Gaza families forced to sleep in lorries as winter temperatures drop

UN warns of imminent famine as tens of thousands resort to makeshift shelters in Al Mawasi due to lack of tents

The Safi family have little to shield them from the cold nights as temperatures drop in Al Mawasi, a small part of Gaza that has been declared a so-called "safe zone" by Israel.
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Raed Safi, 35, holds a metal ladder in place, behind a 1980s lorry his late father used to transport goods.

His four children and three nephews carefully climb into what has become their home since December, in Gaza's Al Mawasi area.

They came here after they were forced out of Khan Younis by Israeli forces. Al Mawasi is one of the shrinking areas of Gaza that Israel has designated a so-called “safe zone” for Palestinians fleeing the war that started on October 7.

A few mattresses, blankets, and scattered household utensils under a makeshift fabric roof held up with some wooden poles – this is all that separates Mr Safi’s family from being completely destitute.

“It gets so cold in the lorry when the temperatures drop,” Mr Safi, who used to be a taxi driver, tells The National.

“It feels as if we are living in a refrigerator because of the frigid sea breeze.”

With virtually nowhere to go, thousands of displaced Palestinians have sought Al Mawasi, a narrow agricultural and fishing strip of coastal land one kilometre wide and 14km long, in the south of the enclave.

The sliver of land, which has no proper roads or sewage system, comprises mostly sand dunes and farmland.

Despite being designated a safe zone, a UN report on January 10 said Israeli forces launched several missiles at shelters and tents for the displaced in Al Mawasi, west of Khan Younis, killing 17 Palestinians including two women and 10 children.

The shelling adds to layers of difficulties faced by Palestinians in the area.

“The lives of the displaced at Al Mawasi are so tragic,” says Iyad Al Saqqa, head of the Jerusalem Association for Al Mawasi Development.

He says there are severe shortages of food, water, toilets, healthcare and medicines.

Also desperately needed are tents, clothes, mattresses and blankets.

His association helps to deliver relief and Mr Al Saqqa says the amount of aid that has reached Gaza does not meet the needs of the “hundreds of thousands” stranded outside official shelters run by the UN or local authorities.

The movement of aid into Gaza is tightly controlled under a blockade imposed by Israel.

“We must double the amount to avoid starvation as people only have access to some canned foods, beans and limited amounts of rice, flour and vegetables,” says Mr Al Saqqa.

Starved and destitute

The UN's humanitarian office says nearly 85 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have been internally displaced, mostly squeezed in southern parts of the besieged enclave.

Nearly 1.4 million are crammed in 155 shelters run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

There are no official numbers for those in Al Mawasi, as they are mostly not registered with UNRWA. However, they are estimated to be about 300,000, many of whom have no access to enough food and other basic necessities.

“There is no food, the children are all sick but there are no doctors or medicine,” Mr Safi says.

Like hundreds of families at Al Mawasi, Mr Safi’s family are struggling to find food and water.

We are dead people looking at life through the eye of a needle. The only evidence that we are still alive is that we are breathing
Talal Al Malayda, Internally displaced Palestinian

The family prepares whatever food they can find on a wooden fire near the lorry, while Mr Safi and his siblings spend their days queuing for water, food and medicine for the children.

Many other families are also fighting for survival.

“We are dead people looking at life through the eye of a needle. The only evidence that we are still alive is that we are breathing,” Talal Al Malayda, 43, told The National.

“We live in constant hell.”

The family of 12, including his brother’s family, live in a wood and nylon pergola surrounded by palm branches. They were displaced from the north of Khan Younis about 40 days ago, only to find themselves facing more harsh conditions.

“We can neither find food to buy, nor do we have access to humanitarian assistance,” Mr Al Malayda says.

“We only carried some items, thinking we would return home in a few days.

“But it’s been over a month under impossible conditions.”

According to UN humanitarian office’s report this week, the entire Strip is at imminent risk of famine.

Food insecurity has reached critical levels, with 378,000 people classified at Phase 5, which refers to catastrophic levels where people suffer extreme lack of food, starvation and exhaustion of coping capacities, while 939,000 are designated at Phase 4 emergency levels.

Human Rights Watch accused Israel last November of using starvation as a weapon of war through its blockade.

Relief agencies are providing shelters in the areas of Al Mawasi such as the Palestine Red Crescent Society, which collaborated with the Egyptian Red Crescent to construct 300 tents, and plans to expand them to 1,000 tents in the final phase, accommodating up to 6,000 displaced individuals.

“Thousands of families register with us to request assistance, but the limited foreign aid means that each family gets sporadic assistance once or twice at best,” says Mr Al Saqqa.

“This has kept displaced families in a vicious battle for basic necessities.

“We need a large and regular flow of aid from outside Gaza to alleviate the widespread starvation.”

This article is produced in collaboration with Egab.

Updated: January 13, 2024, 1:18 PM