According to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), an estimated 1.9 million people — around 85 per cent of the population — are now considered displaced. Hundreds of thousands are currently seeking refuge in Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt.
The immense destruction in Gaza — more than 60 per cent of Gaza’s housing units are reportedly destroyed or damaged — reinforces the concern that it is questionable how a return home will even be possible, says Mustafa Ibrahim, a human rights activist and political analyst, on the phone from Rafah.
“Smotrich’s recent statement, denounced by Europe and America, aligns with the displacement concept,” Ibrahim told DW. “With a million and a half Palestinians crowded into Rafah, this epitomises the idea of displacement, and it is a constant concern for Palestinians.”
Leave Gaza temporarily — but not forever
Displacement is not new for Palestinians, says Ibrahim. Many Palestinians still bear the trauma of 1948, known as the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”), in the back of their minds.
In 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had to flee their homes or were expelled during the Arab–Israeli war. They have not been able to return to this day. At the time, many fled to Gaza. Around 70 per cent of the population there are considered refugees and their descendants, according to UNRWA.
Like most residents of Gaza, this is not the first time Amer Abdel Muti has had to live through a major conflict. A resident of Jabalia, north-east of Gaza City, he has also had to flee several times, first to Khan Younis and recently to Rafah.
“If Western countries would open their doors for us during the war and allow us to leave for a short time, allowing us to return after a cease-fire, then I would leave, because my life is precious to me,” says the 30-year-old via WhatsApp. “But if I had to leave forever, then I wouldn’t leave. Then I would stay in my home country.”
Hazem Balousha contributed reporting from Amman