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Gaza Snapshots: Rafah’s exodus


Like everyone now in the Gaza Strip, photojournalist Mohammed Zaanoun, journalist Maha Hussaini, and journalist Mohamed Soulaimane have been living breath by breath, in fear of what might fall from the sky, but they continue to send photographs, video and audio clips to keep the spotlight on what people there are experiencing. Here is their latest dispatch:

9 May 2024 – Rafah’s exodus

Tens of thousands of people are fleeing Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah following Israeli evacuation orders issued on 6 May. Euphoria and celebration following news that Hamas had accepted a ceasefire proposal to end seven months of war quickly gave way to fear and panic. Israel rejected the terms of the deal Hamas had agreed to and invaded part of eastern Rafah, seizing control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. As international diplomatic wrangling over a potential temporary ceasefire deal continues, it’s unclear whether the evacuation orders and military escalation are the beginning of Israel’s long-threatened full-scale invasion of Rafah or a more limited campaign. For months, Rafah – the only city in Gaza that has not been nearly entirely laid to waste by Israeli bombardment – has been the last refuge for around 1.5 million Palestinians, about 80% of them forcibly displaced from other parts of the enclave. Many are not waiting to see what happens next. They’ve picked up their few remaining possessions and are heading for other parts of Gaza, as Mohamed Soulaimane reports in this video dispatch. The problem, however, is that the areas Israel has designated as a ‘safe zone’ are mostly sand dunes and rubble, and humanitarian organisations say the escalation in Rafah is grinding the already hobbled aid operation almost to a halt. 

Back in May 2023, The New Humanitarian began working with Zaanoun on a special project to explore what daily life looked like in Gaza. Media coverage then was sporadic, even though the impacts of decades of occupation and the effects of war were felt constantly.

Everything changed overnight on 7 October, after a raid into Israel by Hamas gunmen left around 1,200 people dead, most of them civilians who were killed deliberately, according to the Israeli authorities. Hamas, the political and militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, also took around 240 hostages back into the coastal enclave. An estimated 133 remain in captivity, some of whom are believed to have died.

The intense Israeli military campaign in Gaza since has now entered its eighth month. A near-total siege has almost entirely cut off water and electricity and blocked the entry of food, fuel, and medical supplies. And Israeli bombardment and ground offensives have destroyed more than 60% of all homes. Only a trickle of humanitarian aid has made it into the enclave. The population of around 2.3 million people – an estimated 1.7 million of whom have been displaced – is facing an imminent, man-made famine.

As of 9 May, nearly 35,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s military operations, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

The level of death and destruction – as well as rhetoric from Israeli officials – prompted South Africa to file a case in the International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza. In an interim ruling on 16 January, it found “at least some” of South Africa’s allegations to be “plausible”.

At least 92 Palestinian journalists have been killed in Gaza since 7 October. Amid the extreme level of violence and desperate humanitarian conditions, reporting from the enclave has become increasingly difficult and dangerous. To keep a spotlight on what is happening, we have supplemented Zaanoun’s dispatches with reports from Hussaini and Soulaimane.

To view Zaanoun’s Snapshots from before 7 October, click here, and find more of all three journalists’ recent dispatches below:

22 April 2024 – How Palestinians are risking their lives to return home

When Maha Hussaini recently heard that tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians who have been forced into the southern Gaza Strip were trying to return to their homes in the north, she decided to try to join them. Before the current Israeli military campaign, Hussaini lived in Gaza City. She has since been forced to relocate multiple times. As the war drags on into its seventh month, she fears a repeat of the 1948 Nakba – or catastrophe – that accompanied the creation of the state of Israel. More than 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes, or left and were prevented from returning. Hussaini, like all Palestinians, grew up hearing stories of relatives who thought they would be gone for a couple of days or weeks and were never able to return. With this in mind, she set out for Gaza City. But her attempt to return to her home was cut short when the Israeli military opened fire on people making their way north.

