'This war is disgraceful': Some Palestinians displaced in 1948 say current Gaza bloodshed is harder

The current scenario evokes dark historical memories of what the Arab world calls the 'Nakba' or catastrophe

By AFP

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Photos: AFP
Photos: AFP

Published: Sun 14 Jan 2024, 8:19 PM

At age 89, Palestinian Liga Jabr remembers how conflict uprooted her family when she was a child. Now, 75 years later, she says the war raging in Gaza is even worse.

"This war is harder than any of the displacements" brought by previous conflicts, Jabr told AFP in Rafah refugee camp, on the besieged Gaza Strip's southern border with Egypt.

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Staying with relatives after her home in central Gaza's Deir el-Balah was hit by a strike, Jabr is among an estimated 1.9 million Palestinians forced from their homes since war erupted on October 7 in the Hamas-ruled territory.

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Sitting by a small wooden table in a house crowded with family members, she said she has felt fear like never before as the war entered its 100th day.

"To be honest... I'm afraid," she said. "I have never seen a war like this one. This war is disgraceful."

Fighting began with Hamas's unprecedented attack on southern Israel, which resulted in about 1,140 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Israel in response vowed to destroy Hamas and launched a relentless military campaign that has killed nearly 24,000 people, most of them women and children.

The violence has spurred concerns that Israel is trying to expel Palestinians, but Israeli officials deny this.

That scenario evokes dark historical memories of what the Arab world calls the "Nakba" or catastrophe -- the mass displacement of Palestinians during the war that coincided with Israel's creation in 1948.

The majority of Gaza's 2.4 million inhabitants are descendents of some of the 760,000 Palestinians driven out during that war.

Some, like Jabr, have now lived through both conflicts.

In 1948 Israeli soldiers "did not kill us in the Nakba", she said, recalling how her family left on foot from the Palestinian village of Julis, now in southern Israel, just over 10 kilometres (six miles) north of the Gaza Strip.

"Now the Israelis are hitting people from the air and destroying entire houses," Jabr added as drones buzzed outside.

She lost about a dozen relatives when her house in Deir el-Balah was "demolished" in an air strike, she said.

Rayqa Abu Aweideh, a relative of Jabr who like her had to leave her home in what is now southern Israel in 1948, said the current war is "harder and crueller".

Seventy-five years after fleeing Al-Majdal with her family and two cows, and eventually settling in southern Gaza's Khan Yunis, Abu Aweideh was displaced again, taking shelter at her daughter's home in Rafah.

Born in 1935, Abu Aweideh said the Israel-Hamas war has extinguished any hope of ever returning to her hometown, and that now she wouldn't want to flee Gaza.

"Even if they tell me, 'take all the money in the world', I will never leave for Sinai or anywhere else," she said, referring to the Egyptian peninsula bordering the Palestinian territory.

"I want to stay here even if we die."

Juma Abu Qamar, 80, said he wanted to return to the Palestinian village of Yibna where he was born, now in central Israel, but admitted he didn't believe it would ever happen.

"We had a big house with a fig tree," he recalled.

During the 1948 war, "we didn't see the Jewish (soldiers). We walked along the shore until we reached Gaza".

The fighting since early October is "like nothing we've seen before," he said. "We have never faced such a war, a war of annihilation".

Abu Qamar said he had also never seen "so many tents" for displaced people.

Many families, fleeing the violence further in northern Gaza, have sheltered in makeshift tents in Rafah. Their already dire conditions have been exacerbated by the winter cold.

"We've returned to living like our ancestors, but they lived in safety," said Umm Sharif Kuhail, displaced from Gaza City.

"When we cook, we're afraid. We go out for shopping under bombardment. We do everything in fear."

The 48-year-old woman told AFP at a tent in Rafah: "We don't have any hope of returning to our homes."

Next to her, 51-year-old Alaa Bakheet shared her desperation.

"After 100 days (of war), our life has no soul left in it, we're waiting for martyrdom," said the man displaced from central Gaza's Nuseirat refugee camp.

"There's nothing left on this land. No schools, no universities, no hospitals," he lamented.

"The issue is not just the war, but what will follow it."

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