GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Manal Abu Assar, 39, took a few moments to wash her children's clothes in the park next to al-Shifa Hospital, where her family has set up a tent. She took advantage of the absence of men, who left the hospital park in the morning.
Abu Assar and her 13-member family fled the neighborhood of Shajaiya in eastern Gaza following a major attack by Israeli forces on July 19. “The situation is increasingly worsening in the hospital park, where thousands of displaced people have taken refuge,” Abu Assar told Al-Monitor.
A small tent, with an area of no more than nine meters, has become Abu Assar's new home, as is the case for many other families whose houses were destroyed by Israeli occupation forces on the eastern border of Gaza City.
“We often sleep outside the tent, which does not fit us all. The area in front of the tent has turned into somewhat of another room for my husband and my sons,” she added.
According to a statement by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) to Al-Monitor, more than 200,000 people were displaced during the Israeli land operations that started about a month ago. Many of them sought refuge in public places such as al-Shifa Hospital and the Unknown Soldier Park in the city center, while some of the displaced settled on ground floors and garages of the city’s buildings.
Rows of tents, whose area ranges between 4 and 9 meters (13 to 30 feet), are stretched inside the park of al-Shifa Hospital. Hundreds of other families have set up tents in the interior corridors and in other sections of the hospital.
In another corner of the hospital park, 73-year-old Ibrahim Hallas and his Egyptian wife, Ansaf Hallas, sat in a small tent no bigger than 4 meters. It is made of hospital sheets and hangs on tree branches and small wooden logs, while the floor is covered with a small mat.
Hallas and his wife carry out their everyday life inside the tent, but they have a big family of more than 40 members, including sons and grandsons who have been dispersed throughout Gaza. The old couple sought refuge in the hospital after losing security and safety at home.
“After Israel committed the massacre in the Shajaiya neighborhood, where countless tank shells and other types of weapons were heavily poured on us, we left our homes at 6 a.m. on the morning of the massacre, and the family was dispersed,” Hallas said.
Hallas, along with thousands of other displaced, is living in dire conditions. “We did not take any of our personal belongings with us and we have yet to receive aid from government or civil organizations to alleviate our suffering,” Hallas said.
Ahmed al-Jammal, 45, and his 20-member family are living with other families, totaling about a hundred people, mostly children and women, in the garage of a residential building in central Gaza.
Life inside the garage reflects the tragic reality of the displaced families in public places, where, due to overcrowding and a lack of sanitary services, there is a fear that disease may creep in among the children and elderly. “Many diseases are spreading among children and elderly, such as skin diseases, gastroenteritis and bacteria, fever and diarrhea, in addition to pulmonary diseases and kidney diseases,” Jammal said.
He told Al-Monitor, “The situation is really bad in here. No one is providing us with the minimum living requirements. We have left all our belongings in our houses. We even left our homes barefoot to survive. Our children started to show signs of diseases due to the lack of services and great overcrowding, as the number of people in one building amounts to more than 120 people.”
According to Khalil Shaheen, director of the economic and social rights department at PCHR, the number of displaced people from the eastern neighborhoods of Gaza to public places exceeds 40,000, constituting 20% of the already displaced 200,000.
Shaheen told Al-Monitor that the situation of the displaced in public places is “catastrophic,” stressing that during “the first days of displacement, they did not have any blankets, sleeping mats or tent equipment.”
“The displaced people, 70% of whom are children and women, are suffering from neglect in the services provided for them. The people who headed to the UNRWA and government schools are being provided with a minimum of services such as drinking water, blankets, food and some health services, which is not the case for the displaced people in public places, who are suffering from a lack of the minimum life requirements,” he added.
UNRWA media adviser Adnan Abu Hosna said the organization has no responsibility for the displaced in public places, saying, “Our work is only limited to the displaced in schools.”
Abu Hosna told Al-Monitor that Gaza's Ministry of Social Affairs proposed to the families staying in hospitals that they be moved to schools, but they categorically refused.
However, Kamal Abu Jayyab, head of staff at the Disasters Emergency Committee in Gaza and director of refugee centers at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that the displaced did not entirely refuse to leave public places, but they sought to find appropriate places, as they consider hospitals to be the safest. They need a push to leave and head to schools, he said.
Abu Jayyad told Al-Monitor that the administration of al-Shifa Hospital is opposed to the presence of the displaced inside its campus, as the hospital is not equipped to serve as a shelter.
Abu Jayyad said, “This is why we are unable to help them move to refugee centers and provide them the necessary aid available in other refugee centers.”
He said they are providing help to some displaced residing in building basements in Gaza City, “But we cannot reach all families as they are spread in numerous places.”