16 April 2024 – Meet the farmers housing thousands of displaced Palestinians

Israel has reportedly delayed plans for a ground invasion of Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza where around 1.5 million Palestinians displaced from other parts of the enclave have been forced by more than six months of war. But people are still bracing for the catastrophic impacts an invasion could have. A sliver of agricultural land along Gaza’s southern coast, al-Mawasi has become a staging ground for many of these efforts. Hundreds of thousands of people have already sought shelter in the area, which was unilaterally declared a ‘safe zone’ by Israel earlier in the war. That hasn’t stopped the Israeli military from occasionally bombing and killing civilians in al-Mawasi. The region also lacks basic infrastructure, including paved roads, clean drinking water, and electricity. As Mohamed Soulaimane reports in this video, local farmers have been at the forefront of the humanitarian response, helping to house displaced people on their properties and provide for their basic needs.  This video was produced in collaboration with Egab.

12 March 2024 – Gaza’s fishermen: Risking their lives to feed their families 

A ship carrying 200 tonnes of aid for Gaza has left Cyprus. It’s hoped that opening a sea route will allow desperately needed supplies to reach Palestinians, as the hunger crisis in the Israel-besieged enclave deepens. It remains to be seen how effective maritime deliveries might be, and how easily any aid from the sea can be distributed once it is on land. Some food does already come from the sea. Soulaimane has been to film Gaza’s fishermen, who continue to catch what they can despite the risk of being fired upon by Israeli forces. Fishing skills have been passed down through generations of Palestinians, and with hunger levels now reaching extreme levels, many are willing to suffer the risks to feed their families.

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8 March 2024 – ‘Mothers have helplessly watched their children starve to death’

As the world marks International Women’s Day, Hussaini sent this report on the suffering of women in Gaza, and the impact it’s had on her role as a female journalist. Hussaini has been displaced numerous times since 7 October. She’s currently living in a crowded shelter with dozens of other women and children, unsure of when they will have to flee again. The risk to Hussani as a female journalist feels very real, she says, particularly as she has interviewed women who have reported cases of violence and sexual abuse while detained by Israeli forces. In addition to the security risks, women and children in Gaza are facing hunger and reported starvation, with experts warning of possible famine.

27 February 2024 – ‘People are collapsing in the streets due to starvation’

Back in December, a group of UN-backed international experts warned that there was a risk of famine in Gaza, with 90% of the population facing acute levels of food insecurity. Now, young children have reportedly begun to die due to malnutrition. Last month, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to enable the provision of humanitarian assistance to the enclave, which has been under total Israeli siege since 7 October. Since the order, however, the already limited amount of aid entering the enclave has dropped by half. As Hussaini reports, the situation is worst in the north, where hundreds of thousands of people who stayed behind after Israel’s evacuation orders in October are on the brink of starvation.

20 February 2024 – ‘How much longer will we survive this?’

With an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah looming, some displaced people who sought shelter in the southernmost region of Gaza are now packing their few belongings and heading back north. Soulaimane – who has been reporting from Gaza for The New Humanitarian since 7 October – sent this dispatch about the dire humanitarian conditions people are facing in Rafah and the ever-elusive search for safety. Around 1.4 million people are crammed into Rafah, more than four times the number living there before 7 October. Many are sheltering in makeshift tents as humanitarian organisations struggle to meet even their basic needs. World leaders and NGOs are warning that an Israeli ground invasion would lead to mass casualties and bring an end to even the limited aid operations currently taking place. But with ongoing hostilities and widespread destruction in all of Gaza, there’s nowhere else for people to go. As one mother Soulaimane spoke to said: “I have no place to take my children, other than to jump in the sea.”

2 February 2024 – ‘The attacks are indiscriminate’

Hussaini has been forcibly displaced for a second time by Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip. In November, she wrote about how the concept of “home” was already becoming a distant memory, after she was forced to flee her apartment in Gaza City – where she had lived for 17 years – to seek safety in the central area of the enclave. Now, with Israel’s ground invasion approaching her place of refuge, she’s been forced to flee again to southern Gaza, where over one million people have been packed into an area that used to have a population of around 280,000. But even in the south of Gaza, “the situation is still unsafe”, Hussaini says.

