The unexpected one-word message coming out of Gaza today

The unexpected one-word message coming out of Gaza today January 6, 2024

Family starting on their journey of evacuation
Family starting on their journey of evacuation

(If you are new to this chronicle of my family’s struggle in Gaza, you can get caught up easily by starting here and then here. If you want to learn more of the background of Palestine and Israel, go here.)

The family is holed up in one room of a relative’s house in Khan Younis.

It’s better than a tent or a cardboard box, and they are grateful.

They hope this will not turn into another evacuation zone – but even if it doesn’t, no place is safe in Gaza.

They left their home in Nuseirat refugee camp a few days ago with a few belongings. They found someone with a donkey cart to bring them to the main evacuation road (yellow in the map).

Israel – or their preferred nickname, “the occupier”  – had designated two north-south roads for Palestinian exodus and “promised” safe passage. (It’s anything but safe.)

Gaza is about 25 miles top to bottom, and 3.5 - 7.5 miles wideOnce they got to the main road, they found someone with a flatbed truck that was already loaded with evacuees. They managed to squeeze themselves and their baggage on, and gave the driver almost all the money they had to take them the ten miles to Khan Younis.

Yesterday, Mousa went to Rafah (about six miles) to scope things out. He figures his family will be pushed here eventually, so he wanted to get the lay of the land.

Rafah is the city right on the Egypt border, just about the farthest south point in Gaza. It’s a city of 300,000, but now, it hosts about a million evacuees – many of whom are homeless, sick, grieving, and destitute; almost all are starving and freezing and thirsty.

Mousa wrote:

Today I was able to go to Rafah. The situation is unbearable. Life is so bad. If people do not die from the bombing, they will die from stampedes and widespread epidemics. Refugee tents stretch as far as the eye can see.

He sent me a photo:


Then came Mousa’s urgent one-word message to me – and to you.

Not “food,” or “shelter.” Not even “ceasefire”!

I hope that the world will understand and talk about displacement, displacement, displacement, and not just ceasefire.

What does he mean by that? “Displacement” is a loaded word.

Eighty-five percent of Gaza’s population are already displaced from their homes – everyone in northern Gaza (see map) has been ordered to evacuate. They fear that there will be nothing to go back to. So much of Gaza has been completely obliterated (over 60% of Gaza’s housing units are damaged or destroyed).

Most Gazans were already refugees before this war: they or their parents or grandparents had been displaced in the 1948 ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine. Israel evacuated 750,000 Palestinians, many of whom ended up in Gaza. This is what happened to my husband’s family. He himself was born in the Deir al Balah refugee camp (see map).

So, attached to the word “displacement” is a massive amount of historical trauma.

Then there is the anticipated trauma of further displacement. Not only is there little or nothing to return to in Gaza, there is tremendous (and warranted) fear of not being allowed to go back.

Many Israeli leaders have been talking about sending the Gazan population out, through the Rafah crossing, into the Sinai desert – they call it a “humanitarian gesture” because Gaza has become unlivable. Never mind that Israel did it on purpose – the “humane thing to do” is relocate the whole lot of them. As early as one week into the conflict, Israel was looking into the idea.

Let’s be clear: there’s nothing humanitarian about bombing and threatening and chasing people out of their homes, and then offering to send them even farther from their homes

Mousa knows that Israeli leaders have been searching for other places to exile the people of Gaza. The one that looks most “promising” right now is the Congo (although Rwanda and Chad are also under consideration).

Wikipedia screenshot
Wikipedia screenshot

He did what anyone would do given the situation: he went to Wikipedia. He sent me a screenshot of what he found.

Everything is wrong with the idea. Palestinians are not miners. “Human development” rank of 179 out of 191 countries? “Least developed country in the world”? Starvation and displacement?

Oh, and the Congo is not Palestine.

Nothing against Africa, if that’s where you want to live. But if anyone had consulted with the people of Gaza, they would know that Gazans don’t want to live there.

Here’s what Mousa had to say about that idea:

The talk is about our displacement to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country under armed conflict. Have the Palestinians become nothing? Will we be forced to be displaced just because we fear death [if we stay]? If so, what is the meaning of life after that?

One of Mousa’s brothers, Sami, managed to leave Gaza about a year ago (that’s another story for another day). He stays in close touch with his family.

Of course he is relieved to be away from the conflict, but it is torture for him to know what is happening. Here’s what he had to say about displacement:

I have heard a lot about this talk, especially displacement, which means abandoning our land. They want to break the will of the Palestinian people and expel them from their country. But they won’t get what they want. Either we live in our land or we live in our land. We are not satisfied with any other alternative.

Are you thinking, “Come on, guys, beggars can’t be choosers”?

Palestinians are not beggars. Palestinians are one of the most highly educated people groups in the world; they have a highly developed culture; they have mastered something few groups in the world have even attempted: peaceful coexistence of diverse religions. They have been highly successful in business and trade, and enjoyed prosperity on a level with European countries. I invite you to read this article on myths (lies, really) and truths about historic Palestine (which I spent countless hours researching and writing).

Why do we see nothing but abject poverty in Gaza when we watch the news? Gaza has been under siege by Israel for seventeen years. Israel created the humanitarian crisis that Gaza was embroiled in long before October 7th. The Palestinians living in the West Bank are under a different kind of siege at Israel’s hands, and it has brought about different but equally as alarming consequences. (Get to know more about the economic situation of the Palestinian territories here, and specifically Gaza here.)

Palestinians have the moral high ground. October 7th was a terrible day for Israel, but in the context of 75 terrible years for Palestinians.

“Kathy, Are you trying to justify what Hamas did??? Because there’s no excuse for that massacre.”

A.) “Justify” and “explain” are not the same thing. That massacre can only be properly understood in context. If you don’t properly understand it, you can’t properly respond to it.

B.) There’s no excuse for the violence from Israel that led up to October 7th either.

So, back to Mousa’s one-word message. “Displacement.” 750,000 Palestinians were were displaced in 1948. Israel grabbed 78% of their land and resigned them to a hellish refugee life – in violation of international law. Now they are trying to do it again – in violation of international law – while starving them – in violation of international law. And the US is aiding and abetting the effort.

Palestinians are deeply afraid of Israel’s bombs, deeply afraid of starvation, deeply afraid of the communicable diseases running rampant in the crowded, unsanitary conditions. But more than anything, they are deeply afraid of being forcibly transferred from what’s left of their homeland.

Want to do something about it? Email your Congress members and say, “no displacement of Palestinians in Gaza!” Email our president and say, “no displacement of Palestinians in Gaza!” Why not add this to your message: “CEASEFIRE NOW!”

Reach your Representative here, and your Senator here. Email President Biden here.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter. I write about the Palestine-Israel issue regularly, and other issues relevant to progressives or those considering becoming progressive. If you would like to comment on this post, please pop over to my Facebook page. All of my posts are there and open to constructive comment. I welcome your thoughts.

About Kathryn Shihadah
I was raised as a conservative Christian, and was perfectly content to stay that way – until the day my stable, predictable world was rocked. A curtain was pulled back on conservative Christianity, and instead of ignoring the ugliness I saw, I confronted it. I began to ask questions I never thought I’d ask, and found answers I’d never expected. Old things began to fall away, and – behold! – the new me has come. What a gift to be a new, still-evolving creation. I found out that it’s better to look at the world through Progressive Lenses, with Grace-Colored Glasses. You can read more about the author here.

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