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Israel-Palestine war: Food and clean water a luxury displaced Palestinians can't afford

Those sheltering at a UN school packed with thousands of people describe 'humiliating' conditions amid the scarcity of food, water, and cleaning products
Displaced Palestinian children sheltering at a UN school, attend an entertainment performance in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)
Displaced Palestinian children sheltering at a UN school attend an entertainment performance in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, 23 November 2023 (AP)
By Ahmad Wahidi in Gaza, occupied Palestine and Ahmed Alsammak

Crammed beneath a small, tattered tent, whose roof is a flimsy black blanket, Hazem Abu Ghaben’s family members sleep restlessly on torn mattresses that exude odour.

The displaced family has a spacious house in Jabalia, in northern Gaza, but they had to leave it when the Israeli army ordered 1.1 million people living in the north and Gaza city to evacuate to the south of the strip under ferocious bombardment.

In their arduous evacuation journey, with taxis nowhere in sight due to continuous air strikes, the family had to traverse over 10 kilometres amidst the chaos of bombardments, joining a sea of displaced individuals. They left behind all their belongings, carrying only a few blankets and items of clothing.

"When we reached an Israeli military checkpoint, we walked while raising our IDs. It was extremely terrifying as they were arbitrarily arresting and killing people," Abu Ghaben recounted.

After passing the military checkpoint, Abu Ghaben and his family faced the challenge of finding transportation. Unable to locate a taxi, they resorted to a donkey-led cart. The cart owner agreed to transport them for approximately two kilometres, after which they had to walk almost seven kilometres to reach their Al-Nuseirat camp, situated in the middle of the strip.

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Upon arrival, they sought refuge from the ongoing bombing and eventually found shelter in a UN school.

Unable to bring any mattresses or beds from their house, the family had to make do with sleeping on the ground in the schoolyard.

'I fashioned a tent-like shelter from a blanket to protect my children from the rain. I've been here for a month. It's unbearable'

- Hazem Abu Ghaben

Abu Ghaben recounted: "I found my friend in the same school, and we started sharing the same mattress. I fashioned a tent-like shelter from a blanket to protect my children from the rain. I've been here for a month. It's so difficult and unbearable."

The dire situation in the shelter is exacerbated by the lack of cleaning products, supplies, and clean water. The overcrowded conditions in the shelters have created a breeding ground for diseases, posing a significant threat to the displaced population.

“People can’t even buy cleaning products, to save some money for food to avoid starvation,” said Abu Ghaben.

He added that even taking a shower has become “almost impossible” due to the lack of water, while infectious diseases like scabies, flu and smallpox have also spread in the school.

“I took a shower only twice this month, using very salty water from the toilet water,” he said.

“Even using toilets is unbearable. I have to stand in a line for three or four hours to use the toilet, devoid of any cleaning supplies. I have to hold a cloth over my nose to block out the unbearable stench,” he told MEE.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently stated that the Israeli ban on fuel has resulted in the closure of desalination plants, significantly heightening the risk of bacterial infections.

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This is due to people consuming contaminated water, and it has also disrupted solid waste collection, creating conditions conducive to the rapid and widespread proliferation of insects and rodents capable of carrying and transmitting diseases.

WHO has expressed deep concerns about the alarming surge in cases of scabies, lice, skin rashes, diarrhoea, and upper respiratory infections, particularly among children. This adds a layer of misery to the already tough lives of individuals like Abu Ghaben and countless others facing similar circumstances.

The dire health situation further compounds the hardships of those affected by the fuel shortage and its consequences.


The scarcity of food assistance and financial aid has further worsened the living conditions of Gazans, especially considering the pre-existing poverty rate of 53 percent before the Israeli onslaught.

"Obtaining food has become a humiliating process," Abu Ghaben lamented, highlighting the shortage of food and the lack of financial resources to afford it. "I can't buy food for my children. I've run out of money, and people can't lend me money anymore," he explained.

A woman looks at Palestinian performers attempting to entertain displaced children sheltering at a UN school in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)
A woman sheltering at a UN school in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, 23 November 2023 (AP)

Even if provided with flour by UNRWA, utilising it for baking remains unaffordable. Abu Ghaben elaborated, "A gas cylinder now costs 400 shekels [$106], whereas it was 70 shekels [$18] before the war." 

He added that even purchasing firewood is too expensive, so he has to go out every morning at dawn, searching the streets for any available wood. 

In the midst of bombardments, he says he ventures to the houses that have been bombed, hoping to find usable wood from the trees there.

“It's a perilous task, and I fervently pray to God for a swift end to this situation, longing to return to my home, uncertain of its status, whether it has been bombed or not.”

Worse than Nakba

In front of Abu Ghaben’s tent, Um Hani Jabril, a woman in her 60s, seeks shelter in a classroom along with dozens of displaced individuals.

Husam Zomlot: 'My biggest fear? A second Nakba' | Real Talk
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She had to evacuate her house in Gaza with her children and grandchildren, escaping Israeli air strikes perilously close to her home.

“We couldn’t take our money or anything other than our IDs,” she told MEE.

“Our forced displacement was more agonising than the 1948 Nakba,” she said, referring to the mass displacement of Palestinians during the creation of Israel.

Even simple daily tasks like cooking food have become challenging for her. “I pay three shekels to buy one kilogram of firewood, or I collect cardboard from the streets to set a fire for cooking,” she explained.

As for food, she cooks rice every day, as it is the only staple food she has. The rising prices have affected her significantly, with one kilogram of salt now costing 20 shekels, compared to one shekel before the war.

“My grandchildren frequently complain and cry, saying: 'Tata, we need nanna [food]', but I can do nothing.”

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