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Displaced again and again, people in Gaza have no good options

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Israel announced new evacuation orders in Gaza this week, impacting a quarter-million people. That's according to U.N. estimates. NPR correspondent Aya Batrawy in Dubai and producer Anas Baba in Gaza have this report on how evacuation orders are upending people's lives again.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Palestinian militants fired a barrage of rockets toward Israel this week from Khan Younis. Israeli airstrikes, which have pounded Gaza over the past nine months of war, hit back, and the military ordered people in the area to leave.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALARM BLARING)

BATRAWY: The European Gaza Hospital in Eastern Khan Younis was evacuated. Ambulances rushed those they could out, but with fuel shortages and not enough ambulances, some patients were pushed out on hospital beds down dirt roads.

HASEEB KHAWAJA: There are places when we are driving on rubble, so I don't know how they got past those points.

BATRAWY: Haseeb Khawaja, a doctor from Michigan volunteering in Gaza with FEJR Scientific, a relief agency, sent NPR voice notes after he and other doctors evacuated the European Gaza Hospital on Monday. Fifteen hours after the hospital's hurried and chaotic evacuation, Israel sought to clarify that this hospital wasn't part of the evacuation order, but it was too late. Medical teams had already relocated ventilators and other lifesaving equipment to other hospitals, and patients had hobbled out.

KHAWAJA: And we also saw someone on crutches with an external fixator trying to walk on the road. Rods and nails **** out of one's leg and trying to walk around on the road is just a scene which is beyond description.

BATRAWY: The European Gaza Hospital tended to the severely wounded in air strikes who might be saved by its rare CT machine, surgical ward and ICU.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: Many of its patients were sent to Nasser Hospital, just outside the area being evacuated. Nawal Tabish is one of the patients transferred to this hospital. The girl has severe burns from an Israeli airstrike that she says killed her parents and two sisters during the war, leaving her and another badly wounded sister the sole survivors of their family.

NAWAL TABISH: (Speaking Arabic).

BATRAWY: She's not happy at the crowded Nasser Hospital. "I don't like loud noise," she says. She's with an aunt who cries as she recalls that airstrike.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: Not only is the aunt caring for her own children and orphaned nieces, she says the family is now homeless because of these latest evacuation orders which affect 250,000 people. This is the biggest displacement of people in Gaza since May, when more than a million Palestinians fled an Israeli assault against Hamas in the southern city of Rafah.

AMEERA QUDAIH: You need to have energy to do this again, and we didn't have the energy because we evacuated five days ago.

BATRAWY: Ameera Qudaih, a physician, fled al-Mawasi last week. It's an unsanitary area along the coast packed with makeshift tents and no running water that Israel says is a humanitarian zone. She says she left after several deadly Israeli airstrikes there. But just days after reaching Eastern Khan Younis, the military ordered the evacuation and told people to seek refuge in al-Mawasi, where she'd just been.

QUDAIH: I really, during this time, felt helpless and hopeless, and I really wanted to die and preferred to be dead than living all this.

BATRAWY: People in Gaza say this life of survival feels like a slow death, and they're fed up with it.

SAMIR ABU DIGGA: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: "We're the living dead - lost, suffocated, zombies," says Samir Abu Digga, a 40-year-old who's been wounded and displaced. He's among thousands of people who've just walked for hours, carrying their bare essentials for survival - mattresses, blankets, and empty jugs of water. They've left the ruins of Eastern Khan Younis, arriving to the ruins of this western part of the city.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN HONKING)

BATRAWY: One woman curses Hamas' exiled leaders living abroad.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN HONKING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: She says, "they're all crap," though she uses a different four-letter word.

The July sun blazes down on a newborn baby, sitting in an elderly woman's lap as she rests on the ground. Some kids sit in the shade of a damaged building. Their colorful book bags are stuffed, not with books - there's no school - but with the few personal items they still possess. A toddler with matted hair chews his fingers and cries.

It's not just kids weeping. A woman cries as she struggles to push a small shopping cart with her belongings on the dirt road. A boy tries to pull a sack of flour on a makeshift wooden wagon, but the wheels won't quite turn. A man with an amputated leg sits in a wheelchair.

ABU DIGGA: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: "I ask from God, then from Biden, Netanyahu and all the countries participating in this, to relieve us," says Abu Digga. "Drop a nuclear bomb on us, and be done already," he says. "Why kill us a million times when you can do it just once," he says.

There's no time for ruminating. The people here still have to erect tents, wait in line for water and find food.

Aya Batrawy, NPR News in Dubai, with reporting by Anas Baba in Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aya Batrawy
Aya Batrawy is an NPR International Correspondent. She leads NPR's Gulf bureau in Dubai.
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