[Under fire in Shejaiya, some residents said they simply did not want to heed the orders of a foreign government they consider an occupier, and preferred to stay in their homes. One man on Sunday, having escorted his family out from under shelling, declared, “I’m going back, I’m not afraid,” and began marching back into the smoking neighborhood. Only after his sister ran after him, pleading, did he reconsider.]
|Tyler Hicks/The New York Times|
United Nations shelters are already brimming, and some Palestinians fear they are not safe; one shelter was bombed by
Israel in a previous conflict. Many Gaza residents have sought refuge with relatives, but with
large extended families commonly consisting of dozens of relatives, many homes
in the shrinking areas considered safe are already packed.
Perhaps most important, the vast majority of Gazans cannot leave
Gaza. They live under restrictions that make this narrow
coastal strip, which the United Nations considers occupied by Israel, unlike anywhere else.
Prime Minister David Cameron of
Britain in 2010 called Gaza “an open-air prison,” drawing criticism from Israel. But in reality, the vast majority of Gazans are
effectively trapped, unable to seek refugee status across an international
border. (Most, or their descendants, are already refugees, from what is now Israel.)
A 25-mile-long rectangle just a few miles wide, and one of the most densely populated places in the world, Gaza is surrounded by concrete walls and fences along its northern and eastern boundaries with Israel and its southern border with Egypt.
Even in what pass for ordinary times here,
permits very few Gazans to enter its territory, citing
security concerns because suicide bombers and other militants from Israel have killed Israeli civilians. The restrictions over the
years have cost Palestinians jobs, scholarships and travel. Gaza
Sea to the west provides no
escape. restricts boats from Israel to three nautical miles offshore. And Gaza , its airspace controlled by Gaza , has no airport. Israel
So while three million Syrians have fled their country during the war there, more and more of
’s 1.7 million people have been moving away from the
edges of the strip and crowding into the already-packed center of Gaza . Gaza
The Attar family, from northern
crammed into a United Nations school classroom on Sunday, 27 relatives in all,
their clothing hung on hooks for children’s book bags. They had moved first to
a relative’s house, where 34 people shared two rooms, then tried to rent an
apartment, but could find none free, and they longed for a truce so they could
go home. Even here in downtown Gaza , there had been several deadly strikes during the day,
including one that killed four children. Gaza
“The problem,” said Maissa al-Attar, 21, “is that when we are fleeing from the shelling, we still find the shelling around us.”
On Sunday, families were fleeing artillery barrages on foot, or being killed in their homes, as the Israelis pushed into the city’s Shejaiya neighborhood in an operation the military says aims to locate and destroy tunnels used by Hamas militants to enter
and carry out attacks. Israel
The chaos has made some outside observers ask why people did not leave earlier, before the ground offensive neared them. The Israeli military has said it has given Gazans every opportunity to avoid injury by calling on them to evacuate neighborhoods it is about to target. Leaflets were dropped in Shejaiya on Saturday, residents said, and a senior military official said warnings had begun days earlier.
“Staying at home when you’re 100 percent sure there’s going to be fighting there is much worse,” the official said. “Be out for two or three days; it’s better than being in the battlefield.”
Still, many fled only when shells began flying. Israeli officials speculate that Hamas militants have threatened people with retaliation if they leave, using them as human shields. Gazans did not mention such threats as a factor — though some said that they did not feel free to criticize Hamas.
Such fears did not seem to deter 81,000 people who have already fled to United Nations shelters, and tens of thousands more who have gone to relatives’ homes. But Hamas may have misled people into a false sense of safety. It proclaimed on radio and television that the Israeli warnings were part of a psychological operation, and urged people to ignore them. Some were surprised at how far west into the areas that received warnings the Israelis pushed on Sunday, having reasoned that only the eastern areas, closer to the border, would be seriously threatened.
Another factor is that Gaza’s extended families can include dozens of people — half of all residents of Gaza are children — and moving is not as simple as packing a bag and running. Families are deeply rooted in their neighborhoods, and many lack potential hosts elsewhere.
The Attars thought of selling their farmland near the Israeli border, to move somewhere safer, but they could not afford apartments in
, where the scarcity of land, especially near the sea,
drives prices high. Gaza City
Also, the family depends on the land, growing vegetables and raising poultry for food and to make a living. And, Ms. Attar said, “It’s not just a house to sell and buy another; it’s our life and our grandparents’ life.”
Under fire in Shejaiya, some residents said they simply did not want to heed the orders of a foreign government they consider an occupier, and preferred to stay in their homes. One man on Sunday, having escorted his family out from under shelling, declared, “I’m going back, I’m not afraid,” and began marching back into the smoking neighborhood. Only after his sister ran after him, pleading, did he reconsider.
Fares Akram contributed reporting from
, and Jodi Rudoren from Gaza
City . Jerusalem