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You don't care for me? Spent a few days by the Ocean.

Don't lie to me. I can see it in your beady little eyes. You prefer Hamas and don't care much for Israelis. You know what happens to people who speak ill of the Tribe? We spank your bare bottom until your attitude improves.


The Americans will be along later today with your care package.


Palestinians Struggle for Food and Water After Fleeing Rafah

Many of the 800,000 who left the city huddle in tents on a crowded beach

Little humanitarian aid is available at a coastal refugee camp north of Rafah.


By Chao Deng and Fatima AbdulKarim, WSJ

Updated May 20, 2024 5:31 pm ET



When Ahmad Shweikh and his family moved into a tent near the Mediterranean Sea this month, the young father immediately started searching for water and toilets. The nearest toilet was some 500 yards away, with a wait time of half an hour. So Shweikh dug a hole in front of their tent for his family to use instead.


Water flowed from a nearby pipe in the ground once every few days. When it did, Shweikh would rush over with other families. He considered himself lucky if he could fill a bucket that he could then ration for drinking, cooking and cleaning.


“It’s a constant battle for survival,” he said. “We want nothing but to live with dignity.”


Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Israel’s military operation in the southern Gaza border city of Rafah have ended up farther north, including on a stretch of beach with little in the way of amenities or humanitarian aid. Tents are so tightly packed together that the sand is barely visible. Families cook over open fires, burning trash in lieu of gas or other fuel. Garbage is piling up, and sewage has few places to go except out to sea.



The United Nations estimates that nearly 800,000 people have left Rafah since May 6, when Israel first ordered people to leave the eastern portion of the city. Roughly 100,000 more have fled northern Gaza, where Israel’s military has also told people to leave as it fights Hamas militants who have returned.


Many Palestinians say they tried to follow Israeli military orders pointing them to an expanded “humanitarian area” that stretches from the Al-Mawasi coastal region to the east-west midpoint of the Gaza Strip. Images from satellite-products provider Maxar Technologies show a buildup of tents in and around Al-Mawasi and in the central Gaza city of Khan Younis, where the Israeli military withdrew in April after weeks of heavy fighting.


Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general for the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian refugees, warned on Saturday that the areas people are fleeing to don’t have safe water supplies or sanitation facilities.


Al-Mawasi “lacks the minimal conditions to provide emergency humanitarian assistance in a safe and dignified manner,” he said. “The place is crammed and cannot absorb more people.”


Aid workers warn that shipments that began Friday via a temporary U.S. military-built pier aren’t enough to meet Gaza’s needs. Over the past two weeks, Israel has severely curtailed aid via land, allowing just a few dozen trucks to enter with fuel and supplies.



On a trip to Israel Sunday, U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and proposed measures to get more aid into Gaza via all available crossings and the maritime corridor, according to a U.S. readout.


Many families have moved several times and are spending their first nights without a roof over their heads. Some received white tents from the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, including more than 4,000 provided by the latter’s king. But most families said they had to pay hundreds of dollars to private vendors for tents, or construct makeshift coverings with plastic tarps.


The Israeli military has said the expanded humanitarian zone that includes Al-Mawasi would receive increased amounts of food and water, but didn’t elaborate on who would provide that aid.


The U.N. and other aid groups have resisted the notion of humanitarian zones where people could expect to get assistance. They see the act of providing aid in places such as Al-Mawasi as akin to abetting the forced displacement of the population, although in practice they have sought to provide help wherever possible.


The Israeli military body responsible for facilitating the flow of aid into Gaza, known as Cogat, didn’t respond to requests for comment.


Before the war, Al-Mawasi catered to local tourists with a dozen or so beachside houses and pristine stretches of sand. In October, the Israeli military instructed people in northern Gaza to head south; one of the locations listed on its fliers was Al-Mawasi, which it labeled a humanitarian zone.


As people began to arrive in Al-Mawasi, foreign medical teams took notice and began setting up field hospitals. International Medical Corps, a U.S.-based nonprofit, runs the largest one in Al-Mawasi, with 160 beds and a local medical staff of more than 650. The group moved the facility to the coast in April, from Rafah and Khan Younis.




Its hospital consists of 36 tents and prefabricated containers that have been converted into operating theaters. It sees about 1,400 patients a day. Many people come seeking not only medical care but also water, baby diapers and milk formula, which the staff can’t always provide.


“Most of the hospitals in Rafah have closed down, putting a lot of strain on us and our resources,” Javed Ali, IMC’s emergency response leader in Gaza, said in an interview, adding that the aid group was running out of basic medications such as acetaminophen. He blamed disruptions to aid shipments through Rafah’s border crossing as fighting has intensified there in recent weeks.


In March, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees opened a health clinic in Al-Mawasi, while UK-Med, a nonprofit, started a small field hospital. In recent days, the International Committee of the Red Cross opened a 60-bed field hospital in Al-Mawasi, which it said would provide care to roughly 200 patients a day.


Aid workers are trying to better reconfigure their operations, but are struggling to track where displaced people are heading.


U.N. aid official Olga Cherevko, speaking from a U.N. guesthouse in Al-Mawasi, said that so many families have moved to the coast that it is barely possible to even walk around. “It’s just tents all the way to the sea. If there’s a tide, I don’t know what will happen.”


Cherevko said the biggest need is water, given the searing temperatures, with cooking gas also in short supply. “You see a lot of people carry bales of wood everywhere you go,” she said.


Islam Hejazi, who moved to Al-Mawasi from Rafah, counted about 30 people in line for water on a recent weekday, all trying to fill buckets and other containers at a pipe in the ground. The line barely moved and sand often contaminated the water.


Local vendors on donkey carts provided cleaner water—for a price. A 500-liter tank of water now fetches the equivalent of $20, up from just a few dollars two weeks ago.


“It’s incredibly challenging, especially when it gets hot,” Hejazi said.


There were also no proper shops at the campsite, where individuals had set up stalls to sell canned beans and meat. Hejazi had to walk 30 minutes to a market outside Al-Mawasi to purchase other items.


Adam Badran, a recent university graduate, was living in Gaza City before fleeing to Al-Mawasi with his family. Badran said he can barely move inside their tent without bumping into someone or something; personal belongings are piled in the corners to make room for makeshift beds. Outside, he and his neighbors have dug holes to use as toilets; privacy comes in the form of walls made from cloth and sheet metal.


“I feel as though we have been thrust back to the Stone Age, forced to rely on the most basic means of survival” said Badran, who had plans to pursue a career in information technology before the war. Even his temporary job—painting houses—feels like a privilege now, he said.

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