Rafah, Gaza Strip – About 1.5 million Palestinians, most of them displaced, are squeezed into the small city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
They have been expelled from their homes in other parts of Gaza during Israel’s assault on the besieged enclave, which has killed more than 28,000 people.
Israel had designated Rafah a “safe zone”, but now, it is threatening a ground invasion, leaving more than a million people trapped there, terrified, with nowhere else to go.
Rafah is the latest in a series of areas that Israel has said would be “safe zones” for civilians to shelter in from what is now four months of attacks, but Israel has attacked one after the other, forcing people out again and again.
There have been international condemnations of Israel’s plan to invade Rafah but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is determined to continue, claiming that it would “finish Hamas”, which is the declared intent behind the assault on Gaza.
Senior Hamas leaders have said that such a move on Israel’s part would end any possibility of negotiations between the two sides.
Against this backdrop, the fear and panic that has taken hold of people in Rafah continues to build. Al Jazeera spoke to several Palestinians who ended up in Rafah because of the war, some of whom had been displaced many times over.
‘Nowhere else to go’
Umm al-Abed Fayyad said she and her family have been displaced four times so far.
“We are in a different area every month. The last place we were in was Khan Younis, and now we are in Rafah,” she explained.
When asked how she feels about the possibility of an Israeli invasion, Umm al-Abed Fayyad said she has “nowhere else to go”.
“The Israelis are everywhere. Where are we going to go?” she asked, noting that people all around them are “hungry and homeless”.
Like others in the area, she says: “No matter how much they threaten, we will not move again, and God willing, we will be victorious. We will persevere and remain patient.”
Asaad Hassan, another Palestinian displaced from Gaza City to Rafah, is unwell. His only wish, he says, is “to return to my home and for the aggression to stop”.
“We have nowhere else to go but to the grave, if they carry out their threats to invade Rafah,” Hassan told Al Jazeera.
Israel’s war on the besieged Gaza Strip began on October 7. That day, the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, which governs Gaza, launched attacks on southern Israel, killing 1,139 people and taking about 240 back into Gaza.
Israel immediately responded with a bombardment campaign followed by a land invasion of northern Gaza.
At least 28,340 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, the majority of them women and children, while 67,984 have been wounded in the past four months.
The majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been forced out of their homes, and more than 60 percent of all infrastructure in the strip has been demolished.
‘There will be massacres’
Umm Badr Abu Salme said she moved with her family to Rafah based on orders from the Israeli army that it would be safer.
“We came to Rafah, and now they are telling us to leave,” she told Al Jazeera. “There will be massacres. There is no other place to go. Rafah is our last refuge. This war must stop.”
“Anyone who moves is killed,” Abu Salme said. “We have no safe place to go to.”
Mohammed Madi, who is a medic, has been displaced several times since he was forced to leave his home in Gaza City.
“If the occupation follows through with its threats to invade Rafah, it will be a disaster,” Madi told Al Jazeera.
“Still, I won’t leave Rafah because where will we go? The rest of Gaza is destroyed. I’ll die here before I leave,” he said.
“We call on the Arab countries … to take a decision and end this genocidal war against Gaza,” Madi said.
On December 29, South Africa filed a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, arguing that it is carrying out genocide against the Palestinian people, a term many have used to describe Israel’s war on Gaza.
Journalist Alaa Salameh, a resident of Rafah who has covered the war all over the Strip, said he will remain to report from the city despite the Israeli threats.
“The Israeli army carried out countless massacres across the Gaza Strip. If it invades Rafah, it will do the same,” Salameh told Al Jazeera.
“The occupation does not follow international law. If they invade Rafah, there will be no safe place,” he continued. “There needs to be global pressure to prevent this potential crime from happening.”
He noted that Israel has already killed thousands of Palestinians in air strikes on Rafah over the past few months.
Haifaa Mohammad Abdelhamid Saleh was forced to leave her home in Gaza City and came to Rafah. “We left on October 14. We didn’t want to leave Gaza City or our homes, but the Israeli occupation told us that we would be safe if we did.”
“We hope they don’t invade Rafah. If they do, there will be a humanitarian disaster – not just among refugees but also for the residents of the city,” Saleh said.
“They burned down everything in Gaza. They want to take out their revenge on the resistance in Gaza.”