food supply has steadily deteriorated during their two months in the tent. Yousef has lost lost seven kilograms and his wife a similar amount. The health of all family members is deteriorating. Still they are relatively lucky, because Yousef was able to bring some money, so they continue to buy what canned food they can. With aid supplies continued to be choked, aid agencies unable to distribute aid properly or even to prevent the looting of their trucks immediately upon arrival -- and with the family's money dwindling -- their situation is more and more precarious. Many others are already severely hungry and do not know where their next meal is coming from -- tent camps of over a million people on the verge of famine.

Aid organizations face difficult choices when what little aid they do manage to get into starving Gaza, is then sometimes stolen and sold. Dire conditions can make normal aid distribution almost impossible, despite the efforts and experience of aid professionals risking their lives in a war zone.

The death rate in Gaza is extremely high, with more than 100,000 killed or wounded out of 2.2 million Gazans, in just five months. Israel has now begun to target Rafah, where three quarters of Gaza's population, or more than 1.5 million people, have collected - six or seven times the small city's original population. More than 100 persons are now sometimes killed in a single night in Rafah, by shelling and airstrikes conducted in the dark. Yousef personally knows many doctors who have been killed while working during this war, and many more around him have now fallen ill. However, he reports that there is still a small hospital operating.

"You are being treated in a manner devoid of humanity. [It is] strange -- I discovered in Rafah, it was my introduction to, true humiliation."

A man (not Yousef), and his daughter. Behind him is one of the better tents.

________________________________ 1) Yousef's name and some of his personal details have been altered to protect his identity as he fears Israeli retribution. I cannot independently verify all the information provided, but I find him highly credible.


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