9 January 2024 – Journalists killed near the Rafah border

An Israeli airstrike on 7 January that killed journalists Hamza al-Dahdouh and Mustafa Thuraya while they were on assignment – and severely injured a third journalist – is putting a renewed spotlight on the deadly toll of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza on Palestinian media workers. At least 72 Palestinian journalists have been killed since the campaign began on 7 October, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Al-Dahdouh is the son of veteran Al-Jazeera correspondent Wael al-Dahdouh, a familiar face to millions across the Middle East. Wael al-Dahdouh’s wife, two of his other children, and his grandchild were killed in an Israeli airstrike in October. For a first-person look at the impact of the killing of journalists, read: What it’s like being a journalist in Gaza.

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18 December 2023 – Aid shortages in Egyptian border camp

As more and more of the roughly 2.3 million people living in the Gaza Strip – some 85% of whom have now been displaced by the bombardment and Israeli ground invasion – have been driven south towards the Egyptian border, Zaanoun’s focus this week is on a refugee camp of 70,000 people that has now formed at Tal al-Sultan, near Rafah. As the winter rains and cold temperatures hit, he says children don’t have blankets, not to mention shortages of food, water, sewage systems, and medical supplies. “Unfortunately, there are no big international [aid] organisations to support families in these areas,” he says.

5 December 2023 – ‘For the pain to go away, we will live here’

After Israel resumed its bombardment on 1 December, intensely striking areas across the Gaza Strip – including in the south, where most of the enclave’s 2.3 million people have now been corralled – Zaanoun sent this footage of a group of journalists gathering outside Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. “We will stay here,” they sing together in solidarity. “For the pain to go away, we will live here.” At least 57 Palestinian journalists and media workers have been killed since 7 October, in addition to well over 100 aid workers, mostly from the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA. Zaanoun says the situation has become “catastrophic” and he must now focus on the safety of his wife and their four children. No safe place is left for them, he says.

27 November 2023 – Pause brings some respite

The good news is that Zaanoun, who reported being sick after drinking dirty water in his previous dispatch, is now feeling better after managing to get his hands on some medication. But one of his four children isn’t doing so well, possibly due to the lack of food or the pollution. Zaanoun also had to pull them out of the rubble, for a second time, as the house they were sheltering in was hit by an Israeli strike. That was before the four-day pause in fighting began on Friday, offering some respite. In this clip, Zaanoun shows the Abu al-Ruk family taking advantage of the lull to gather around a fire near the ruins of their home in eastern Khan Younis. Zaanoun says his own family headed there in a rush and has no winter clothes.

23 November 2023 – ‘We couldn’t find anyone to help us’

In his last filing before being struck down sick, due, he believes, to drinking dirty water, Zaanoun filed this report, interviewing Asma Ayad al-Rifi. Last month, she had been ordered, along with many other Palestinians, to evacuate from their neighbourhood in eastern Gaza to an area the Israelis said would be safe. “They were lying,” Al-Rifi says, as she recounts how an Israeli strike led to the roof falling on their heads in the middle of the night. She describes how two women and six children were killed instantly as they became buried in the rubble of the building where they were sheltering, in Nuseirat, in the central Gaza Strip. Al-Rifi had to pull others out, herself, by hand.

16 November 2023 – ‘It’s raining now in Gaza’

In this snapshot, we’ve combined Zaanoun’s photographs with an audio diary from Maha Hussaini, an award-winning journalist and human rights activist in Gaza. Hussaini was forced to leave her home in Gaza City on 13 October. In this voice note, she says that she loves autumn, winter, and the rainy weather that the colder seasons bring. But for the first time in her life she is praying that the rain will stop soon because it is making life harder for the around 1.6 million people in Gaza who have been displaced by Israel’s bombardment and military campaign. Many of the displaced are staying in tents. “I actually cannot imagine their situation now as the rain is pouring down,” Hussaini said. Listen to her full voice note below, and read her recent first-person article: In Gaza, death seems closer than water.

10 November 2023 – ‘Fellow journalists live in the same tent’

Zaanoun and other Palestinian journalists in Gaza continue to cover Israel’s bombardment and near-total siege of the enclave, even as they struggle to cope with the killing of dozens of colleagues and the effects of violence on themselves and their families. They are playing a crucial role by reporting from inside Gaza as Israel continues to bar international journalists who are not embedded with the Israeli military from entering the enclave. Many journalists in Gaza have been displaced from their homes and have sought refuge in hospitals, where they are able to charge their phones, laptops, and cameras, and where they have a better chance of connecting to weak internet signals to send their photos, videos, and stories to the outside world. If the dwindling supply of fuel for back-up generators powering the hospitals runs out, Zaanoun and others could find themselves completely cut off.

