Gazans open their homes to displaced families in show of solidarity

About 570,000 people are staying with host families or at one of the 113 government shelters

A pot of rice is prepared at food charity Al Quds Kitchen, a volunteer group providing hot meals to displaced families in Khan Younis. Mohammed Soulaimane for The National
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Ahmed Abu Awad, a 58-year-old farmer wakes up every morning with renewed motivation, feeding the five displaced families living with him at his home.

Days after Israel retaliated to Hamas’s attack on October 7, the father of five opened his home to 40 internally displaced people who fled incessant bombings in the eastern city of Khan Younis.

“As a Muslim, this is my patriotic and humanitarian obligation towards my countrymen,” Mr Abu Awad, who lives in southern Khan Younis, tells The National.

The majority of bakeries have closed because of fuel shortages, so finding flour to bake bread is a daily struggle.

Prices have increased from $11 to more than $50 for a 25kg bag of flour.

Sticking together in times of need is fundamental to our identity as Gazans
Ahmed Abu Awad, host of internally displaced families

When Mr Abu Awad is able to find flour, his wife quickly makes the dough as he lights the wooden fire to bake it. They make enough bread for everyone to have a simple breakfast with thyme, olive oil and, if they are lucky, some tomatoes and cucumber.

“Sticking together in times of need is fundamental to our identity as Gazans,” he says.

An estimated 1.78 million Palestinians are internally displaced in Gaza, with about half of them (884,000) sheltering in 154 centres run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), according to UN humanitarian affairs agency OCHA.

About 570,000 displaced people (32 per cent) are staying with host families or at one of 113 government shelters hosting up to 169,000 people, according to a report by the agency published last week.

“I have taken in relatives and friends,” says Mr Abu Awad, as has his sister who "is hosting three families she didn’t know, from the north of Gaza”.

With the death toll surpassing 12,000 Palestinians, including more than 5,000 children and 3,500 are women, Israel’s war has not spared hospitals or the so-called safe zones in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, to where residents of the north were told to evacuate.

The total siege which Israel imposed on the strip, cutting off water, electricity, food, fuel and telecoms many times, has exacerbated a critically volatile situation. About 1.2 million people living in the territory rely on food aid from UNRWA and poverty is rife after 16 years of Israeli siege.

“Many families have even gone into debt to take care of others fleeing the war,” explains Mr Abu Awad.

The trickle of food and aid lorries entering through the Rafah crossing from Egypt has done very little to meet the needs of Gaza’s more than 2.3 million residents.

“With the scarcity of essential food items in the markets, soaring prices and a shortage of supplies, securing enough food for everyone is a daily challenge,” he adds.

A spirit of solidarity

This spirit of solidarity among Gazans has somewhat alleviated parts of their struggle living under relentless Israeli bombardment.

Community support has extended beyond providing shelter.

A group of young people in the centre of Khan Younis prepare hot meals daily, including rice and whatever vegetables they are able to find, for hundreds of displaced people in a tent called Al-Quds Kitchen.

“We collect donations to buy the ingredients to ensure the daily, uninterrupted distribution of food among the displaced people,” Abdulmajeed Abu Shaaban, one of those behind the initiative who have fled from Gaza city to Khan Younis, tells The National.

They each contribute in any capacity they can to help as many people as possible.

"We are living through the worst crisis of our lives. The only way to cope is by working together. Only then can we overcome the indescribable suffering."

Social worker Ahmed Hamad agrees. The father of three fled the shelling with his family from Beit Hanoun in the north and is living in a crowded UNRWA shelter in Khan Younis.

“Solidarity and support are fundamental to building resilience and enduring this level of physical and psychological distress,” Mr Hamad tells The National.

Many Gazan families have welcomed displaced families and prioritised their needs over their own families'.

“They are ready to share what little they have without hesitation," Mr Hamad says.

"This is a way of life here ... and is the only way we can navigate the impact of this war".

Many volunteer groups are helping in other ways, providing transport for displaced people – even if it is a free ride on a horse-drawn cart – as well as water and bread. Some also help by providing clothing, basic medical supplies and taking people to hospital.

"Today, they are displaced,” says Mr Abu Awad. “But who knows, perhaps it’ll be our turn tomorrow.”

This article was written in collaboration with Egab.

Updated: November 22, 2023, 3:37 AM