Palestinians start new businesses despite threat of Israeli attack on Rafah

Baker and dessert shop owner tell The National they must support their families and help fellow Palestinians, regardless of what lies ahead

Flatbread at a bakery in Gaza city. Bakers are among those who have fled south to Rafah, starting up their businesses there. AFP
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Resilient Palestinians are starting new businesses in Gaza's southern city of Rafah – despite the threat of an Israeli ground assault looming over them.

A dessert shop owner and baker, who both fled Israeli attacks on northern Gaza, told The National on Thursday that they are starting afresh to support their families and help fellow Palestinians.

More than 1.3 million Palestinians have sought sanctuary in Rafah from the Israeli onslaught further north. The city at the border with Egypt was home to about 300,000 people before the Israel-Gaza war.

Israel's leaders have vowed to attack the packed city, despite the US, EU and regional governments warning that the civilian death toll would be huge.

“We keep hearing about the threats of invasion in Rafah, but if we continue to wait for what they plan, we will not make any progress. We will only face more destruction and loss of hope,” said Ahmad Al Khalidi, 50, who a month ago opened a dessert shop in the city.

“I moved my family out of Rafah, but I still run my business there. We live under stress and constantly follow the news.”

Gazans fear 'massacres' if Israel invades Rafah

Gazans fear 'massacres' if Israel invades Rafah

Gazans have no stability, he said, adding that he was considering buying a solar system to power his business, but is undecided due to the possible Israeli ground attack.

Abu Ibrahim Mattar, 62, opened a bakery in the city and is determined to carry on producing bread, brushing aside Israeli threats of a new offensive.

“I will continue working and serving my nation here in Rafah, even if the Israeli army invades Rafah and I lose my new project,” Mr Mattar told The National.

He fled Gaza city when he lost his bakery there to Israeli shelling.

“The project cost me a lot to start up, as we are working with simple tools and lacking many basic elements,” said Mr Mattar.

However, people “want to continue living, it's been six months, and we are waiting for the war to stop so we can return to our homes in Gaza city”, he added. “We still have nothing.”

Widespread destruction

The extent of the destruction across Gaza was highlighted by Unicef’s James Elder, who said in a video from Khan Younis on Thursday that approximately two thirds of homes in the enclave had been destroyed.

Estimates earlier this month put the number between 50 and 70 per cent.

Mr Elder said that many Gazans’ “ultimate dream” of owning a family home had been “turned into a nightmare”.

“How do these people start again?” he asked rhetorically.

Experts have predicted the reconstruction of the strip will be a monumental task that will take many years and billions of dollars.

Reconstruction cannot begin without a ceasefire, but talks for a truce have stalled.

Even then, any serious long-term reconstruction will require political stability and huge international investment.

In the meantime, Israel has continued to conduct near-daily air strikes on Gaza, where there are still shortages of food and other essential goods.

Earlier this week, the UN launched an urgent appeal to provide aid for three million Palestinians, the majority of them in Gaza.

The UN is appealing for $2.8 billion for food, sanitation, water and health facilities in the devastated enclave.

Addressing the UN Security Council on Thursday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described Gaza as a “humanitarian hellscape” as he yet again called for a ceasefire.

“Our aid operations are barely functional. They cannot operate in an organised, systematic way; they can only seize opportunities to deliver aid whenever and wherever possible,” he said.

More than 33,900 Palestinians have been killed and more than 76,770 have been injured since Israel launched strikes and a ground offensive in Gaza more than six months ago, the Gaza Health Ministry reported on Thursday. Most of the casualties have been women and children.

Back in Rafah, Mohammed Attia, 40, hopes that Israeli threats to invade the city prove false.

“The situation is very difficult for everyone,” he told The National. “Rafah is already a small town and cannot accommodate one million displaced people, so if they want to move people, where are they supposed to go?

“Rafah is the only lifeline remaining for the people”.

Updated: April 18, 2024, 5:03 PM