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6 November 2023 – ‘My friend, his family was killed’ 

Dozens of people were killed in a blast in the densely populated al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on Saturday night, including the family of Zaanoun’s friend and fellow photojournalist Mohammed al-Aloul. The blast was one of several in refugee camps in Gaza over the weekend, as the death toll from Israel’s now month-long bombardment and siege of the enclave continues to spiral. The health ministry in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas, said at least 45 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike on al-Maghazi camp. The Israeli military has said it cannot confirm whether it was responsible for the blast. Four of al-Aloul’s five children were killed. His wife and one-year-old son survived.

3 November 2023 – ‘How long will we be removing bodies?’

Zaanoun reports from al-Shati refugee camp in the north of Gaza, where rescuers are digging through the rubble after an Israeli airstrike. It appears too late to find survivors, and they are now just working to retrieve the bodies of some of the children killed. One man tells Zaanoun that seven homes were destroyed and at least 14 children killed. His sister is among the dead. “How long will we be removing bodies in Gaza?” the man asks. “Until when? You have destroyed us, that’s enough.”

31 October 2023 – Shut off completely from the world

For roughly 36 hours, between 27 and 29 October, almost all cellular and internet service in the Gaza Strip stopped working amidst heavy Israeli bombardment and the beginning of a ground invasion. The communications blackout made it so people couldn’t call ambulances after airstrikes, speak with relatives, or deliver information about what was happening in the enclave to the outside world. Even as services have been restored, concerns remain over access to information. Israel and Egypt are blocking international journalists from entering Gaza, while at least 26 Palestinian journalists have been killed, most by Israeli airstrikes on the enclave. After communications were restored, Zaanoun was able to resume sending photos.

27 October 2023 – ‘We bid farewell to the family of our colleague’

Zaanoun goes to Al-Aqsa Hospital to share condolences with fellow journalist Wael al-Dahdouh, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Gaza, whose family were killed in an Israeli airstrike. He says people have been told to go to the south of the Gaza Strip, but then shows civilians bringing in their injured after a strike hit their homes near the Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis. “There is no safe place in the Gaza Strip, and no safe road,” he says.

18 October 2023 – Gaza reels from hospital explosion

Zaanoun photographs the aftermath of the massive blast at al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City on 17 October that killed nearly 500 people and wounded 300, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Thousands of civilians had taken shelter from Israeli bombardment in the facility. Health officials in Gaza said an Israeli airstrike caused the blast. Israeli officials blamed it on a misfired rocket from Palestinian Islamic Jihad – an armed group based in Gaza that has denied any involvement.

17 October 2023 – ‘The smell of death is everywhere’

Before the al-Ahli blast, people in Gaza were already suffering the effects of Israeli bombardment and siege. In addition to those killed and injured, around one million people have been displaced from their homes, out of a population of roughly 2.3 million. Entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble, and first responders and residents in Gaza have scrambled to dig people out from under flattened buildings, often only using their hands.

12 October 2023 – ‘Maybe this is the last message from me’

On the night of 11 October night, shortly after Gaza’s only power station ran out of fuel, and as Israeli artillery thudded nearby, Zaanoun took shelter in Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the enclave. Israel cut off the electricity it provides to the territory after Hamas fighters launched a deadly assault inside Israel on 7 October. Many Gazans have headed to hospitals and UN-run facilities hoping to find safety. 

11 October 2023 – ‘Civilians thought they were safe in their homes’

Zaanoun reports on the worsening situation inside Gaza. In his first video for our latest Snapshots series, the Palestinian photojournalist says civilian buildings have been destroyed by Israeli strikes that have killed dozens of people.

Videos edited by Ciara Lee. Text edited by Andrew Gully and Eric Reidy.


The New Humanitarian puts quality, independent journalism at the service of the millions of people affected by humanitarian crises around the world. Find out more at www.thenewhumanitarian.org.